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A Boy from a “Shithole Country”

 

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You may have a reaction to this vulgar term. Maybe you’re tired of hearing it already.

I get it.

But please stick with me. I have a story to tell. And it matters that you read this.

My new friend – I’ll call him Mathias – sleeps on a mattress so thin, he feels the cold steel of the springs underneath him. A bullet lodged into his left side presses into him, aggravated by the hard coils of his assigned bed. He tries to sleep only on his right, but even then, the pain barely diminishes. The bullet, put there long ago by police who were supposed to protect him.

Mathias is a 25-year-old asylum seeker from one of those African countries.

He’s not a criminal. Yet, he is a prisoner.

He’s one of the detainees I visit weekly at the El Paso Detention facility.

We’ve never hugged. I’ve not been able to touch his shoulder or squeeze his hand in support. Even though I’ve longed to.

I speak to Mathias from the other side of a glass. With a phone to my ear, my body hunched forward, as if straining will help me hear his words more clearly, I listen. To stories of hardship and trauma I’ve never known.

Stories of the challenges of living in confinement.

Stories of hope.

Because Mathias does have hope. Despite all he’s experienced.

He hopes in a country that values liberty, justice, and the dignity and right to life. He hopes in a court system that will do the right thing.

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I wish I could share that hope.

Mathias was just a boy, away at school, when his entire family, threatened by corrupt police, fled the country.

It’s been years since he’s seen his mother.

He smiles when I come to see him, asks how my week was, if I’ve heard from my son, who’s only a year older than he is.

I think of Mathias’s mother, holed up in a refugee camp in Kenya. She didn’t get to say goodbye.

Mathias tried to live a “normal” life without his family. Continue school, then hold down a job, save money. But the police threatened him. He had to flee. By that time, crossing the border wasn’t easy. He couldn’t join his family in the camp. He had to get help.

His story of how he made it all the way to the El Paso port of entry is more than admirable. It’s an amazing story of the human spirit. Of faith, hope, trust.

He trusts in the promises of a free and democratic society.

Still. In spite of his shock that, after pouring out his story to Border Customs, they handcuffed him and tossed him in detention to await his fate.

And he’s not unusual.

More weary asylum seekers have been arriving at our ports of entry, fleeing violence from places as far as Cameroon, Ethiopia, the Congo, as well as from El Salvador and Guatemala. Countries that are not on the U.S. list of favorable places to migrate from.

Whether our president used those exact words or not to describe these countries is not the point. The real concern is his intention.

And ours.

Words like “refugee,” “asylum seeker,” and “immigrant” have become associated with something evil. Or, at least, something undesirable.asylum

Yet international law supports asylum seekers. International law says a Government is prohibited from returning someone to their country if they will be subjected to torture or persecution or death. But a recent report compiled by human rights organizations at the border documents cases where we have not been following that law.

It shows that more punitive and inhumane deterrence practices are being implemented towards asylum seekers under this administration. More human rights violations are being recorded.

Surprisingly, the report also shows, El Paso courts have one of the highest denial rates for asylum seekers. It’s a sad reality that makes no sense.

Yet, the outcome of a case is determined by the judge assigned rather than the severity of the asylum seeker’s life-threatening situation and the credibility of their supporting documentation.

I may be going against the grain here, but I am actually praying that Mathias wins his asylum case and remains in the U.S.

I am praying that more and more of these violations come to light. And that they matter to people like you.

And I pray that one day winning an asylum case will not be a rare occurrence in many of our courts.

It’s worthwhile noting that National Right to Life Day is January 22. The right to life, the dignity of a life, extends to all human beings, not just the unborn. Not just those who were lucky enough to be born in the United States.

For me, Mathias – and thousands others like him – is the voiceless little one who needs me to stand up and say, you are a child of God. You have a right to live.

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Davis Gets It…Again

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Annunciation House in downtown El Paso

I had Davis to myself for nearly five days over the Christmas holiday. That has to be a first.

Usually, whenever he’s home, he has friends to catch up with, numerous social engagements to attend, and at least one overnighter at a best friend’s house. But I’m not in Virginia anymore.

Here in El Paso, he had nothing on his social calendar except visiting me.

Despite my glee, I wasn’t stingy with him. I didn’t hoard his attention. I shared him with El Paso.

After all, he was the first of my intimate circle of family and friends to visit, and I was anxious to show him around. To introduce him to life at the border and expose him to the people and places that mean so much to me. I wanted to give him the full effect.

And I hoped he would understand.

On Christmas Eve, his first day, we attended the annual Las Posadas and intimate Christmas Eve Mass and dinner at Annunciation House – a hospitality house for migrants and refugees that has been operating for 40 years in downtown El Paso. Entirely run on donations and volunteers, the building is old, but it’s filled with the precious hearts and stories of those who have passed through its doors.

