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Texas Border Situation from the Eyes of Our Shepards

By Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference
August 2021

The migrant situation along the southern border poses significant challenges for our country and the church. Social media, selective or biased “news” sources, and our own geographic distance make it difficult for North Dakota Catholics to know the facts.

To find out more, I turned to Jennifer Allmon, the executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, and asked about the situation and the church’s response.

What is the current situation along the border and how does it compare to other recent years?

We have been seeing more migrants and families coming to our humanitarian respite centers on the border recently. These numbers are certainly higher than 2020 during the pandemic but it is not uncommon for their to be large influxes every few years.

What kind of services does the Catholic Church in Texas provide to immigrants? Have those efforts been restricted or hampered by state, federal, or local governments?

Catholic Charities and other interfaith border ministries provide these immigrants and refugees with hope for their future and work to restore their dignity, including meals, medical examinations, laundry services, and spiritual services in a dedicated chapel for worship and reflection. The staff cooperates with dedicated volunteers and state and local partners to provide and coordinate services. Recently, our efforts have been hampered by local and state orders that limit our ability to transport migrants or have de-licensed our facilities. In addition, there are not consistent federal COVID testing and vaccination protocols at each border processing point.

We often think of the border situation as an “immigration” issue. Is it also a religious freedom issue?

Yes, we serve migrants based on our sincerely held religious belief in the dignity of the human person and in knowing that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Christ. When it comes to the children's shelters, it's incredibly important to have faith-based providers who will serve the trafficked victims in this space. Our Catholic-run shelters refuse to accommodate or provide contraception, abortion, or other services that harm human dignity and attack human life. In this way, we show our consistent ethic of life serving the immigrant, refugees, and the unborn.

What are some of the principles from Catholic social doctrine that guide the Texas Catholic bishops in their responses to the immigrant situation?

The principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable should be some of the crucial touchstones that guide us in this work to serve immigrants. Solidarity calls us to recognize others as our brothers and sisters and work for their good. Subsidiarity calls authorities of a higher order to respect and not unnecessarily interfere with the internal life of a community and promote interventions at the most appropriate level. Finally, the preferential option for the poor calls us to prioritize those who are neediest, helpless, or most vulnerable in our public policy and ministries.

Applied in the immigration context, this means that the U.S. Bishops have supported what is called comprehensive immigration reform that would address the root causes of migration, reform our legal immigration system (e.g., earned legalization, temporary worker program, protections for family-based immigration), and promote due process for immigrants. In this respect, Catholic Social Teaching recognizes both the right of nations to make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, as well as the responsibility of the more prosperous nations to welcome foreigners in search security and the means of livelihood that they cannot find in their countries of origin (CCC #2241).]

Is the migrant situation contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in Texas?

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley released a statement responding to allegations that migrants spread COVID-19 in Texas. They take the necessary measures to make sure families who have a family member test COVID positive are isolated in hotels designed for quarantine: "At no time have the COVID positive immigrant families walking around exposing others in the community. They are kept in isolation until they test negative,” reads the statement. [O]ne incident has caused a great deal of misinformation and unfortunately serious consequences that threaten our community with catastrophic outcomes if we can’t continue to isolate and care for the families.”

What one thing should Catholics in other states know about the situation in Texas that they probably don’t hear from the news and social media?

Our state history has a rich Catholic history going back centuries dating back to the time of the Spanish missions, European emigration, and more recent refugees from Asia and Africa. Our border communities are diverse, vibrant, and dynamic places. People live side-by-side with each other and have family members and friends on both sides of the Mexico-Texas border. There is a rich history of serving together, worshipping together, and working together. We have always served the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger at our doorstep and will continue to do so, God willing, for many more years to come.

What We Do

The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.
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