We share what “we have seen and heard” in two weeks spent on the border between Mexico and the USA, specifically in Laredo (Texas) collaborating with other Congregations.

Migrants from Haiti

We have seen many Haitian families coming through Caritas, as well as single adults. We were surprised when many spoke Spanish and said that they began their journey in Chile. Apparently, after the earthquake in Haiti (2010), Chile opened its borders to receive Haitians. They were welcomed, but not given papers, therefore making it exceedingly difficult to find work. Many Haitians, therefore, have been migrating for years.

Angelica, a Haitian woman near 40, shared her journey. She spent 3 years in Chile but never found steady work, so she decided to go north. Her goal was to get to Mexico originally, not to the US. She traveled for months along with her cousin and her cousin’s husband, traveling by bus and by foot. She and many others passed through the jungle in Panama (a tremendous feat, from what we hear). Their belongings were gradually stolen or lost. They saw many dead along the way. She eventually made it to Mexico where she looked for months for work but again could not secure a job. So she crossed into the US and is hoping to find a way here.

She is an intelligent woman of faith and good education. She continuously gave thanks to God for protecting her along the way, for the life that she has, and for her faith. Though her family is Baptist, she attended a Catholic school and even wanted to become a Sister, but her family refused. The one possession that she still has from the beginning of her journey in Haiti is her Bible – a now well-weathered Bible, stained from the rain but protected in a leather book holder. It has been well read and prayed over, and holding it was like holding someone’s heart in your hands. There was only one photograph held in it: Angelica standing tall, beautiful, and proud with her father or older brother.

I mistakenly asked how she wanted to celebrate now that she had arrived, and she calmly responded that she wanted to work so that she could send money home. There were many people to take care of back in Haiti.

Families arrived – often times mom, dad, and one child. Among them, there is often a father who speaks Spanish as well as Creole and acts as translator for the rest. We find that the Haitians have the most difficulty in arranging for their travels within the US, as their families or sponsors do not have credit cards or know how to purchase a ticket online. We spend much time trying to help the migrants and their sponsors to find flights, and doing much of the searching for less expensive flights flying out of this small-city airport.

The maturity of a 16-year-old moved us. She came with her parents and was clearly the one that was “parenting” in this situation as she had learned to communicate in Spanish through their time in Chile. She did so with joy and maturity, and then spontaneously began to clean up the papers and water bottles that had been floating around the grounds. She did so with a sense of responsibility, for she saw where she could help and desired to do so.

Stories of the journey

When people started to share stories of “la selva,” we wondered if they were mistaken! Isn’t most of the trip through the desert? We learned, however, that there is a significant part of the jungle that they must pass through in Panama, complete with animals that we would never want to see that close without a zoo barrier between us! People sleep on the ground, trying to protect themselves and their belongings. They see other migrants who have attempted the journey lying dead – from hunger, violence, a terrible fall, illness, and certainly many other things. It is amazing what people are able to share with us as they arrive. They probably feel far enough away from it to talk about it, but it is also still so close that it is part of their “daily” experience of the past months or years.

Migrants from Venezuela

Most of the migrants whom we have received in Caritas have been adults coming from Venezuela. They are the most likely now to be granted asylum, although most still will not be granted this status. We have been told that, among all of those who apply for asylum (from any country), only 10% will be granted it. A significant number of people, therefore, do not even show up for their court date (which they must do within the month according to their release documentations from the detention center).

We met one 19-year-old who had traveled with her mother. In Venezuela, they had borrowed money “de una mala persona” in order to pay for her grandfather’s treatment at a hospital. When they could not immediately pay back the loan, they received death threats and had to escape. She traveled through Central America and Mexico and was taken to the detention center along with her mother, but they were not released together. She was frightened but sweet and found comfort in sharing.

She said that in the detention center, she realized that she did not have it as bad as some others. There was a girl her age who had crossed but had been taken immediately to “a house with many other people” and was held there for a month. One night they put her in a truck with many others, and (this time, thankfully!) border control stopped the truck and found all of the people inside and took them to the detention center. Human trafficking. This probably saved this young woman from greater evils.

A middle-aged man from Venezuela arrived distraught and nervous. He was a journalist in Venezuela and did not want to leave his country nor his duty as a journalist. He was receiving death threats, and two different times he had narrowly escaped a car bomb. He carries with him now, however, great guilt. He feels like he fled, like he left his people and his duty and fled. His decision to leave was made hastily, and he apparently asked to be sent back in a moment of panic at one point. He kept sharing that he felt wrong for not feeling happy like his companions at that moment, for they were grateful to have arrived. He, however, was angry. He did not want to be here, and he was carrying just anger over the reality of his country.

While most people stay for a maximum of one night, there was a father and son who stayed for 1 week. They had been separated from their mother and 2 other older children when they were taken to 2 different shelters. The father and 12-year-old son were released to Catholic Charities, but they knew nothing of the whereabouts of the rest of the family. While there is a database of names of those in detention centers, their names did not appear there all week. They asked to wait in hopes that they would have news of their family before they traveled on to their sponsor, and they took on part of the “housework” while they waited, taking on the daily loads of laundry of all of the sheets and towels of the guests. They left Catholic Charities grateful and hopeful, though still without news of their family.

US Church developments

Rebecca Solloa, director of Catholic Charities here in Laredo, spoke two weeks ago at a convocation of Bishops at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. Bishop Seitz of El Paso had convoked this meeting specifically to address the Catholic Church’s response to the immigration crisis. Rebecca returned with hope after listening to the Bishops that were gathered and their desire to “change the narrative” regarding immigration in the US. She asked them how they were going to get that message to their priests, who are often the hardest to convince, and they acknowledged the difficulty. Here are excerpts from an article from America.

Bishops from the U.S., Mexico and Central America gathered June 1 in Mundelein. The prelates came together for the first day of an emergency meeting on immigration at Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago.

The meeting, with probably the largest group of representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that has met in person since the COVID-19 pandemic began, seeks to craft a welcoming response to immigrants by Catholic Church members in their respective dioceses in the U.S.

“Let us see how we might come together across borders, collaborating across our different roles, responsibilities and ministries, raise anew the moral voice of the church with decision makers at this critical time in defense of the rights and dignity of those who are forced to flee,” said Bishop Seitz during an opening session June 1.

“This is a defining moment for us. This present moment invites a bold response from the church, grounded in the spirit and in fidelity to the Gospel,” he said. “No more than we can close our eyes to the evil of abortion, can we close our eyes to the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters and the disregard for their human rights.”

Bishop Seitz said that society, including the government, was looking to the church to provide a moral compass in facing the challenges immigration presents.“I believe there is an opportunity to set aside old, failed ways of responding to migration with barriers and weapons of war,” he said. “It is time to seek new pathways and understandings of the place of migration within the human story.”

“It is time to recognize migrants not as interlopers and intruders,” he said, “but as people who reveal the face of Christ in their love and courage and who enrich us by their presence.”

We feel that we are here with our province and our congregation as we seek to accompany from below, from within, and close to our brothers and sisters “en camino.”

Un fuerte abrazo desde Laredo,

Margarita, Jessica, and Lauren