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A woman prays by her bed in her assigned room at Annunciation House

 

This was Davis’s first Las Posadas.  He didn’t seem to mind as we walked the street, knocking on doors, singing in Spanish – a language he doesn’t know. We followed a little girl posing as Mary, a lace shawl draped around her head, accompanied by her raggedy-dressed Joseph – both of them real-life refugees.

When we gathered back at Annunciation House, he didn’t seem to mind the peeling paint and cracked walls. Or that he had to stand during the service because there weren’t enough seats. He toured the house with one of the 20-something year-old volunteers who’ve made a year-long commitment to work and live here, and he asked thoughtful questions. He listened to fellow volunteers share stories about what this place means to them. Posole-Dish-1

Then we ate a simple Christmas Eve meal of Posole, a traditional Mexican stew made with hominy, while sitting on a hard bench alongside refugees from the Congo, Guatemala, and Honduras. Davis even scrounged up the courage to practice his French with the African woman. Not knowing either English or Spanish, she had been silent until he engaged her in conversation.

The next morning at breakfast I asked what he thought about our unique Christmas Eve celebration.

Without hesitation, he said, “I can see God is present here.”

As he spoke of the volunteers’ commitment to the people, of all the “good” and the generosity he’d witnessed, my heart filled.

He’d seen what I’d wanted him to see. After only one day!

During the rest of his trip, in quiet moments, Davis asked questions about his dad. He wanted to remember the quirky aspects of David’s personality. Hear more about his father’s childhood and the early days of our marriage.

I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I became acutely aware of David’s presence in our conversations. I felt immense warmth and gratitude.

I never wanted Davis to suffer this loss at such a young age, in the middle of the most important stage of his relationship with his father.  Yet I know he is wiser because of this experience. His life is richer, his insights deeper, his compassion more genuine.

It’s what enabled him to stand in this place at the border with me and see what I see. With an awareness and understanding that comes from the heart.

Gregory Boyle, the Jesuit priest who’s worked with gang members in LA for 30 years and wrote the best seller Tattoos on the Heart, spoke about this in a recent interview with Krista Tippett. He says that “standing in the lowly place with the easily despised and the readily left out,” he finds more joy, kinship, mutuality. He’s discovered that “the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship.”

Kinship

Sometimes that kinship comes in the guise of wounds.

As one of Fr. Boyle’s homies, who’d been abused and beaten throughout his childhood, explained, “How can I help the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?”

So, we have to welcome our wounds. These hurting places within us. And I think if we are not afraid to acknowledge them, and know that we are loved unconditionally in them, we will be better able to stand in that “lowly place” offering kinship to those whom society considers dismissible, disposable.

And we will see with different eyes. The eyes that saw what Davis saw in El Paso.

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Waiting in Darkness

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As the darkest day of the year approaches, I’m finding hope in the darkness.

My own darkness, that is.

I’ve been silent because it’s been hard to put words on a page. Hard to express what I’ve been experiencing.

A couple of months ago I entered a darkness, a place where I felt hopelessly negative and stuck. And it was painful.

Despite the pain, I recognized it as an invitation from Spirit. Draw near. Delve deeper. There’s more to discover. More that hinders you from fully realizing all that you are in Me.

So, I reached out for help.

I’ve no idea where this will take me, but I’m willing to go deeper. I’m willing because I believe my faithfulness in saying yes to this invitation will allow the manifestation of what longs to be born in me.

“The birth of the Word in the soul,” as my Living School teacher Jim Finley puts it. Through our fidelity to these yeses, to what shows up unexpectedly in our lives, Christ is incarnate in the world, he says.

But, for now, I sit in the Advent season of expectant darkness.

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I sit in the silence and wait. I wait because there is nowhere else to go. I wait with hopefulness, with the courage and trust it takes to say yes. To accept what is before me. And I wait with an awareness that infinite Love is loving me in this place. And a recognition that this, too, is part of my spiritual journey.

I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. Each of us has our own moments of waiting in darkness. Sometimes it’s dealing with a chronic illness. Emotional pain. An unexpected medical diagnosis. The death of a loved one. Separation from one’s children.

Here at the border we’ve been getting more asylum seekers lately. We’re especially seeing an increase in refugees from African countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, and Cameroon, where violence has caused many to flee. I’ve begun visiting a few of these young men detained in the El Paso detention facility while they await their court date. They are not much older than my own son. Every one of them has had life-threatening experiences to get here. And every one of them has been separated from their families. If they are sent back, they will be killed.

I wonder how they remain hopeful. How they say yes to the darkness.

