A 14-year-old boy who had been shackled to a wall and forced into slave labor shared his story this week with a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This was only one of the accounts of human trafficking heard by the delegation of Bishops and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network during a weeklong border visit to cities that included Nogales, Ariz; Altar, Mexico; Houston and El Paso.
"All this happened here in our country, not in a foreign nation or under a legal system saturated with corruption," Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., said during a stop Saturday at Sacred Heart Church in South El Paso.
"This boy represents one of thousands of victims of human trafficking who are not being identified and protected each day in this country," Barnes said. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Between 18,000 and 20,000 of those victims are brought into the United States.
The issue was one of several that Catholic bishops, who visited El Paso and Juárez this weekend, highlighted during the border tour. Other topics included immigration reform, the decision for a border wall and the abuse of immigrants. "I have had people write me letters, leave nasty e-mails and voice mails saying, "you are all wet; you should not be in politics and I don't care what John Paul said; you are entering into politics'," Bishop Armando X. Ochoa said. "We don't see it as that. We see it as a really valid gospel value based on the teachings of the church and social concerns."
During the tour, the delegation met with immigrants, Border Patrol officials and faith-based organizations. Based on the information gathered, the group will make recommendations on how the system can better handle the immigration issue, Barnes said.
"Everyone agrees that the system is broken and in dire need of repair," Barnes said. "It appears, however, that more frequently, many individuals and politicians are disregarding the rich traditions and values that immigrants have offered - and continue to offer - our country. Sadly, many Americans believe that building walls and imprisoning foreigners is the only solution to the unprecedented immigration crisis we are experiencing."
Looking at the issue from a compassionate standpoint is necessary said Father Rafael Garcia of Sacred Heart Church. "As the pastor here, I am able to meet with a lot of people who probably prefer to stay with their family in Mexico, and it may not be pleasant to stay here because they feel isolated and lonely, but they come to support their families and to seek a better life. It is important that we do not look at this on a superficial level, but recognize that it is about survival."
Adapted from: Zahira Torres. "Bishops hear horror stories of human trafficking." El Paso Times. 29 October 2006.
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