A Latin America expert for Catholic Relief Services, the head of the bishops' migration committee and the president of a Catholic college in Michigan were among those urging the government toward humanitarian responses to a surge of children and families crossing the U.S. border from Central America.
Pope Francis on Tuesday called for an end to racism against migrants and pushed the U.S. to offer greater protection for young children entering the country illegally.
The debate of whether children who crossed the U.S. border alone pose a humanitarian crisis or an immigration challenge shapes the U.S. response.
Current immigration laws are "antiquated and inadequate," and the U.S. immigration system is "a stain on the soul of our nation," one bishop said.
President Barack Obama told activists he would consider ways to ease the effects of strict enforcement as frustration grows over the lack of progress on immigration reform.
"The U.S.-Mexico border is our Lampedusa. Migrants in this hemisphere try to reach it, but often die in the attempt," Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo said.