One young man I visit tells me his mother knows nothing about where he is. She doesn’t know if he’s safe, or even alive. I think of what that must be like for her – waiting for news. Wondering and worrying. Is she able to say yes to this darkness? To accept this part of her journey? welcoming door

 

I think of Finley’s words: “… your ongoing yes is the incarnation.”

And then I recall a very young woman so many years ago. Her willingness to say yes with courage and trust to what presented itself in the silent darkness led to the incarnation. The birth of Christ in the world.

In the silent darkness of the night, no matter how dark, no matter how uncertain, God speaks the Word in the soul.

Like Mary, fidelity to that yes is my journey, too. It is changing my life.

Life’s water flows from darkness.
Search the darkness, don’t run from it.
Night travelers are full of light,
and you are, too; don’t leave this companionship.
-Rumi

 

 

 

 

Spring Is Stirring Everywhere

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Memorial Park in El Paso

 

I’ve been missing Virginia’s spring. Luckily, I’m about to experience it once again when I drive back to Virginia next week to attend my niece’s graduation from George Mason University. Soon my senses will be filled with sweet-smelling blossoms, blasted with the color of azaleas, irises, dogwoods, and lilacs. And, of course, stuffed with pollen.

I imagine Davis is missing it, too. Up there in Nome where the earth is just beginning to thaw and show sprigs of green.

Like him, I’ve been having a different kind of spring.

As in Nome, spring’s arrival in the desert is slow and subtle. You have to really look for it.

So lately I’d been paying attention to the stirrings of the earth. Seeking changes in the landscape. Looking and listening. Trying to find what I thought I was missing.

Turns out, I found something. Something within myself.

One day I ventured out to a park located not far from my apartment. So close, I’d wondered why I hadn’t been there before. Sinking my feet into the grass – real grass – I strolled across the lawn and finally settled down under a tree. A wide-trunked tree. Placed my back up against it and took in the energy of one of my favorite forms of life. Right away I started missing the greenery of Virginia. The red cardinals and indigo buntings. Even the squirrels.

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Roses at El Paso park

Suddenly a slight breeze stirred the leaves above me, as if to say, “Hey, we’re here. Can’t you see us?”

And then – I’m not kidding – a squirrel scampered across the hillside. The first I’ve seen since arriving in El Paso. He was quickly followed by another chasing after him. All along I’d thought squirrels didn’t exist here!

In the silence I sensed God saying, “Everything you need is here.”

I smiled as I was shown once again that I have everything I need. That “everything is everywhere” – to use a title of a lovely Carrie Newcomer song I recently came across. That I am never separated from my Source.

And I remembered why I am here.

In this desert, at the border, I am finding my heart, my compassion, my voice. What was planted in me is thriving. And I’m discovering that the changes I seek in the landscape are happening within me.

Just as Davis discovered something stirring within himself in the dark of winter. Something that called him to remain in Alaska and be a voice for the people there.

It’s part of the sacred pattern of life. This rhythm to the cycle of the seasons. A sacred rhythm that’s playing out within us, too. If we can only have patience to allow it to unfold.

Whether it’s under the deep, dark, frozen earth or the dusty, dry landscape, life is stirring within. Seeds have been planted. Seeds that will miraculously burst forth at the appropriate time.

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It’s all part of the cycle. A cycle you can trust.

And you can trust the Source that’s fulfilling what has been planted within you.

Whether you’re at the Bering Sea, the Arabian Sea, or a place like El Paso that’s never seen the sea.

Because, as Carrie sings, “Miracles are everywhere. Love is love; it’s here and there. Everything is everywhere.”  (from “Everything Is Everywhere”)

It’s a message we need to remember. No matter what season we’re in.

To listen to this beautiful song by Carrie Newcomer, find it at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuCb8EwApQM

Living at Ground Zero

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Ground Zero. “The front lines.” The “beachhead.”

This is how U.S. Attorney General Sessions described El Paso on his recent visit. Apparently, I’m living in the middle of a war zone.

“This is where we are making our stand,” Sessions added.

A stand in the battle to stop the drug cartels and gangs from coming into our country. Even though, in reality, El Paso is one of the safest cities in the U.S.  If Sessions is looking for gangs, he might want to search a little deeper in his territory up in Washington.

He’s also taking a strong stand against those who are trying to enter the country illegally. Sessions’ message for migrants and refugees was, “…you should do what over 1 million other immigrants do each year, wait your turn and come lawfully.”

That statement said it all to me. Either he is vastly misinformed, or he just doesn’t care that what he is saying is not possible.

Wait your turn and come lawfully?

