Pope Francis will visit the U.S. border with Mexico on Wednesday as he seeks to highlight the plight of Central American immigrants looking for shelter from violence in the United States.
The pope will fly to Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, where he will visit a jail and a technical college before celebrating Mass in a stadium a stone’s throw from the international border.
The pope’s trip comes against the backdrop of tough rhetoric in the GOP presidential primary about immigration.
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTHE MEMO: Trump's wild first month Chelsea Clinton attends Muslim solidarity rally in NYC Pentagon chief: 'I don’t have any issues with the press' MORE, the winner of the New Hampshire primary in a landslide, has made calls for ending illegal immigration the centerpiece of his campaign.
The pope has not explicitly talked about the heated U.S. election during his visit to Mexico, which began on Friday. But the visit to the border has sent an implicit message about his support for migrants’ freedom of movement.
During a visit to Washington, D.C., last year, the pope addressed Congress and strongly signaled his support for protecting the rights of migrants.
The pope’s urgings haven’t gone unnoticed.
Trump last week called Francis “a very political person.” He also suggested that the pope is in Mexico because that country’s government believes the papal visit is a good way to prevent further restrictions on the border.
“Mexico got him to do it,” Trump said.
Francis has made clear the multi-faceted message of his latest international tour, lashing out against corruption before an audience of Catholic bishops, connecting to poverty-stricken indigenous groups and following a route reminiscent of the journey Central American migrants take to reach the United States.
In Mexico, pundits and activists have criticized the contrast between the pope’s populist message and the parade of top-tier politicians manning his reception lines. Francis was greeted at the airport in Morelia, Mexico, by 500 guests — mostly politicians and celebrities.
The federal government’s reception of the pope has led some to criticize what they view as a violation of the Mexican state’s secular nature. Jesús Silva Herzog Márquez, a prominent columnist, accused President Enrique Peña Nieto of “confusing the principle of secularism with religious tolerance.”
Francis visited Mexico’s poorest state of Chiapas and one of its most violent in Michoacán during the trip.
Michoacán, a major exporter of undocumented migrants to the United States, was ranked 29th out of 32 states by the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Peace Index. The state hosts some of the country’s most violent drug cartels and a “self-defense” movement, paramilitary groups that spawned as a reaction to the violence and the government’s inability to contain it.
The violence has been so bad that it has rocked Michoacán’s political establishment; the state has had four governors since 2012.
Chiapas, in contrast, is a net importer of immigrants, as it straddles the majority of Mexico’s 540-mile border with Guatemala. It has a poverty rate of 76.2 percent.
Both the U.S. and Mexican governments see it as the front line in combating illegal immigration from Central America. The Catholic Church views Chiapas as a battleground against Protestant denominations converting Catholic parishioners.
While 81 percent of adults nationwide identify as Catholic, according to Pew Research, about half of the adults in Chiapas have converted to Protestantism.
Francis hosted two massive events in Michoacán before returning to Mexico City to prepare for the last leg of his trip.