Just Politics: Why harming the border harms us all

On this episode of the podcast, Jesús de la Torre of Hope Border Institute shares his experiences at the border, his policy ideas, and how Catholics can build communities of welcome.

Listen on: Apple | Spotify

When people in the United States think about immigration, many immediately think about the U.S.-Mexico border, cruel border policies, and desperate families fleeing violence. But as Jesús de la Torre of Hope Border Institute shares in this episode, immigration is about so much more—including freedom, good food, global solidarity, and especially dreams. What if our immigration system wasn’t just built around human rights and human dignity, but also human dreams?  

“All of us, we have desires. We aspire to be. We want to study. We want to work. We want to learn. We want to discover,” de la Torre says. “We need to design a system that is focused on people’s dreams and aspirations … that then that will benefit everyone.”

De la Torre draws on Catholic social teaching—and the words of Pope Francis—to help us understand that making our country more welcoming for immigrants makes the country more welcoming for everyone. “If we encounter people [at the border] with mercy and we allow each other to share that vulnerability, those fears, those hopes, I think will become much more humane and much more human,” he says.  

Join us as we learn more about de la Torre’s experiences at the border, his policy ideas, and how Catholics can help build vibrant, culturally-rich communities of welcome.

NETWORK Advocates is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to advancing the principles of Catholic social justice and does not endorse or oppose any candidate or party in the upcoming election. 

Additional resources 


Colin Martinez Longmore: So, question: What do climate change, the rise of autocracies, and the aftermath of the COVID pandemic all have in common?

Eilis McCulloh: Besides being the most depressing way to open up a conversation?

Colin: Well, true… and, they are major contributors to the global rise in immigration and refugees. Which is a global issue we see happening even in Europe as well. We’ve seen it have a major influence on the outcome of their own 2024 elections.

Joan Neal: All this while the Catholic Church in the United States has been calling for comprehensive immigration reform for decades. In 2003 in fact, the USCCB called on countries like United States and France to take action, saying, “[m]ore powerful economic nations… have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.”

Colin: Catholics all over are responding to the call, including our guest for this episode! This week, we’ll be hearing from Jesus de la Torre, a Fulbright scholar and the research fellow at Hope Border Institute in El Paso, Texas. Jesus shared his first-hand experiences in El Paso of what is necessary for us to have a welcoming country that respects the human rights of all people, without exception.

Eilis: Let’s welcome him into the studio!

Colin: Jesus de la Torre is a Fulbright scholar and the research fellow at Hope Border Institute in El Paso, Texas, as well as the co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. Originally from Spain, Jesus holds a master’s in migration studies at the University of San Francisco, a bachelor’s in international relations, as well as a master’s in European Union. He has experience in research and advocacy for migrant rights. His main focus is on the root causes of migration and the impact of border externalization policies on the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. He believes that everyone has the right to migrate and thrive in the place they would like to stay. Jesus, so good to have you with us on Just Politics.

Jesus de la Torre: Thank you for welcoming me. Thank you for being here today.

Colin:  For our listeners, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you come to be interested and involved in this work of immigration?

Jesus: Yeah, absolutely. So as you said, I’m originally from Spain. I’m from the south of Spain and I was in touch with plenty of my migrant colleagues from many different countries, including Morocco, Ukraine, Senegal, and other countries. And to me, it was very, very unfair the way that my privileges were working against their lives and especially how lucky I was to be able to move anywhere to study–I went to Brazil, I went to other countries in Europe, I’m now in the U.S.–and that my friends from Morocco, they had so many difficulties just to cross the Gibraltar Strait and to come and study to Spain or to come to work or reunite with family members. So, it was truly unfair for me. And it’s from that sense of social justice and global justice for everyone that I decided that we needed to do, or I wanted to do, more on my side.

We always put the emphasis that people should work on their origin countries to change things. And we never say how much we need to change from our side to make the system fairer and more humane. So that’s what took me to immigration. That’s what took me to work alongside my colleagues.

So as a fun fact, even though I’m now doing research, my profession is a waiter. I used to work with my parents in my parents’ restaurant for many years. And that’s where I learned everything that I know right now.

Eilis: I love that. I love that introduction and how you brought us to this idea of migration and immigration as something that happens across the world, no matter what country we’re in. Because here in the U.S., there’s often a tendency to take a myopic view of immigration that’s only limited to the southern border or only limited to maybe Mexican immigrants.

But as you’ve touched on already and based on your research and your upbringing in Spain, what do you think is missing from the conversation about migration?

Jesus: Well, that’s a really good question. I think we’re missing plenty of things. And the first one is humanity, right? We’re missing desires and aspirations. All of us, we have desires. We aspire to be. We want to study. We want to work. We want to learn. We want to discover. And instead of allowing everyone to do that, our migration system has been designed to keep the privileges of some–and to especially keep the freedom of movement of people from the global north, from our countries in Europe, in the United States, Australia, Japan, and restricting the movement of people from other countries, particularly African, South American, and Middle East countries and Southeast Asian countries. So that means that in the conversation, we are always forgetting about people’s desires, not only their rights, but also their desires and the right to achieve their best that they can, right? And to pursue that.

