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Top cardinal urges US to protect illegal farm workers


Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga

Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga

A close ally of Pope Francis has called on the United States to offer short-term work contracts to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants working clandestinely on the country’s farms.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, the outgoing head of Catholic charity body Caritas, told AFP the move would help to curb exploitation and was an example of how global migratory pressures could be eased without resorting to either a fortress approach or lifting all controls.

“You cannot close every door, but neither is it imaginable to open every one that can be opened,” the cardinal said in an interview.

“Migration is a right but countries also have a right to manage it,” he argued. “If we just said ‘let in everyone who is able to come’ that would be a disaster.

“How do you stop migration? Not with walls but with development.”

Maradiaga said he understood why many young people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador headed to the United States and ended up in a legal limbo that means they are vulnerable to being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers.

“I think the solution is better regulation,” he said. “There are jobs in agriculture in the United States that nobody there wants to do.

“For these jobs, you could regularise the workers’ situation by giving them work contracts.

“Someone who comes to work in the fields for six, eight months will come back to his own country with savings and might be able to build a house for himself. That is how it worked in past.”

Most of America’s total of around one million farm workers are immigrants from Latin America and more than half of those are estimated to be in the country illegally.

A guest worker scheme which would allow for the kind of short-term contracts evoked by the cardinal already exists but farmers have criticised it as overly bureaucratic and have been reluctant to use it.

Maradiaga, who has served two four-year terms at the helm of Caritas, is a member of the “C9” group of senior clerics who advise Francis, notably on ongoing reforms of the Vatican’s internal organisation and Church governance.

The pope has regularly spoken out on the plight of migrants and asylum seekers around the world, most notably attacking the “globalisation of indifference” that he sees as having contributed to thousands drowning in the Mediterranean in attempts to get into Europe.

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