Catholics south of U.S. border say wall won’t deter desperate migrants

Scalabrinian Sister Adelia Contini, right, with the Instituto Madre Asunta, a shelter for immigrant women and children, watches as a woman does a taste test in 2016 while preparing lunch at the shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. (CNS photo/David Maung) See TRUMP-WALL-SOUTH Jan. 26, 2017.

By David Agren Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — Catholics working with the thousands of migrants transiting Mexico in their attempts to reach the United States said a border barricade will fail to dissuade those desperately fleeing countries in Central America with some of the highest homicide rates on earth.

Sister Leticia Gutierrez, Mexico director of the Scalabrini Mission for Migrants and Refugees, said “the United States will not stop being an attractive place for people” who live in such dangerous conditions. She also criticized the message sent by U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive memorandums, one of which included building a border wall along the nearly 2,000-mile-long frontier with Mexico, parts of which are already fenced.

“The wall announcement is a symbolically strong action in signaling the U.S. posture for the region and the whole world,” said Sister Leticia. “It’s continuing this thinking that comes from a perspective of national security, a vision of nationalism and seeing others as a danger.”
Some in the Mexican church community said the border wall announcement would not change much.

“There’s already a wall here,” said Father Alan Camargo, spokesman for the Diocese of Matamoros, which occupies the northeast corner of the country. “All of the Rio Grande is a wall.”

Many deportees are returned through the border towns served by the diocese. The potential influx from increased enforcement in the United States causes concern among residents. Church workers say such concern is common, because deportees returning to their hometowns often suffer the stigma of not having succeeded in the United States and are seen as competition for scarce jobs. In border cities, they’re viewed suspiciously as strangers and considered targets for drug cartel recruitment.

“We don’t have the space to receive these people,” said Sister Maria Nidelvia-Avila, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul who oversees a shelter in Reynosa, west of Matamoros. “I would imagine the government will take some measures.”

For the Catholics working with migrants, the efficacy of a potential border wall brings doubts. Many say the border is already impossible to cross without some sort of paid assistance, almost always in the form of smugglers, whose business has been co-opted by organized criminal groups such as Los Zetas, the notorious drug cartel.

“Any migrant that arrives at the Mexican-U.S. border will be required to hire the services of organized crime, be it Mexican groups or those in collusion with criminal groups on the U.S. side of the border” or in the border authorities, Sister Leticia said.

“There’s a bottleneck with our migration situation,” she added. “It’s a bottleneck in that our people continue wanting to cross the border, the Central Americans and people from other continents continue arriving and they’re not being allowed to cross. And with the phenomenon of deportations it becomes a challenge to contemplate.”

Large numbers of Central Americans transit Mexico every year, along with an increasing number of nationals from countries like Cuba and Haiti and even as far away as Africa.

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