I am writing from McAllen, Texas, where I have joined some of my brother bishops to pray and try to bring hope to the hundreds of undocumented children being detained here and in nearby Brownsville.
McAllen is in the Rio Grande Valley, about five miles north of the Mexican border. It is now the center of the humanitarian crisis caused by our government’s policy of separating children from parents caught crossing the border.
Family separation did not begin with this administration. But reports of thousands of children being held in detention facilities across the country has struck a chord in our national conscience. People are waking up to the fact that this is the sad consequence of 25 years of Congress’ failure to fix our broken immigration system.
Driving north toward the border from my hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, I found myself praying for all the families that have been broken up over these long years. And I thought of my own family.
I am an immigrant and naturalized citizen. And my relatives have been living in what is now Texas since 1805. At different times, the area where they lived has been in the hands of Spain, Mexico, Texas and now the United States. My family never moved, the border changed. I wonder how many Americans today know that our southern border was not firmly established until the late 1850s.
I had been visiting my family in Monterrey and getting ready for our annual archdiocesan pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
When I leave McAllen, I will be heading to Guadalupe, where once more this year we will be presenting the Virgin with hundreds of prayer requests from the faithful in Los Angeles. Many are heartbreaking appeals that she intercede to help loved ones who have been deported or separated from their families.
And as I was making my way to McAllen, about a 150-mile drive, I was reflecting that perhaps we need to start looking at the immigration issue from this side of the border.
When we look with the eyes of Central American peoples fleeing violence and poverty, we see what America means to them — a beacon of hope, a land where it is still possible to find honest work and dream of a better life for their children.
This is the vision of America that has drawn immigrants and refugees since America’s founding.
But many good people today are anguished over immigration. They talk to me about it and write to me all the time.
We are not against immigrants, they say. What we oppose is illegal immigration. We do not like to see our government separating families, they say. But these parents knew the risks when they tried to cross our borders illegally with their children. It is their own fault.
I understand these people’s frustrations.
But when you talk to parents here in McAllen, when you understand the conditions they were living under in their home countries — then you start to wonder what you would do if you were in their shoes.
Knowing their stories may not change our hearts or minds. And it will not change the fact that these parents broke our laws. But knowing their stories should make us thank God every day that we are not forced to make these kinds of choices in our own lives, for our own families.
When you are in a border town, you realize even more the truth that every nation has the duty to secure its borders and enforce its laws.
But our immigration system has been so dysfunctional for so many years that our enforcement efforts today are leading to new injustices and cruelties. That is what we are seeing in McAllen and in immigrant communities across the country.
I am afraid things are only going to get worse, unless Congress takes action. That means as citizens we need to insist that our leaders do their job.
As long as we allow politicians on both sides to use immigration as a “winning issue” that will “turn out the base” in the next election — then things will never change.
A commonsense and compassionate solution on immigration is within reach. What we are waiting for is politicians with the courage to do what is right. And we have been waiting for 25 years.
The question is how much longer will we have to wait.
Another question is this: How will we justify what we have done or what we have failed to do in the eyes of these children here in McAllen — who care nothing about our politics and who only want to know when they will be able to see their parents again.
Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you before the sacred “tilma” of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother to watch over these little ones and to intercede for our families and our nation.