BROWNSVILLE, November 28 - The border wall has caused a psychological scar for the communities of South Texas, says Bishop Daniel Flores of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville.
Flores said he can see the border wall from his office in Brownsville. He said the border wall is just a few blocks south of the basilica in San Juan, and when he gives mass in Escobares, he can walk about 150 feet from the church and he is at the border wall.
“As a rule, the bishops in the United States did not think the fence was a good idea. Personally, myself and my family have roots on both sides of the border. Most families here have that. It is kind of a psychological scar across the heart of a very culturally rich place,” Flores said.
Asked by a reporter to elaborate on why the border wall is a psychological scar, Flores said:
“For 150, 200, years, the relationship here in the Valley and further up the river the relationship between Texas and Mexico has been a familial one. Things have changed somewhat radically over the last 25 years or so. But the fence in a certain way becomes a symbol that, that these are two worlds that cannot have any connection,” Flores said.
“It has a symbolic value that I think is unpleasant to contemplate because a scar is a scar. It cuts through the middle and it separates. A fence separates whereas the river is respectful; it is a respectful, more fluid thing, respectful of two independent nations. Most people who live on the other side of the border are very happy to live in Mexico. They don’t particularly want to live in the United States; nice place to visit, I wouldn’t want to live there.
“For whatever reason, people sometimes feel they have to come but it becomes a sort of sign of an inability to control and that is why it becomes kind of a psychological sort of wound, it does. It is there. Thanks be to God, we still have a lot of movement back and forth, all the bridges along the way. And families still have their relationships and things like that but it did not always exist there and we pray God one day it won’t have to exist there. That is the way I would put it.”
Flores spoke about immigration and border security with reporters on Friday while unveiling a letter signed by 13 border bishops from northern Mexico, Texas and New Mexico who are concerned about the plight of families that have been separated due to flawed immigration policies. Click here to read both the English and Spanish versions of the letter from the border bishops.
“This letter in particular is directed to the Church, that we should be particularly conscious of how to help families that are suffering, in many cases families that are facing separation because part of the family is documented and part of the family is not,” Flores said.
“The Church has always had a responsibility to open itself up to the service of those who are suffering and the families are now suffering right now. So, parishes, social service organizations, things like that, all of our presence in the community should be particularly attentive to the needs of immigrant families.”
Flores said the letter is also directed at the “political order,” those who are responsible for passing laws. He said they should not forget about immigration reform and not to let this moment pass. “I just think that this is something we all need to do: to make known that this is a human reality that needs to be addressed in an orderly way by those responsible for governing and that it would be a failure of governance if this were not addressed in a timely and just way.”
The border bishops and Texas Catholic Conference have sent letters pushing for immigration reform in the past. Asked what difference the new letter might make, Flores said: “Yes, it is true, we have been saying this for a long time, the bishops of the United States have been saying it, the bishops of this region have been saying it; he bishops of the Americas have been saying it. We pray for it, we work for it but in a certain way we just do not tire of saying it because ultimately those responsible for governing have to take the responsibility to craft a reasonable, more just, system that is respectful of the needs of families. That’s what the Church will continue to talk about. We cannot sit back and complain about how it is that the family is falling apart in our society and yet tolerate a system of law that has as its goal the separation of families.”
Asked if the Texas Catholic Conference has met with the Texas congressional delegation on the issue of immigration reform, Flores said: “The Texas Catholic Conference keeps in contact with our delegation. I meet with our own representatives, in the Valley you cross paths very easily and this is an issue I always try to raise with them. In general I think the congressional delegation along the border is attuned to this issue. Whenever you pass a law in the United States it requires a consensus of the whole country and there are parts of the country where there is more resistance to the possibility.”
By way of example, Flores cited the Senate bill on immigration reform, which included much tougher border enforcement. “For the bishops this was very difficult because, frankly, to spend that much more money on a border that is already militarized in a certain way, in our view does not help the situation. Speaking as pastors, it is problematic. How much more can you militarize the border?”
Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two part series based on Bishop Flores’ conversations with reporters about immigration and border security. Click here for part one.