The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, joined by bishops on the border, will travel to Nogales, Arizona, March 30-April 1 to tour the U.S.-Mexico border and celebrate Mass on behalf of the close to 6,000 migrants who have died in the U.S. desert since 1998. According to the USCCB, the trip will highlight the human suffering caused by a broken immigration system, an aspect of the national immigration debate which is often ignored.
How many migrants have perished on the deserts of the nation's southwest will never be known, but since 1999, more than 2,300 bodies have been recovered. It is clear that since U.S. border policy emphasized closing off migrant choke points at urban crossings with more patrols and higher fencing, migrants have been driven to more perilous sojourns deeper in the deserts and far from any reliable source of water.
“What we fail to remember in this debate is the human aspect of immigration—that immigration is primarily about human beings, not economic or social issues,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. “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 trip follows the example of Pope Francis, who, in his first trip outside of Rome, traveled to the Italian island of Lampedusa to remember African migrants who died attempting to reach Europe. During that trip, Pope Francis spoke about the “globalization of indifference” toward migrants and decried the “throwaway culture” that disposes of human beings in the pursuit of wealth.
“The U.S.-Mexico border is our Lampedusa,” Bishop Elizondo said. “Migrants in this hemisphere try to reach it, but often die in the attempt.”
Bishop Elizondo continued: “We exhibit our own indifference when we minimize or ignore this suffering and death, as if these people are not worth our attention. It degrades us as a nation.”
The bishops on the USCCB Committee on Migration will be joined by Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston and several border bishops. Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, will host the delegation.
“Hopefully by highlighting the harsh impact the system has on our fellow human beings, our elected officials will be moved to reform it,” Bishop Elizondo said.
The Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. followed by a press conference at 10:30 a.m. on April 1.
Illustration: A poster (courtesy of Humane Borders) details the locations of deaths on the desert, warning migrants in Mexico who may be considering a desert crossing: "Don't do it! There is not enough water! Don't take the risk!"