SALT LAKE CITY —The Most Reverend John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, joined bishops from the United States and five other countries at an "Encounter of Bishops’ Conferences" June 17-19 in Tijuana, Mexico.
In addition to bishops from the United States, bishops from Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, and Cuba took part in the conference.
"The conference was designed to represent countries that send refugees to other countries, those countries that have refugees traveling through them, and the countries that receive refugees from the sending countries," said Bishop Wester, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration and Refugee Services.
The theme of the meeting was, "Joining Efforts for Better Attention to the Migrant."
Mexico is the largest sending country, Bishop Wester said. "But it is also the country most migrants pass through to get to the United States. Migrants from Cuba are coming through Mexico, and the Mexican government is advocating for fair treatment of migrants."
In addition to the ordinary trials of migrants – walking long distances in inclement weather; being apprehended by border patrols; and being sent back to the sending country or simply left on the southern side of the Mexican border, migrants have been faced with violence, human trafficking, and sex violence, the bishop said.
"The deportation process is confusing," Bishop Wester said, "especially if the migrants aren’t returned to their home country. The conference made it very clear that migrants being deported should be sent back to their home country; that migrants should receive support while they’re in transit; and that the Bishops’ conferences will advocate for immigration reform."
Bishop Wester said he doesn’t expect any comprehensive immigration reform to occur in the United States until after the 2009 Presidential Election, and even for some time after that.
"It takes time to educate people about the challenges and complicated issues that surround immigration, migration, and refugee needs," he said. "We need to develop ways in which to help immigrants who are facing life and death situations. And we have to find ways to approach and eliminate the organized criminal aspects that make migration even more dangerous than it usually is."
The United States should enact immigration reform that does more to help people who are in need of migration, the bishop said, and the bishops’ conferences of Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean must work together to make safe migration a priority.
The U.S. bishops have been working for comprehensive immigration reform without fences and without a large waste of money, Bishop Wester said.
"A fence is not a solution at all," he told the Intermountain Catholic.
"People who are migrating to the United States are facing dire consequences at home, and they want to help us by filling jobs Americans don’t want to do, like some agricultural jobs. They have very limited resources in their native countries."
It is the commitment of the bishops attending the conference to journey with the migrants, so during their conference the bishops traveled together to the Mexican border. They also heard presentations from religious and lay leaders, the Mexican government, watchdog groups, and human rights workers.
"There have been serious problems in Mexico," Bishop Wester said. "Migration has become more dangerous, and migrants face kidnappings and rape.
"Most Americans would like to see regularized comprehensive immigration reform, and we don’t advocate anyone breaking the law."
Bishop Wester said he would like to think the governments of these countries are listening to the voices of the bishops, and that more influential political voices will soon be heard.
"Those people who are conducting polls and running elections need to hear the voices from the church"
For further information about the bishops’ efforts on behalf of immigrants, go on line to "Justice for Immigrants: a Journey of Hope," the Catholic campaign for immigration reform.