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Updated Apr 1, 2014 - 6:56 am

Bishops seek immigration reform during Arizona-Mexico border trip

PHOENIX — Less than a week after President Barack Obama discussed
immigration reform in a meeting with Pope Francis, a delegation of Roman
Catholic leaders is visiting the U.S-Mexico border Tuesday to raise awareness
about the plight of immigrants and to pray for policy changes.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, one of Francis’ key advisers and the leader of the
Boston Archdiocese, will be joined by members of the United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops for an early morning walk in the desert along the border,
followed by a Mass at the fence separating the two countries in southern
Arizona.

“The purpose of this journey here to Arizona is to raise a consciousness about
the need for our president and Congress to pass immigration policy and reform to
address a broken system,” said Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Tucson Diocese.

“We’re also here to pray for those who have lost their lives along the
border.”

Dozens of immigrants die each year in the brutal desert terrain while trying to
cross illegally into the United States along the roughly 2,000-mile-long border
with Mexico. The Catholic leaders note that immigrants are simply trying to find
better lives and jobs in America and that thousands of them have died crossing
the Southwest desert in recent decades.

“What we fail to remember in this debate is the human aspect of immigration —
that immigration is primarily about human beings, not economic or social
issues,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of
Seattle and chairman of the conference’s Committee on Migration.

TThose who
have died, and those deported each day, have the same value and innate God-given
dignity as all persons, yet we ignore their suffering and their deaths.”

The push for immigration reform in Congress has been stalled for months, with
Democrats and Republicans unable to reach an agreement over the divisive issue.

House Democrats last week tried to force a vote on a comprehensive immigration
bill, an effort that is likely to fail given Republican reluctance to address
the topic in an election year while all signs point to major gains for the GOP
in the November midterms.

The Senate passed a comprehensive bill last June, but the measure stalled in
the GOP-controlled House where Republicans have argued for a piecemeal approach
to reforming the system.

During his first meeting with Pope Francis last week at the Vatican, Obama
expressed his interest in getting immigration reform through Congress,
explaining during a news conference that “there was still an opportunity for us
to make this right and get a law passed.

“And as someone who came from Latin America, I think he (Pope Francis) is very
mindful of the plight of so many immigrants who are wonderful people, working
hard, making contributions, many of their children are U.S. citizens, and yet
they still live in the shadows, in many cases have been deported and are
separated from families,” Obama said.

The group of Catholic leaders spent Monday touring the border region in Mexico
and Arizona and meeting with U.S. Border Patrol officials to learn more about
the dangers and challenges agents face daily while patrolling a region besieged
by drug smugglers and human traffickers.

“The primary purpose of our visit is to learn and understand, to experience
firsthand the plight of migrants and the complexity of border issues in order to
continue to prod our president and Congress to take steps to fix this problem,”
said Kicanas, the Tucson bishop.

“There is drug trafficking, there is human
trafficking and people are being exploited.”

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