Bishop Kevin Vann, along with his brother bishops, calls on the federal government to sign legislation to sufficiently fund border-related humanitarian assistance.

By The Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann, Bishop of Orange     6/28/2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I join my brother bishops in calling on the federal government to hear the cry of the poor and vulnerable:

“We join with our Holy Father Pope Francis in immense sadness, having seen the horrific images of Oscar Martinez and his daughter Angie Valeria who drowned in the Rio Grande Valley while attempting to flee persecution and enter the United States. This image cries to heaven for justice…Not only does their cry reach heaven. It reaches us. And it must now reach our federal government.

“All people, regardless of their country of origin or legal status, are made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. We can and must remain a country that provides refuge for children and families fleeing violence, persecution, and acute poverty.”

The events of the past week – including photographs and reports of more deaths at the border and brutal conditions in detention – have exposed, once again, not only the brokenness of U.S. immigration laws but the brutality of their implementation. It’s no secret that United States immigration law has been in need of reform for decades. Yet what both sides of the political aisle have been slow to admit and even slower to act to correct are the progressively more punitive policies towards immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. These policies – and rhetoric – have taken an even more drastic turn for the worse at the direction of the current administration.

It needs to be repeated over and over again that seeking asylum is legal. Asylum seekers are turning themselves in at the border. It also bears repeating that there are viable and effective alternatives to detention of which the administration can and should avail itself.

The pictures from the border and reports from inside child detention camps and arguments over whether kids should be given soap and toothbrushes and other items basic to public health and human dignity – these are visible brutality and evidence of aggressive behavior not required by our laws. U.S. laws may be lacking but they don’t mandate cruel application.

Not only is such treatment not required by law, nor in keeping with the best of American values, but – more importantly – it runs fundamentally counter to our Catholic faith. Based on Catholic social teaching, not only does the Church, but also the U.S., has obligations to extend hospitality and welcome to those who cannot find a way to remain in their country of origin. We must never forget the words of Jesus: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Congress has an obligation to pass and the president to sign legislation to sufficiently fund border-related humanitarian assistance. Projects like Al Otro Lado at the border in Tijuana marshal legal assistance, as well as social workers, nurses, doctors, and physicians’ assistants to aid in humanitarian relief and have been supported by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC). These efforts need to be assisted and expanded to other parts of the border and volunteers connected to help operations. Threats of mass deportation campaigns are counterproductive and we continue to seek pathways forward for undocumented immigrants – and especially DACA and other Dreamer youth – that include citizenship and, most importantly, keep families together.

The picture of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his not yet 2-year-old daughter, Angie Valeria – a Salvadoran father and child – lying face down at the edge of the Rio Grande speaks for itself. There are no words. Only tears. Tears that beg forgiveness for our indifference. Tears that recall Pope Francis’s lament at Lampedusa in 2013: “Herod sowed death to protect his own comfort, his own soap bubble. And so it continues…let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts…” There are no adequate words, but there is important work to be done. Work to bury the dead. Work to undo injustice. Work to rescue at a border that kills. Work to reunify and shelter those separated and detained. Work to resist a politics of demonizing and dehumanizing. Work to bring healing to a nation that has lost its way, a way we might recover if we begin to see our neighbors as brothers and sisters once again.


Opportunities to Pray, Work, and Witness:

The Sisters of St. Joseph are hosting a summer public witness which are good opportunities for prayer and public support of families who continue to be separated at the border, Thursday evenings this summer from July 11 – September 19, 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Please save the date for the So Cal Regional Holy Mass for Migrants, Saturday, September 7, 2:30 – 4:30 PM. Bring a parish delegation and banner.

Catholic Charities USA has a portal to join in our work to address the crisis at the border and to give: www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/border-crisis . Please keep in prayer especially the work of shelter being provided and assistant by our neighboring dioceses of San Bernardino and San Diego. [for national blog also include Nogales, El Paso, Brownsville, etc.]

Links to Know Your Rights Cards and other materials and updates on Immigration issues can be found at: cliniclegal.org/resources/know-your-rights. [Locally, find Diocese of Orange resources at: www.rcbo.org/migration]