And we often focus on the economic value of migration. We often focus on the benefits of migrants for our countries. And I think that’s also the wrong approach, because migrants– and anyone in general–goes beyond the economic value they can produce. And I think about my grandma, I think about my friends, my colleagues… they are valuable not because they produce something. They are valuable because of who they are, because of their wisdom and their joy and their hopes. And I really think we need to uplift more of that and design a system that is focused on people’s dreams and aspirations, and help them to bring those to the maximum of their capacity. And that then will benefit everyone from the economy, to the society, to anything that we can think about.

Colin: Definitely. As a follow up to that, because I met you in El Paso, right? And I’m curious, what brought you to El Paso? Was there anything in there that for you was, ‘I want to be here,’ or was it just because of work opportunities that happened to be a place that you ended up in? Just curious as to how you ended up specifically in El Paso.

Jesus: I went to El Paso specifically because I fell in love with the border. I think the U.S.-Mexico border is a place of encounter, is precisely that place of joy where we can learn as much as we can and as much as we would like to. It’s a place of leadership and it’s also a place of community. And I discovered community through my current organization, the Hope Border Institute, where I’m a research fellow. And they show me the richness of the border, that cultural richness, that incredible food, the culinary, the people who open their arms to you.

And I think I really fell in love with the border as soon as I went there. And I was first interning with Hope, and then eventually when I concluded my masters in San Francisco, they offered me this position. So I was very lucky, very privileged to go back and be with them at the border.

Colin: Yeah, definitely. And then can you share just a little bit about the work that you do at Hope Border Institute?

Jesus: So Hope is always focused on building solidarity across borders. We are based on Catholic social teaching, so whatever we do is rooted in our faith values, in our Catholic social teaching values. And we build solidarity across borders, from Central America all the way to the interior of the U.S.

I work a lot with communities in Central America to help them have the right to thrive at home. Pope Francis said people should have the right to migrate, should have the right to stay, and should have the right to return. So we try to work under that paradigm. People have the right to stay in their countries and to have a life with dignity.

We work very much with our colleagues in Central America, particularly Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, to ensure that they are accompanied in their struggle for democracy, for human rights, for better economic opportunities, for the freedom to practice whoever they want to be and their religious values.

And then at the border, I focus a lot on documenting the impacts of U.S. policies and particularly the policies at the border that we know are very cruel. They are focused on deterrence; we know that’s a failed approach. And we always strive to document those impacts to accompany people who are impacted by those policies. And then eventually foster a system that is humane and fair for everyone and eventually that allows everyone to thrive wherever they are.

Eilis: And that really ties into our next question. Hope and another organization, Las Americas, wrote a set of policy recommendations from the perspective of those on the front line in the borderlands. And you also wrote a white paper proposal for a comprehensive national system that the Catholic Church can implement. Can you share a little bit more about each of these?

Jesus: Yeah, absolutely. So the proposal that we drew with Las Americas and with our partners at the border, in general, is a proposal that aims to rethink border policies and immigration policies broadly from the borderlands perspective, right? What does it look like to rethink immigration policy from a borderlands lens? And in that policy recommendation paper, we provided a set of very basic recommendations that we haven’t tried yet. Basically: expand processing capacity at ports of entry, allow people to access asylum according to our law–which says between ports of entry, that means the border wall, and at ports of entry–and to have enough personnel to process people and to do it in a humane, fair way, to allow them to have access to counsel and due process without being detained. Allow families also to get into the interior safely and in a way that can respect their dignity by supporting communities that are doing the work of welcoming.

And that’s where our white paper comes in. The Catholic Church is doing a lot in many, many places. I know many grassroots organizations, many Catholic-led organizations that are welcoming people arriving in buses, welcoming people who are arriving as refugees also in planes, welcoming people who are receiving parole. And they are doing a tremendous job. But still, we are lacking some connection between the border and the people in the interior.

So the white paper advances an idea on how to improve those relationships, those systems, so we can make the process faster, more streamlined, and then we can provide continuous accompaniment to people who arrive at the border and then go to the interior. So in that way, when you are welcomed at the border by a Catholic organization or any other faith-based organization or any organization in general, then you can continue being referred to the interior. And you can transfer your case. People in the interior can know if you had to go through a medical procedure at the border, if you need special attention for your kid, or you need some special services. So we can make it more streamlined. And in that way, we can facilitate the transition process in the interior and make things easier for people at the border and then in the interior.

Eilis: My mind is kind of just swimming in a whole bunch of questions and also situating it within our Catholic faith and our Catholic culture. And most of us know that Pope Francis often talks about how we need to resist what he calls the culture of indifference in many areas of our life, particularly in the context of migration.

