~ by Maria-Pia Chin, National Catholic Reporter
“Lord, I ask that you take me out of here soon … I want to be with my mom and sister soon. Amen.”
The prayer of a migrant girl in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, neatly written on the back of a card with the image of the Sacred Heart, was one of the mementos President Joe Biden acquired from his time at the U.S.-Mexico border. Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, handed the president this prayer card toward the end of his visit to El Paso.
The president met with the bishop of this border city, who is the new chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, as well as other local officials and community leaders earlier that day.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with Border Patrol officers as he walks along the border fence during his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border to assess border enforcement operations in El Paso, Texas, Jan. 8, 2023. (OSV News photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)
In this first trip to the border since he took office, Biden, who is Catholic, sought to “assess border enforcement operations” and talk to those helping to manage “the historic number of migrants fleeing political oppression and gang violence in Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba,” according to the White House.
Biden’s visit — which lasted a few hours — came amid criticism over how he is handling the humanitarian crisis at the southern border.
Upon his arrival the afternoon of Jan. 8, Biden greeted local officials, Seitz and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who like Biden is also Catholic. Abbott presented Biden with a letter condemning the president’s approach to immigration.
The president then went to the Bridge of the Americas — which connects El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico — where he observed border officers demonstrate how they search vehicles for drugs and other contraband.
Next, he made an unscheduled stop to walk along a metal border fence that separates the U.S. city from Ciudad Juárez and to speak with Border Patrol agents.
At that time, Biden was asked by journalists what he had learned at the border. “They need a lot of resources, and we’re going to get it for them,” he answered.
His last stop was the El Paso County Migrant Services Center, where workers greet people released from Border Patrol and help them find transportation and other needed services.
He greeted local elected officials, activists and community leaders there, including Seitz, Ruben Garcia of Annunciation House, and Sr. Norma Pimentel of the Missionaries of Jesus, who heads Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.
Sr. Pimentel said the President’s presence at the border was significant. Sr. Pimentel stressed the need to come together as a community — including the city government, Border Patrol and faith-based communities — to safeguard people’s dignity while creating policies to face the issue of migration.
“One of the things that we as church, especially people of faith, want to make sure not to ever lose sight of is the fact that they’re people, they’re human beings, they’re families, they’re children, and we cannot lose sight of that,” she said at the news briefing. “I hope this is the beginning of further actions.”
“What we’re trying to do is broadly incentivize a safe and orderly way, and cut out the smuggling organizations,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during the flight to El Paso, according to a pool report.
“They’ve sold everything they own just to be able to make the trip and made this perilous 3,000-mile journey,” Seitz said. “They finally arrive in Ciudad Juárez, for instance, and then what? Where do they go?”
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