(RNS) — San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy condemned the Trump administration’s border wall effort this week, calling it “ineffective” and “grotesque” as the president visited the region to tour prototypes.
President Trump used his first visit to California since taking office to decry current fences along the U.S.-Mexico border as “inferior” — and champion the various 30-foot-tall mock-ups that could be used to make good on his campaign promise to erect a “big, beautiful wall.”
“If you don’t have a wall system, we’re not going to have a country,” Trump told journalists after observing the wall models, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. “There’s a lot of problems in Mexico. They have the cartels. We’re fighting the cartels. We’re fighting them hard.”
But many remain opposed to the idea, including McElroy, who issued a statement on Tuesday (March 13) decrying the wall plan.
“It is a sad day for our country when we trade the majestic, hope-filled symbolism of the Statue of Liberty for an ineffective and grotesque wall which both displays and inflames the ethnic and cultural divisions that have long been the underside of our national history,” McElroy’s statement read.
“Our faith is in the God who is the Father of us all, and who urges us to see Jesus himself in the immigrants and refugees who seek safety and freedom.”
Catholic Church leadership has long voiced fierce opposition to the border wall project. When asked during a February 2016 trip to Mexico about then-candidate Trump’s proposal, Pope Francis — who had visited the U.S.-Mexico border the day before and blessed undocumented immigrants — was dismissive of the idea and appeared to criticize the faith of those who support it.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel,” Francis said.
Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas — the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration — has also cast aspersions on the idea, saying in a January 2017 statement, “I am disheartened that the president has prioritized building a wall on our border with Mexico.” He added the wall would “only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers.”
U.S. Catholics appear to be split along racial lines regarding Trump’s proposal. According to a January 2018 Pew Research poll, 55 percent of white non-Hispanic Catholics favor the wall, whereas 83 percent of Hispanic Catholics oppose it.
Faith-based opposition to the project has been consistent and passionate among mainline Protestants and non-Christians. In addition to Catholic pushback, a number of faith groups have condemned Trump’s plan, including the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Union for Reform Judaism, Alliance of Baptists, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Disciples Center for Public Witness (Disciples of Christ) and the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), among others.