And you’ve also talked about the need for encounter or encuentro, of that really coming together across borders and building relationships. And within this set of proposals that you just talked about, they really fall right at that intersection of policy and Catholic social justice. From your point of view, how are Catholics and other people of faith uniquely suited for ensuring that we all have the freedom to live in humane, compassionate, and welcoming communities?

Jesus: I think Catholics are very suited, but sadly we need to face the reality in our country, in the United States. Catholics, as well as many other Christians, are divided across party lines. That means that Catholics and other Christians, according to the latest Pew Research Center poll, they look at the party before deciding if something is good or needed or not. And that’s a problem, especially when we see that the immigration debate has turned more into a dehumanization debate. More and more migrants and families and people on the move at the border and beyond the border have been dehumanized, to the point that their deaths don’t even shake us anymore. The deaths at the desert that we are having in El Paso are record levels in Arizona, are record levels because of the climate change and the heat. They don’t move anything anymore. And that’s extremely sad.

So I think as Catholics, we should go back to our principles and we should go back to the teachings of our faith. What would Jesus do with these people? What would he say? Will he ask them for their papers? Will he ask them how they cross a border? Will he ask them if they committed anything? Will he ask them?

Instead, we should move to mercy. And I think mercy is very powerful. And at the border we have had a lot of encounters with people who were seeking mercy, who were seeking another chance, who were seeking another opportunity for their kids, who were seeking just a little bit of hope. And if we encounter people with mercy and we allow each other to share that vulnerability, those fears, those hopes, I think we will become much more humane and much more human.

And as Catholics, we are called to do that. We are called to go and meet the stranger and face that discomfort of meeting someone we don’t know, of sharing some new values, of sharing what we like, what we don’t like, and come to terms and create a beautiful relationship. So I think we have a huge task as Catholics. We have the task of going back to our roots, going back to our faith and looking at people as who they are, our brothers and sisters, because our brothers and sisters don’t end at the other side of the border.

Colin: That’s really well said. And I appreciate you, you know, calling Catholics and people of good will to that task because it’s so needed during this time. I’m curious, though, just because this is big work, there’s big questions, you know, life and death often comes in terms with this issue as well. But in terms of hope, what are the things that bring you hope and that continue to sustain you in the work that you do, that you can share with our listeners?

Jesus: Well, I come from the Hope Border Institute. So that’s the last thing we can lose there, is hope, right? And so we are always looking for hope and we have many reasons to be hopeful despite all the pain and the suffering that we see at the border and beyond the border.

And I find hope in my colleagues in Central America. I find hope in the Indigenous leaders who help save democracy in Guatemala. I find hope in the women who are fighting for the right to stay and to have a dignified life in Honduras. I find hope in the families who are crossing the border despite all the dangers and despite all the difficulties that our policies are putting in place and that are still saying ‘I want to study, I want to work, I want to provide for my family, I want to create a new life, I want to eventually hopefully one day go back to my country.’ I find hope in my colleagues, in all of you, I find hope in my people at the border. I find hope in the leaders, the Fronterizos leaders, who are working tirelessly every day doing the work of welcoming people like Dylan, Marisa, Ruben Garcia in Annunciation House. People who are doing all they can to live up to what we learn and to our faith tradition.

I find hope in the sisters who sign up to all the letters that we send, who send it to everyone, who get ready to welcome people at bus stations, who open the parishes, who talk to their priests and their parishioners and create groups to provide blankets and to provide support to the newly-arrived families, who are learning Spanish now, even if they are 82 years old—and they are learning Spanish because they now want to talk to these people in their languages! So, I find hope in many, many people. I find hope in our shared humanity. And I find hope that one day, that humanity will be reflected in policy.

Colin: Amen. I think that’s a beautiful place to end this conversation. Jesus, thank you so much for the work that you do, one, but two, for taking the time to share those insights with us as well.

Jesus: No, thanks to you and thanks to NETWORK for the opportunity and for the great work that you all keep doing. You sustain us, and we continue to work together with all of you and with all the listeners.

Colin: Amen.

Eilis: Amen. Thank you.

Jesus: Thank you.

Colin: Big thanks to Jesus for sharing his powerful insights on immigration and the dreams that drive us all.

Eilis: It’s been inspiring to hear how it’s possible to reshape our immigration system so that we can protect human rights and foster the dreams and aspirations of everyone involved. It’s a vision that really aligns with Catholic social teaching and the compassionate call from Pope Francis.

Joan: If today’s episode resonated with you, be sure to check out more of Jesus’ work with the Hope Border Institute and go to our website, networklobby.org, for more information and materials. And don’t forget to share this episode with friends and family to keep the conversation going about building a more welcoming and just society.

Colin: Let us know your thoughts on the episode. Leave a review, reach out to us on social media, or send us an email at info@networklobby.org. Your feedback helps us bring more impactful stories and discussions to the table.

Eilis: Thanks for tuning in! And remember, every small action we take can contribute to a larger movement of justice and solidarity.

Joan: Until next time, stay informed, stay engaged, and keep working towards a world where our dreams and freedoms can flourish.