Why you should care
Because every presidential candidate will have an opinion about it, and so should you.
The author is executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
Today, when Pope Francis visits Ciudad Juárez, he’ll have quite the view. Just beyond the massive Mexican flag waving in the hot air, he’ll see the red, sun-dusted rocks of the Franklin Mountains looming over El Paso, Texas. This is a region where two powerful, deeply interdependent nations meet at a border, which in turn is straddled by economies, families and cultures.
For all the talk of walls these days, no wall can separate two cities so intertwined. Whether residents look south to Ciudad Juárez or north to El Paso, chances are their lives and livelihoods follow their gaze in some way. The relationship between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso is a constant reminder that Mexico and the U.S. are partners with a common future.
Pope Francis has molded his papacy around the journey of the migrant.
That’s certainly true economically. The two countries conduct more than a million dollars a minute in bilateral trade, totaling $531 billion last year. Mexico is the United States’ third-largest trading partner and second-largest export market. And our production systems are highly integrated, with goods crossing back and forth across the border several times before they reach the consumer.
But the border is about more than dollars and pesos. It is about human beings seeking opportunity. It is about the hopes and dreams that have resulted in nearly 34 million people of Mexican descent living in the U.S. If you can see it that way, you’re likely disturbed by all this bragging about building walls. (Beautiful walls, mind you.) The pope’s visit to Ciudad Juárez, with his message of compassion, love and humility, comes not a moment too soon. Over the course of what is sure to be an emotional day, the pope will minister to the poor, sit with the incarcerated and speak to the plight of the migrant.
The pope should challenge both nations on the matter of recognizing and honoring human dignity — something that should know no borders. Whether it is Mexico’s treatment of Central American migrants or the United States’ treatment of undocumented immigrants, dealing humanely with migrants is as complicated and necessary as the journeys they take in search of safety and a better life.
In many ways, Pope Francis has molded his papacy around the journey of the migrant. He set the tone in July 2013, in his first official trip outside Rome. He didn’t make a state visit to an international capital, one where he would be greeted by dignitaries and luminaries. Rather, he honored the journey of the migrant when he ministered to the poorest of the poor, the most desperate, the migrants arriving at the shores of Lampedusa, Italy.
In his homily that day, nearly two years before the world began to witness the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, Pope Francis focused on the perilous journey migrants took across the Mediterranean and asked, “Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it?” At a time when leading presidential candidates in the U.S. refer to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals” and advocate for the mass deportation of the undocumented, it is a question the pope could ask of all of us.
As he departed the Mass in Lampedusa, the pope turned to the crowd and said, “Before imparting my blessing to you I want to thank you once again, you people of Lampedusa, for the example of love, charity and hospitality that you have set us and are still setting us. The bishop said that Lampedusa is a beacon. May this example be a beacon that shines throughout the world so that people will have the courage to welcome those in search of a better life.”
Today, the pope’s words and prayers will transcend the border between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, like so many hopes and dreams. No wall, let alone talk of walls, can dim the vision of a world in which compassion for our fellow human beings rules the day. All of us — citizens, immigrants and, perhaps most of all, presidential candidates and members of Congress — would do well to listen to the pope’s words and open our hearts to his message.