AMERICAN Catholic leaders have visited the United States-Mexico border, less than a week after president Barack Obama discussed immigration reform with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston was joined by members of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on a walk along the border before holding a mass at the fence separating the two countries in southern Arizona.
Immigration is among the most contentious issues in US politics, with Democrats seeking liberalisation, and Republicans trading on xenophobia for votes.
“The purpose of this journey to Arizona is to raise a consciousness about the need for our president and Congress to pass immigration policy and reform to address a broken system,” said Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson. “We’re also here to pray for those who have lost their lives along the border.”
Dozens of immigrants die each year in the desert trying to cross illegally into the US along a 2,000-mile border.
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the conference’s committee on migration said: “Those who have died, and those deported each day, have the same value and innate God-given dignity as all persons, yet we ignore their suffering and their deaths.”
The push for immigration reform in Congress has been stalled for months, with Democrats and Republicans unable to reach agreement. Democrats last week tried to force a vote on an immigration bill, an effort set to fail given Republican reluctance to address the topic with elections due in November.
The Senate passed a comprehensive bill with bipartisan support last June, but the measure stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives where Republicans have argued for piecemeal change rather than sweeping reform.
During his first meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Mr Obama expressed his interest in getting immigration reform through Congress, saying later that “there was still an opportunity for us to make this right and get a law passed”.
He added: “As someone who came from Latin America, I think Pope Francis is very mindful of the plight of so many immigrants who are wonderful people, working hard, making contributions, many of their children are US citizens, and yet they still live in the shadows, in many cases have been deported and are separated from families.”
The Catholic leaders spent Monday touring the border in Mexico and Arizona and meeting US border patrol officials.
“The primary purpose of our visit was to learn and understand, to experience first-hand the plight of migrants and the complexity of border issues in order to continue to prod our president and Congress to take steps to fix this problem,” said Bishop Kicanas, the Tucson bishop. “There is drug trafficking, there is human trafficking and people are being exploited.”