Migrants 'must never be used as currency', Mexican bishops tell the US

A US Customs and Border Protection officer watches a group of migrants as they search for a place to cross over the US border wall in Tijuana, Mexico December 14, 2018Reuters

Catholic bishops in Mexico have expressed concern over a trade deal with the US that protects tariff-free trade in exchange for "strong measures" to stop migrants from Central American countries trying to cross the border.

After striking the deal with the US, Mexico announced it would be sending 6,000 national guard troops to the country's southern border with Guatemala and agreed to expand a programme that allows migrants from Central American to remain in Mexico while awaiting a decision on their asylum claims. 

While the US has emerged from the talks feeling positive, Mexico's bishops said that the deal represents the "lack of a truly humanitarian welcome for our migrant brothers and sisters which reflects our convictions in recognizing and protecting the rights of all human beings equally". 

They welcomed the US' decision not to impose tariffs on Mexican imports into the country but they were especially critical of the deployment of national guards to Guatemala, calling it "contradictory".

"If we, as Mexicans, have rejected the construction of a wall, we cannot turn ourselves into that wall," they said in a statement. 

They continued: "Our migrant brothers must never be used as currency. No negotiation should be placed above what the Church and civil society have defended for years; that is, not labeling migrants as criminals, and the human rights of those who fight for their dignity with significant risks to their own security."

The bishops want to see further dialogue between the US and Mexico around human rights, solidarity and the promotion of the common good in the region. 

They assert that the real issue is not the number of migrants trying to reach the US, but the need to advance "integral human development" in Central America and southeastern Mexico. 

"Mexico is not isolated," they said. "It is a brother nation that must build up other Central American countries through a strategy that take into account a regional common good".

The bishops went on to say that both countries should not "fall into the easy temptation of blackmail or threats" but make a permanent commitment to put dialogue and transparency at the heart of their bilateral relations.

"The good of each country is built by looking after the good of the whole region. There is not future other than that of walking together as brothers and sisters," they said.