SAN JUAN, RGV – A delegation of bishops led by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been in the Rio Grande Valley to learn more about the separation and reunification of immigrant families.

On Sunday, the bishops visited the Humanitarian Respite Center at Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, a short term hospitality center that serves families who have been processed by the Department of Homeland Security with immediate medical assistance, food, clothing and information about complying with immigration proceedings. The bishops also celebrated a Mass at the Basilica in San Juan.

The delegation of visiting bishops included DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, José H. Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Joseph C. Bambera, bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, Daniel E. Flores, bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, Robert J. Brennan, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and Mario Alberto Avilés, auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville.

The bishops held a news conference at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle. The key themes of the delegation were:

  • Pastoral rather than political visit.
  • To be with and pray with God’s people facing difficult challenges.
  • Pray especially for children and families experiencing the pain of separation, but also for law enforcement and social services personnel entrusted to care for the security of the country and safety of every person detained.
  • Beyond the headlines, we meet these children and families as they truly are – our sisters and brothers in Christ.

The main talking points on family separation were:

  • Families are the building block of our society. They need to be together. We saw families at the Humanitarian Respite Center from different countries, and of different ages, but one thing that held constant was that they were fleeing for their lives and that they wanted to ensure their kids were safe. These families are like you and me in that sense – wanting to have safe, dignified lives.
  • Particulars of Current Situation: We believe that approximately 1,800 children remain separated from their parents, We are deeply worried about this and want to ensure that families are reunited. We offer our services and assistance to ensure that children are reunited. In particular, the USCCB offers its staff to the interagency working group that is working on this issue right now. We urge you to engage direct service providing organizations like ours in your process so that we can help assist and ensure family reunification.
  • Thankful for Service. We were very thankful to see the work of our Catholic Church on the ground. Through Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley, we fully see a Church operating on the margins. We also appreciate the DHS and HHS staff who are working to reunify parents and children but we know that much work remains. We must come together to work to solve this issue.
  • Do Not Replace Family Separation with Family Detention. While we are pleased that the administration has stopped separating families at this time, we remain very concerned about efforts to keep families together by detaining them in large-scale family detention facilities that are not licensed to care for children. Holding families in these facilities for periods over 20 days will require undermining very important child protections in the Flores Settlement Agreement. Pope Francis and many of our brother Bishops have spoken about the wrongs associated with detaining children. Family detention is not the solution.
  • We Are a Nation of Rules and Compassion. It is vital to humanely care for these families and also to ensure that they comply with their immigration proceedings. We know that we can do both.
  • There are policy solutions to ensure the people are able to follow our laws and access due process. Rather than seeking to reunite all of these families in family detention centers, DHS should utilize its proven and cost-effective Alternatives to Detention, such as the Family Case Management Program. The now terminated program had compliance rates of 99 percent with immigration court hearings, at a cost of only $36 per day per family. Some of our Catholic Charities were able to participate in this program when it was operated in 2016 and 2017. We stand ready to work with the government to provide this service again. It is a win-win policy option for the immigrant families, for our national security and for the U.S. taxpayers. 

Editor’s Note: The above story is the first in a three-part series on the visit of Catholic bishops to the Rio Grande Valley. Part Two will be published on Thursday, July 5, 2018.