New Mexico’s three Catholic bishops are calling on state residents to write letters to President Barack Obama urging him to expand resettlement efforts for Syrian refugees in the United States.
The New Mexico church leaders also said they were joining the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in calling on parishioners to urge members of Congress to support “urgently needed” development aid for refugee host countries.
“We remind New Mexicans that refugees and immigrants are all human persons, made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity and deserving our respect, care and protection by law from persecution,” Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester, Las Cruces Bishop Oscar Cantu and Gallup Bishop James Wall said in the statement.
New Mexico’s bishops join a growing chorus of Catholics and others calling for more compassion for Syrian refugees.
On Nov. 17, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration issued a statement saying he was “disturbed” by calls from federal and state officials to halt resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.
“These refugees are fleeing terror themselves — violence like we have witnessed in Paris,” the committee chairman, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of the Archdiocese of Seattle, said in the statement. “They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization.”
The issue has been divisive in New Mexico and across the country.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez joined a number of other Republican governors in opposing the president’s plan to accept any more Syrian refugees until a more vigorous screening process is in place.
“The governor strongly opposes the Obama administration’s plan to accept more Syrian refugees until there is a very clear plan in place to properly vet and place the refugees, and the voices of governors and the public can be heard,” Martinez’s spokesman, Michael Lonergan, said in a recent statement.
New Mexico’s Catholic bishops have challenged Martinez on policy issues in the past, most notably over a law that allows people lacking proof of immigration status to obtain a New Mexico driver’s license as long as they are state residents.
After Martinez made her position known, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, a former state Democratic Party chairman, called on her to welcome Syrian refugees to New Mexico.
“The people fleeing Syria now are in some of the darkest days of their lives, running from the very terrorism we seek to fight,” Gonzales wrote in a Facebook post. “Basic American values call on us not to bar the way or abandon them to their fate.”
On Tuesday, Gonzales said he applauded the New Mexico Catholic bishops’ call to action.
“When Pope Francis was here, he reminded us that this is a nation that was built by immigrants, many who came here seeking refuge from tyranny, war, famine or strife in their home countries,” Gonzales said in a statement.
“The Pope has said that ‘Facing the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees — fleeing death by war and famine, and journeying toward the hope of life — the Gospel calls, asking of us to be close to the smallest and forsaken. To give them a concrete hope, and not just to tell them: ‘Have courage, be patient!’ Clearly the Conference of Bishops understands that message and shares its conviction,” Gonzales said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.