By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON -- Bishops of the United States, Canada, Central America and the Caribbean called on their governments to address the economic root causes of migration and seek policies that will help create jobs for people in their homelands.
During a regional consultation on migration held at the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops June 2-4, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City and bishops from Canada, Haiti and Latin America spoke with reporters about some of the issues being discussed at the meeting.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor participated as part of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network board of directors and signed a statement that was issued June 7.
Addressing economic root causes of migration "in our mind, is the lasting and humane solution to the challenge of illegal immigration," said Bishop Wester, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, in a statement he read at the June 3 news conference.
"Second, we believe that all governments, not only the U.S., should look at their immigration laws and reform them in a manner which respects basic human rights," Bishop Wester continued. The nations of the hemisphere also must "redouble their efforts against the scourge of human trafficking," he said.
He noted that in a globalized world, where capital, communications and goods are readily exchanged, the movement of labor has not been regularized, and the impact of globalization on human beings has not been acknowledged or addressed.
"As the most powerful country in our hemisphere and a destination for migrants, the United States should lead the way in this effort by reforming immigration laws as soon as possible," said Bishop Wester.
Guatemalan Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri said, for example, that the poor of his country have not benefited from the Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA, which it ratified three years ago.
"The level of poverty in Guatemala is increasing," he said.
Bishop Francois Lapierre of Saint-Hyacinthe in Canada said, "We are living an incredible contradiction. We want to live in a global economy, but every day we make it more difficult to go across the border." In Europe, people cross borders more easily all the time, he said, but even for Canadians and U.S. citizens to visit each others' countries, passports are now required. Mexicans now need visas to visit Canada.
Meanwhile, the Church continues to address migration-related issues from a Gospel perspective, Bishop Lapierre said, "because somebody years ago said, 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'"
In an interview with Catholic News Service, Bishop Ramazzini said Guatemala is reeling from the twin effects in less than a week of a volcanic eruption near the capital, Guatemala City, that coated streets and farms with inches of ash and the inundation of much of the country with up to 3 feet of rain by Tropical Storm Agatha. The two have destroyed many farmers' entire production for the season, he said. That jeopardizes their income as well as the source of affordable food for Guatemalans, he said.
At the news conference, Bishop Rafael Romo Munoz of Tijuana, Mexico, chairman of the Mexican bishops' migration commission, said his country is becoming a collection of semi-abandoned small towns as working-age teens and men have gone to the United States to be able to provide for women, children and elderly people left behind.
During the meeting, which was not open to reporters, participants heard reports from Church and government workers with migration-related expertise. Speakers included directors of programs for Hispanic ministry, Church public policy and social services to migrants. A panel of U.S. federal officials, including representatives of the White House and the Border Patrol, also met with the group.
Participants included more than two dozen bishops from the United States, Canada, Haiti, Mexico and Central America and other representatives of national bishops' conferences, including the migration program director for the Cuban bishops.