Missionary Society of St. Columban mourns the loss of 39 migrants and rebukes those who allowed it to happen

Washington, DC & El Paso, TX - The Missionary Society of St. Columban mourns the loss of 39 migrants who were killed in a fire at the National Migration Institute in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, TX. We are also outraged that Mexico and the United States’ unjust immigration system created the conditions for this senseless violence to occur in the first place. 

“How many more people need to die before our governments realize that every life deserves respect and dignity?” said Cristina Coronado Flores, the Director of Migrant Ministries for the Columbans in Ciudad Juárez. “This incident is yet another consequence of a vicious global economic system that prioritizes war and profit and pushes people into poverty, which forces them to migrate from their homes. May God forgive us and help us to find ways of fraternity, solidarity, and justice.” 

“What happened at the National Migration Institute is a consequence of the Mexico’s and United States’ governments decision to implement inhumane and confusing immigration policies,” said Cynthia Gonzalez, US Advocacy Coordinator for the Columbans. “Our responsibility is to welcome people with dignity and compassion. Instead, we have federal administrations treating them like criminals or sweeping them under the rug. This situation on the US/Mexico border cannot get better until we open our hearts to the presence of God in every person.” 

The Missionary Society of St. Columban has been accompanying communities along the US/Mexico border for more than 25 years. In 2019, we started our Migrant Ministry in Ciudad Juárez to care for the many migrants being stranded at the border by the Mexican and the United States governments. To learn more about our work, and the Catholic Church’s teaching on migration, please see our FAQs resource below. 


For More Information  
Contact: Wesley Cocozello, Communications Manager  
Email: wcocozello@columban.org 


FAQs about Migration to the US/Mexico Border


Why are migrants coming to the US/Mexico border?  
It is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of people do not want to migrate but they are forced to do so for many reasons, including extreme poverty, endemic violence, war and political instability, and the destruction of the environment. These injustices are the consequence of policy decisions made by governments and other institutions that prioritize the wealth and wellbeing of a few above the common good of everyone. You can learn more about the root causes of migration here

Is Mexico safe for migrants?  
The answer is “no,” and there are many reasons why this is the case. First, Mexico does not have robust social services in place to help migrants obtain medical care, legal aid, housing, food, jobs, and other human needs. Second, migrants are vulnerable to human traffickers and extortionists, who often kidnap migrants to hold them for ransom. Third, it is known that there’s significant corruption within Mexican institutions and law enforcement agencies who also prey on migrants. 

Should the US welcome migrants?  
The US has a moral obligation to welcome all migrants for two reasons: charity and justice. Charity is the work of meeting people’s basic needs. Migrants have many needs, but the most urgent one is a safe place to build a thriving life. They cannot do this in their country of origin nor in Mexico. Justice is the work of removing the root causes of an injustice. Many of the root causes that we talked about in the first question are a product of US policies. For example, in the late 1990s and early 200s, the North American Free Trade Agreement destabilized the Mexican economy and forced many people to look for work in other countries. The US should take accountability for the consequences of its policies, and that includes the forced, mass migration of peoples across the American continent. 

In our times, it’s especially important to be aware of how subversive discourse distorts conversations in the public square and government policies, as well as our own attitudes (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 8e). St. Columban teaches us that “a life unlike our own can be our teacher.” We must always root ourselves in the lived experiences of vulnerable people, which includes migrants. Columban missionaries ministering to migrants on the US/Mexico border consider it a blessing and an opportunity to serve and support them. All of us are transformed by the spiritual and cultural gifts migrants bring to our communities. 

What does the Catholic Church say about immigration?  
Both the Old and the New Testament reveal God’s abiding love for migrants (cf. Ex. 22:21, Lev. 19:33-34, Mt. 25:35, Rom. 12:13). Scripture, as well as our Church’s two-thousand-year history, tell many heart-breaking stories about people fleeing from violence, persecution, and poverty. Even Jesus and his family were refugees. 

Reflecting on these sacred foundations, the Catholic Church recognizes that people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives, and the lives of their families, if they cannot do so in their country of origin. The migrant’s story reminds us of a fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching: that the goods of the earth are intended to benefit all people. It is never God’s will that some of God’s children live in luxury while others have nothing (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 21). 

Catholic Social Teaching also states that countries are obligated to design and conduct their immigration processes with mercy and justice. Governments should understand their duties in light of the absolute dignity of all people and their sacred commitment to the common good (cf. Pacem in Terris, 103-107). 

What is the Missionary Society of St. Columban doing on the US/Mexico border?  
Columbans have been accompanying communities along the US/Mexico border for more than 25 years. In 2019, we started our Migrant Ministry in Ciudad Juárez to welcome and protect migrants. 

  • In September 2019, we opened Casa Acogida, or “House of Welcome." This is a shelter near the Columban parish in Anapra that welcomes highly vulnerable women with their children, and, since it opened, has offered long-term hospitality to some 30 women with their children. 
  • In June 2019, in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Juárez, we initiated the Projecto Catedral, or the “Cathedral Project.” This is a welcome center and humanitarian aid facility for those under highly vulnerable conditions living outside of shelters. The project is located at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in downtown Ciudad Juárez. The project's focuses change as the people's needs change. Starting in March 2022, we welcomed mostly Haitian migrants, who are particularly vulnerable to anti-black racism in the immigration system and Mexican culture broadly. During this period, we were assisting more than 200 families each month. Starting in Decemember 2022, the needs of the people changed and we started working with Venezuelan migrants. During this period (which continues to this day), we assist between 800 to 1,000 individuals per day. 
  • In May 2020, another shelter for migrants, Casa San Columbano, was opened as part of a coordinated effort with Annunciation House El Paso. Since Casa San Columbano opened, dozens of families have been received. In most cases these families have small children and have nowhere to go. Currently, the shelter accommodates up to 14 families or 30 persons.
Publication Date
March 28, 2023