Opening Comments by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio at CMS Symposium on “Forced Migration, Protection and Border Control.”

Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio

Opening Comments by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio at CMS Symposium on “Forced Migration, Protection and Border Control.”

Bishop DiMarzio delivered these welcoming remarks at the 2019 CMS Academic & Policy Symposium on October 17. Later that evening Bishop DiMarzio received the Lifetime Service Award at the CMS Gala.


Allow me to begin by thanking Karen Grisez, Bob Juceam, and all of our friends at Fried Frank for hosting this event again this year.

Thanks as well to the CMS board members who are here today, to the editors of the International Migration Review and Journal on Migration and Human Security, and to all of you who contribute to CMS’s work.

Before we turn it over to Jamie Winders and Alex Aleinikoff, I wanted to make a few comments on the theme of today’s event, which is “Forced Migration, Protection and Border Control.”

This is a very timely theme, given the 71 million forcibly displaced people in the world; 25.9 million of them refugees, and given our misguided focus on borders as the main way to respond to the displaced people.

The United States devotes extraordinary resources to border control, to keeping migrants from reaching our borders, to deterring those seeking protection, and to pressuring asylum-seekers to abandon their claims.

Despite the immense need, the United States is admitting the fewest refugees in nearly 40 years, creating many new barriers to asylum, and gutting our temporary protection programs. The United States has also been dismantling the community-based infrastructure that many of us have spent decades building to assist refugees and others in need.  

The trend is to build walls, not bridges and not better protection systems. 

The United States is not alone in this trend: according to one study, there are 70 border walls around the world designed to keep out migrants, most of them built since the 9/11 attacks.  In 1990, there were only 15 walls or significant fencing. 

Of course, sovereign states have the right to administer and regulate their borders, but that is not the end of the story.Here is the typical scenario in forced displacement: States fail to create the conditions that allow their citizens to remain or they create the conditions that force them to leave.

And the forcibly displaced are then denied protection by other states that evoke their sovereign prerogatives. 

In other words, the migrants are stuck in the middle. 

Yet the concept of sovereignty is not just about border control.  It is also about creating the conditions that allow persons to remain in their home communities, about states living up their responsibilities under international law, and about states protecting persons fleeing for their lives.   

Borders, in turn, need not be mostly be places of exclusion.

They can also be places of hope and places of encounter, as we see in communities like El Paso. 

How do we turn the tide on these issues in the current era? 

Pope Francis’ theme for his Message on World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2019 is: “It’s not just about migrants.”

As he puts it, “it’s not just about migrants”:

  • It’s also about our fears – “fear of ‘the other,’ the unknown, the marginalized, the foreigner.”
  • It’s about “our humanity.”
  • It’s about ensuring “that no one is excluded.”
  • It’s about putting the last first.

“[I]t is not only the cause of migrants that is at stake,” he says, but “the present and future of the human family.”

This is the work many of you have taken on in life.

And I thank all of you who care about the people at the heart of this phenomenon, who care about increasing understanding in this area, and who care about evidence-based policies. 

We have a lot of work ahead of us.