As anti-abortion activists make their way to Washington for Thursday’s March for Life, a group of Catholic leaders is urging lawmakers to include immigration in their pro-life platforms.

“Our nation’s inhumane and flawed immigration policies leave migrant women, children, and families abandoned by the side of the road,” said a statement with more than 100 signatories, including the presidents of 31 Catholic colleges and universities.

The statement, which ran as a full-page advertisement in Thursday’s Politico, backed by the DC-based advocacy group Faith in Public Life, calls on “elected officials and all Catholics to defend the sanctity of human lives at all stages. We recognize the image of God in the migrant at the border, in the prisoner on death row, in the pregnant woman and in the hungry child.”

Pope Francis, who has made immigration a hallmark of his papacy, earlier this week laid to rest rumors that he would visit the US-Mexico border during his September visit to the United States.

“To enter the United States from the border with Mexico would be a beautiful thing, as a sign of brotherhood and of help to the immigrants,” he said, lamenting there would not be time. Instead, he will visit New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, where he is expected to address a joint session of Congress.

The March for Life assembles on Jan. 22 in Washington to mark the day the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973. Organizers bill the event as “the largest pro-life event in the world,” which begins with a rally on the National Mall and includes a march to the Supreme Court.

Although the march is not formally affiliated with the Catholic Church, many dioceses send protesters to Washington and hold similar events at home in the month of January.

For example, on Sunday, Archbishop Blase Cupich spoke to more than 4,000 protesters participating in the March for Life Chicago. In Los Angeles Saturday, Archbishop José H. Gomez prayed with marchers in the OneLife LA. And in Denver, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila told more than 1,500 Catholics gathered at the state capitol building to bring their message door to door.

In Washington, more than 10,000 Catholics are expected to attend a vigil at Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception “to pray for an end to abortion” Wednesday night. Organizers of Washington’s Rally for Life expect as many as 28,000 young adults to gather in two locations Thursday before the march.

Late last year, President Barack Obama announced an executive order that would slow deportation, a move supported by many American bishops across the political spectrum.

In November, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson told Crux that bishops prefer a bipartisan solution in Congress.

“The preference would be to have a bipartisan solution, and a comprehensive solution. But it seems as if for whatever reason there is a paralysis existing right now, and in the meantime, people are hurting, families are being separated,” he said.

Last spring, Catholic bishops from the United States and Mexico celebrated a Mass in the border town of Nogales, which straddles Mexico and Arizona. The bishops distributed Communion to Mexicans through slats in a fence that separates the two countries.

“For a moment, people realized that the wall is dividing neighbors instead of enemies,” Kicanas recalled. He said that image “captured people’s imaginations a little bit, even people who were not particularly pro-immigrant or not as sensitive to the issue.”

On Jan. 14 the House voted 236 to 191 to block funding for President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration, which included deferring deportations for millions of people who are in the country illegally.

The bill included an amendment to cut off funding for the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

Through the 2-year-old program, more than half a million young adults and teens who came to the U.S. as minors have been promised they won’t be deported if they stay out of trouble. In late November Obama expanded the program to parents of U.S. citizens or green card holders who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, supported the measure to cut off funding. Among the signers of the letter was the president of his alma mater, Jesuit Father Michael J. Graham of Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Many progressive Catholics, who have tried to expand the pro-life movement in the Church to include a wide range of issues including the death penalty, health care, and now immigration, cite a 1983 speech given by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in which he laid out his vision behind the so-called “seamless garment of life.”

Bernardin, who was archbishop of Chicago and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops before his death in 1996, sought to link the anti-abortion movement with poverty, nuclear weapons, and capital punishment.

Some social conservatives have resisted, noting that Catholic teaching forbids abortion in all instances, while issues such as the death penalty and healthcare warrant contextualization.

Other signers of the pro-immigration statement included: Helen Alvare, professor of law at George Mason University School of Law, an adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a former USCCB pro-life spokeswoman; Father Larry Snyder, outgoing president of Catholic Charities USA; retired Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston and retired Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., both of whom are former USCCB presidents; members of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ leadership team; Eli McCarthy, director of the Office of Justice and Peace at the Conference of Major Superiors of Men; and Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network.

Material from the Catholic News Service was used in this report.