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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

September 19, 2023. We are compelled to respond with charity to those who must uproot their lives

Through our belief in Jesus Christ, we are compelled to respond with charity toward those who must uproot their lives in search of refuge.

This week is National Migration Week - a week in which we turn our thoughts to the people who have fled war, poverty and violence.

Esperanza* is a young woman fleeing from El Salvador. She left behind everything and everyone she holds dear. She arrived in Chihuahua, Mexico, in August 2019 and was kidnapped before arriving at the U.S. border. Esperanza was kept locked up in a warehouse for a month. Those responsible beat her until she gave them her father’s phone number, who paid the ransom.

After weeks, she was dumped in a ditch near the Rio Grande. It took all her might to walk, as she had no idea where she was. Men on horseback helped her. She later realized they were U.S. officials. They asked her what happened to her, and she explained. They asked her questions about herself and handed her papers she did not understand. After a couple of days, she was told by one of the officers to come back on the date the paper said and to tell her story when she came back. U.S. immigration authorities returned Esperanza to Ciudad Juarez under MPP.

Esperanza was returned after dark and with nowhere to go, leaving her vulnerable to the violence and insecurity of the city. She was kidnapped a second time. This time there were three other women and two children with her. Her father was again contacted in Guatemala, but he was not able to pay. Tears streamed down her face as she told them her family had nothing to exchange for her release… for her life. The perpetrators forced her to repeatedly watch a video of a woman being tortured. Esperanza believed she was going to end up the same. Fortunately for her, a woman helped them escape.

“Conflicts, natural disasters, or more simply the impossibility of living a dignified and prosperous life in one’s native land is forcing millions of persons to leave. Migrants flee because of poverty, fear or desperation. Eliminating these causes and thus putting an end to forced migration calls for shared commitment on the part of all, in accordance with the responsibilities of each.”

- Francis

Bishop Seitz of El Paso and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops underscore Francis' words:

“Through our belief in Jesus Christ, we are compelled to respond with charity toward those who must uproot their lives in search of refuge. Efforts to manage migration — even when predicated on the common good — require that we also address the coercive forces driving people to migrate.”

“For millennia, people have been forced to flee their homelands, seeking safety and security, because of factors beyond their control,” Bishop Seitz said. “Pope Francis reminds us that Sacred Scripture reveals the Holy Family’s own flight into Egypt was not the result of a free decision, nor were many of the migrations that marked the history of the people of Israel.”

Bishop Seitz said, “Only through collective efforts to alleviate these (coercive) forces and by establishing the conditions required for integral human development can people truly avail themselves of the right to remain in their country of birth.

In their 2000 pastoral letter “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity,” the U.S. bishops pointed to Catholic social teaching on migration, which balances both the needs of migrants and the concerns of the nations to which they relocate.

The three principles of that teaching:

1. people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families;

2. A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration; and

3. A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy.

The bishops of the U.S. and Mexico issued a 2003 joint pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” stating, All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.”

The bishops also declared in the letter that “migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.”

The USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants website resources for National Migration Week 2023 can be found here:

Pope Francis’ Message for the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees observed Sept. 24 can be read here:

The USCCB’s “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” can be read here:

The USCCB’s “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity” can be read here:

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