US & World

El Paso Bishop testifies in front of House Judiciary Committee

El Paso Bishop in Washington D.C.

EL PASO, Texas - The Bishop of El Paso's Roman Catholic Diocese testified before a House Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

The subject? The tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who have been flocking to the United States from Central America.

Bishop Seitz, who visited Central America seven months ago, spoke for just a few minutes at the start of the hearing, giving a shortened version of the 16-page speech he had prepared. He also got numerous questions from the committee.

"Other nations are watching how we handle this matter," Seitz said.

Seitz didn't mince words when it comes to the importance of the U.S. dealing with the flow of unaccompanied children from Central America, where he said problems with organized crime and gangs is the major issue.

Violence is the straw that stirs the drink," he said. "Otherwise, it is unlikely we would see such large numbers of unaccompanied children at our doorstep."

He offered a number of suggestions to the committee for short term responses, including placing children in shelters and not warehousing them in Customs and Border Protection facilities. Also not housing families in restrictive setting and appointing counsel to help them navigate the legal process. He added that providing post-release services to families is a must, as well as allocating sufficient funding to care for the children and providing pastoral services to them.

"I ask you to respond to the needs of these children," Seitz said. "Do not to turn them away or ostracize them, as Americans are compassionate people, we should not turn our backs on these children."

Seitz shared personal stories of the immigrants before being asked a number of questions by members of the committee. He was asked by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York how he would respond to the assertion that what's causing the surge in children coming to the U.S. unaccompanied is the administration's policies.

"From what I've seen, there hasn't been a significant change in recent months in administration policy, as far as I know," Seitz said. "What has changed is the violence on the ground in these countries."

He was also asked, this time by Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, whether the Catholic church is creating "somewhat of a magnet" by offering them shelter and refuge.

"When they arrive in the U.S., I don't think we can say I'm not going to show you compassion, i'm going to leave you on the street, because I don't want to encourage anyone else," Seitz responded.

Bishop Seitz stressed the long term solution of the church and the U.S. government working together to bolster the ability of Central American governments and communities to deal with the incredible levels of violence they are facing.

He also added that "a good deal of prayer" would be a good idea as well.

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