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NM bishops assail separation of kids, parents seeking asylum

A large white tent set up near a border crossing in Tornillo, Texas, is being prepared to serve as a shelter for children separated from their parents under the zero tolerance policy. (Angela Kocherga/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

In a statement issued Friday, the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the Trump administration to stop separating children from their parents after they cross the border illegally or arrive seeking asylum.

Their voices joined a growing chorus of religious and human rights groups opposed to the zero-tolerance policy.

“The devastation this inflicts upon the children has life-long consequences for their well-being and is a serious violation to the rights of children,” reads the joint statement from Bishop John C. Wester of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Diocese of Las Cruces, Bishop James S. Wall of the Diocese of Gallup and the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops Executive Director Allen Sánchez.

The backlash against the policy has grown, along with the number of children taken from their parents.

Nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents at the border in the past six weeks, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

The federal government is erecting large tents in West Texas about 50 miles from the New Mexico line to house children separated from their parents because current shelters are nearly filled to capacity.

During the Obama administration tents in the same location were used as a temporary holding area for families, but parents and kids were usually kept together.

A section of the Border Patrol training academy in Artesia also became a temporary shelter for detained families during a surge in migration from Central America in 2015.

It’s not clear how long the children will be kept in what many are referring to as a tent city.

Attorney General Jeff Session announced in May that anyone who crossed the border illegally would face prosecution and risk having their children taken away while they went through the court system.

The policy was to deter human smugglers and send a message to hundreds of Central American families making their way to the border.

The zero-tolerance policy targets parents who illegally cross the border with children, as well as families who arrive at ports of entry requesting asylum.

The bishops were also critical of supporters of the crackdown, including Gov. Susana Martinez, who told the Journal on Monday that parents crossing the border illegally are committing crimes, and that “if your parent went out and robbed a store with a gun and stole money because they needed to buy drugs, we arrested that individual and that individual went to jail and arrangement were made for that child.”

She urged parents not to cross the border illegally with their children.

The bishops said in their statement that they were “greatly appalled at those who would promote such terrible border policies. Seeking asylum is not a crime, and those who are seeking it should not be compared to those committing strong-arm robbery, a felony.”

The Governor’s Office did not respond to a request asking for a comment on the bishops’ statement.

Chris Olson, 31, of Lake Wallenpaupack, Pa., holds a sign outside near Lackawanna College where U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions spoke on immigration policy and law enforcement actions, Friday, June 15, 2018, in Scranton, Pa. (Butch Comegys/The Times-Tribune via AP)

Attorney General Sessions said Monday that gang violence and domestic abuse would no longer be grounds for asylum.

The New Mexico bishops in their statement joined Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in calling for an immediate end to that more restrictive policy.

“As bishops of a border state, we respond with dismay to President Donald Trump’s overturning of asylum protections for victims of domestic violence,” the statement says.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.