|SAN JUAN, May 2 - The Bishop of Brownsville says the reality of immigration in the Rio Grande Valley provides a narrative far different from the discussions heard in other parts of the nation.
Bishop Daniel Flores discussed the issue at a brunch he hosted for reporters at the San Juan Basilica on Thursday. Flores holds such an event every year on World Communications Day.
“I am convinced that the Valley has a story about the reality of immigration that is unique in the national scene. I try to communicate this when I go to nationwide meetings. There is a reality that is affecting immigration patterns that is different from the traditional narrative that says people come to this country from Mexico or South American or Central America simply because they are looking for work. It is more complex than that,” Flores said.
As he has articulated in the past, Flores said the issue of immigration in the United States is closely tied to hemispheric pressures in Central and South America.
“One of the things the Church asks for and I talk about it quite a lot is the Church recognizes that, yes, we want immigration reform in the United States. But, we also recognize that there is a larger hemispheric problem,” Flores told reporters. “The hemispheric problem has to do with poverty, obviously, in Central America and certain parts of Mexico and in South America, but also with the culture of violence that puts a lot of pressure on families to find a safer place for their children. I understand this.”
Flores said he is convinced that people will tell their priest or their bishop things that they will not necessarily tell law enforcement. “I hear about the suffering people are going through and I think that this is a reality that some of our national leaders need to be more attentive to because it is a human tragedy.”
Twice a year Flores meets with other border bishops, both from Texas and northern Mexico. He said what dominates the discussions is the suffering of those in their flock. “What dominates is the suffering, what people are going through in terms of transitions and trying to find a secure way to live and to make a living. It is a hemispheric problem. The Church has always insisted that people have a right to seek not just a better condition but a livelihood for their family and children. That is humane. It is important for the Church to talk about.”
Asked by a reporter how he gets the message out about the Valley having a different narrative on the reality of immigration, Flores said he tries lectures and sermons and poetry. He said he shares anecdotes but is careful not to reveal names.
“I just let people know in Austin, or San Antonio, or Baltimore, or St. Paul, Minnesota. I let people know the stories that I hear a lot. What people go through, what they’ve gone through, who they have lost. How they have lost them, deaths in the family, how violence has affected them. I share that,” Flores explained.
“People come up to me and say, ‘we had no idea, we just thought those things happen in other parts of the world, maybe that happens only in Mexico, or Central Mexico or Guatemala.’ It is mostly anecdotal. You listen to people. After confirmations when I am standing around taking pictures with people, I usually like to spend a few words with them. It is amazing how a little old lady will pull my ear and she will tell me, ‘pray for, hay que rezar por mi hijo, porque lo secuestraron y no se de el por res meses.’ I do. I pray for them. It is the anecdotal reality.
“I think it is my job to put that in a more systematic, ordered presentation, as to what that means in terms of the responsibility of the community, the society and how it impacts issues like immigration reform and things like that. I have found people very open to hearing about it and that the traditional narrative has not been the principal moving force in immigration, at least in the Valley, for a while.”
With regard to human trafficking, Flores said he tries to emphasize that “in the current flux of immigrants into the United States or trying to get into the United States… there are innocents and then there are people who are aggressively manipulative.” He said society has to learn how to distinguish between the two.
“One of the reasons we want immigration reform is so we can have a sense of being able to say who is here for fear and who is here because they are at the cause of the fear. I worry at the national level that the discourse on immigration is so general and kind of like abstract that it does not have a human face to it,” Flores said.
“We have to do the hard work (and explain that) this is a human situation. It is much too easy to speak only in abstractions, how it affects the economy and how it affects healthcare. I think it is what the Holy Father says, look at the person in front of you and talk to that person.”