Bishop Seitz: Migrants Can Help Build US Future

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Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, addresses an immigration conference on the challenges at the border and the changing realities of the United States.

By Marietha Góngora V., OSV News

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — As part of the immigration conference “Responding to Changing Realities at the U.S. Border and Beyond,” held April 11 at The Catholic University of America in Washington, Peter K. Kilpatrick, the university’s president, interviewed Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas.

The bishop began the conversation by talking about life in this border region where he arrived 11 years ago. Saying it is aptly named, the bishop said El Paso is a place of passage, where there has always been movement between the Texas city and its sister city of Juarez, Mexico, on the other side of the border.

For the bishop, knowing how to welcome people is part of the identity of El Paso’s community.

“It really challenges your notion of what a border is, if you haven’t been there before. It’s not a place of confrontation, which is how we generally tend to see borders,” he explained. “It’s a place of encounter really, a place of a thriving economy and a movement that has given a special character to what we call a binational community.”

Likewise, the prelate warned against the current anti-migrant rhetoric that strips migrants of their dignity and stokes fears of a border crisis. “I think one can make an argument that it’s fundamental for a healthy nation” to respond to this challenge, he said.

He cautioned that “if we raise a generation or generations of people who are forced to the margins, because of our unwillingness to welcome them and integrate them as our Holy Father asks us to do, we are going to raise generations of angry people, who are going to resort to some means that are not helpful to somehow reclaim their place in society.”

He clarified that support for migrants should not happen out of fear; but he recognized that “this is a key moment, and we will either thrive or not thrive as a nation in the future — as a place of peace, justice, and harmony, where our children can live in security — unless we respond to this challenge and provide the opportunities that people need. And they are not asking for much,” he said.

Bishop Seitz also said the virtue of hospitality “sums up fundamental aspects of being a Christian,” because “our whole salvation is based on a hospitable God who is willing to reach out to us.”

He also talked about migrants’ contributions to society, and the response of cities receiving busloads of migrants that are being sent without coordination “in a way intended to overwhelm resources.”

The prelate told the audience that “every disciple of Jesus Christ is called to recognize every human person — no matter how small, no matter how poor, no matter how lacking in power — as a beloved child of God.”

“One of the most beautiful things of our faith, the beautiful teachings, is this utter consistency in recognizing this dignity across the whole span of human life,” he added.

During the Q&A portion of the discussion, a conference attendee asked the bishop about Texas’ Senate Bill 4, controversial legislation enacted in December that makes it a state crime for migrants to cross the border into Texas without authorization. The law is tied up presently in federal court after lawsuits questioned its constitutionality, since the federal government is responsible for border regulation.

Saying that the law lends itself to racial profiling, Bishop Seitz criticized SB 4 because it “puts fear into every immigrant, no matter what their legal status may be.” He added that it also denies a person the chance to be processed appropriately, because “it completely overlooks the rights to asylum provided in international law and our national law.”

Following the discussion, Bishop Seitz told OSV News that “the border only shows symptoms,” but that solutions to the migration issue will be found in two areas.

“One in the sending countries — and our nation can be a support in the re-establishment of healthy communities and governments” there, he said. “And secondly, in a more Christian and charitable response on behalf of people in our own country towards immigrants. Both factors will be extremely important.”

“Fear is not a good tool for rational reflection and, unfortunately, it seems like the reaction of fear is guiding most of our immigration policies,” he said.

The prelate, who serves as chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, added there is a fight-or-flight response to migration rather than looking at the big picture and developing policies that carefully vet who wants to cross into the U.S. and allow those in need to do so.

Regarding how the community could support organizations and people who advocate for immigrants to be treated with dignity, the bishop said that there are areas in which “willingness and a little bit of effort can make a difference.”

These include preparing a meal for a migrant shelter, donating essential items for newcomers, meeting a migrant, and simply being a friend to a person who doesn’t know anyone in their new home, including praying for them in one’s daily prayers.

“All of these things can make a tremendous difference in their lives,” said Bishop Seitz. “Everyone can do something.”

For the bishop, the problem of having a broken immigration system and policies that threaten the dignity of the migrant community does not lie in which political party has control of the White House or other branches of government.

“I used to think that the solutions were going to be more at the political level of the Legislature and the administration, and now I’ve come to see that that’s not where change first has to take place,” he said.

“Remember how Jesus taught us who our neighbor is, like the parable of the Good Samaritan. Until we learn again to love the person in need, we are not going to change. Politicians are not going to change,” Bishop Seitz said, adding that change “has to take place in the hearts of people who have learned once again to love their neighbor.”

Featured image: Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, speaks during an immigration conference at The Catholic University of America in Washington April 11, 2024. The conference was hosted by the university and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop Seitz chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Migration. (OSV News photo/Patrick Ryan, Catholic University of America)

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