The woman was pregnant with her second child when she started out, her 2-year-old daughter in tow. She knew her older sister would take her in, provide the comfort and safety she needed. The journey would be long and treacherous. But she was willing to take it. Her other options were not good, to put it mildly.
Unfortunately, she was not warned. Not told she’d have no options when she arrived at our port of entry requesting asylum. There had been no public service messages in her home country of Honduras. No warnings about the changes in US policy towards asylum seekers. Changes that had turned even crueler. No government money had been applied to educating vulnerable people about how nearly impossible the process of seeking asylum had become. No spreading of information that could actually assist people and prevent them from making such a journey. Only the spreading of false promises made by smugglers preying on desperate people. Promises assuring them they would reach the US border.
Whether the young mother paid a smuggler or not I do not know. I only know that when she arrived at the El Paso port of entry, now nearly 8 months pregnant, she and her daughter were whisked into a cold holding cell, processed and put in the queue to be deported.
But not back to Honduras.
Instead, thanks to what some in our administration have called a “beautiful” agreement known as ACA, or Asylum Cooperative Agreement, she and her little girl were to be flown to Guatemala where she would be required to seek asylum. Guatemala, a country with one of the highest rates of violent death and crimes against women in the world. A country where she knew no one. A country where she’d be alone and vulnerable, and soon to give birth.
The decision seems unbelievable. Unbelievable in the level of nonsensical cruelty being randomly inflicted on other human beings.
Certainly it is unconscionable.
Yet, this is happening. Often without our knowing. I only know about this woman because of my role on the board of directors of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.
And her story is one of the few that ends on a more positive note.
Through some act of grace, the woman’s sister in Houston discovered what was going to happen, found Las Americas in El Paso and frantically called asking for help. Fortunately, one of the attorneys was able to intervene and stop the deportation.
This young woman’s story could have turned into something quite tragic. But she is only one among many vulnerable people seeking asylum who are now being flown to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as part of the ACA. Countries where persecution, violence, and poverty are rampant. Countries in which people are being deposited without being told where they are. Or what they are supposed to do next.
And we do not know about their stories.
What has been disguised by our administration as a “beautiful” solution to the immigration problem is actually a cruel “beast” underneath. Like the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” only in reverse, what appears before our eyes is not what it seems.
Nothing is as it seems.
And so I feel it necessary to return to the basics, to what I learned as a child in Catholic school religion class. The basic fact that a child of God is valued as a child of God, no matter their appearance, no matter where they’ve come from, no matter what they’ve done.
Honestly, this is much harder for me to live by in relation to some people rather than others.
But I know that what I was taught is true. Each one of us is created in the image of God and is a temple of the Holy. Therefore, each one of us deserves to be treated with basic human dignity, to be safe, to be loved.
Even the beast I find hidden in others. And in myself.
My prayer is to fully live and accept this teaching. And that others will join me.
In the meantime, to better educate yourself on the ACA, I invite you to read a more in-depth explanation from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: https://justiceforimmigrants.org/what-we-are-working-on/asylum/asylum-cooperative-agreement-backgrounder/
“A core Catholic social teaching is that every human being is created in the image of God and is therefore entitled to dignity and respect….Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human life that should be respected and protected.”