First, no one who is fleeing for their lives or those of their children can “wait their turn.” Secondly, most people needing to migrate are not able to obtain “legal” entry, no matter how much paperwork they complete, how many hoops they jump through, and how long they are willing to wait.

Translated, I take his message to mean nobody’s going to be allowed in, we’re at war with immigrants, and El Paso is the beach of Normandy.

God help us.

Will all this hardline rhetoric and militaristic nationalism coming out of Washington protect us? Not likely.

But what it will do – and already has done – is put people at further risk. Further jeopardize people whose lives are in danger. Put us at war with other countries, whether figuratively or literally. And put us at war with each other. The latter is already happening on Twitter and other forms of social media, on college campuses, and on the streets among protesters.

Frankly, I’m tired of all the negative rhetoric. The divisive words. The messages of hate and separation. Especially when they’re applied to the border, to Mexicans, and to immigrants.

So, I’m turning the rhetoric around and recognizing El Paso for what it is.

Ground Zero for compassion. For hope.

Because the people of El Paso are some of the kindest, most generous, most compassionate, faith-filled people I know. Whether they are here “with papers” or not.

Imagine that. Compassion and hope.

Right here at the beachhead.

At Ground Zero I’ve learned a lot about what it means to serve others. To live my faith and follow the corporal works of mercy. If you’re not familiar with them, in Catholic teaching the corporal works of mercy are seven ways we can extend God’s compassion and mercy on earth – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned, visit the sick, and bury the dead.

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The volunteers I work with in El Paso do this in innumerable ways.

 

Every day. Right here. From Ground Zero.

Imagine that.

 “Each time someone stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others…he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”  Robert Kennedy

I want to send forth this ripple. Live as a light of compassion. Rather than a voice of animosity and fear.

Imagine what that would be like. Imagine the possibilities.

“Hope looks at all things the way a mother looks at her child, with a passion for the possible.”     Br. David Steindl-Rast

Imagine.

This YouTube video of Pentatonix is a good place to start. You might call it ground zero.

 

 

 

The Feds Are Coming, the Feds Are Coming

El Paso downtown

We’re expecting some pretty important visitors to our little border community tomorrow. Not just one big wig from the administration in Washington, D.C., but two – U.S. Attorney General Sessions and Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Kelly.

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Apparently, they’re making the rounds, having visited Nogales, Arizona, just the other day.

But I don’t think any of us is exactly sure why they’re coming. I doubt they’re coming to breathe our arid air and tour the 15-18 ft. high border fence we already have erected along our border.

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My hope is that they actually want to learn something about the communities impacted by their immigration and border defense decisions. That they want to ask us questions and gather information about what life is really like for people living so close to Mexico before they go any farther with their costly deportation and border wall plans.

One can hope, can’t she?

But, if they’re simply coming with their own agenda, to put in place whatever they already have in mind, then God help us.

History has shown us what happens when those who govern make detrimental decisions for those from whom they are far removed, both physically and emotionally. Remember your American history and the cry “taxation without representation”? Remember what happened when the British tried to rule people in a faraway land without understanding their concerns or being willing to treat them fairly?

Now, I’m not threatening a revolution or anything. I’m just saying…

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Pay attention to history!

El Pasoans don’t seem to be too happy about this visit. Although we are trying to hope for the best.

In today’s El Paso Times – our daily newspaper – the editor had this to say about Sessions and Kelly’s visit:

“While they are here, they will see a border region that bears little resemblance to the rhetoric that comes from the administration they serve….

“…not the out-of-control border portrayed in certain political and media circles.

“Sessions and Kelly will see a community doing robust trade with Mexico. More than $21 billion in exports flowed from El Paso to Mexico in 2015, making us the largest exporter to Mexico among U.S. metropolitan areas. That export flow creates jobs not just in El Paso, but across the nation… (from http://www.elpasotimes.com/story/opinion/editorials/2017/04/19/el-paso-much-show-sessions-kelly-editorial/100668718/)

As for our representatives, both Democrats and Republicans are hopeful too.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, said he wants Kelly and Sessions “to understand that the safety of our community has been undermined with…calls for ‘military style’ immigration roundups and with the atmosphere of intimidation and fear promoted by this administration.”

Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican who represents the eastern portion of El Paso County, is, “hopeful that they will listen to the law enforcement agents on the ground and realize that a wall from sea to shining sea will be the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border….you can’t have a one size fits all solution to the border.

“We can secure the border and continue to facilitate the movement of goods and services at the same time. These are not two cities separated by an international boundary. It’s one community separated by a border.”

Some locals are taking a little more aggressive stance.

Like the recently-formed Borderland Immigration Council and Border Network for Human Rights, a long-standing human rights group. They’ll be holding a picket line and press conference tomorrow to protest “the continued rhetoric demonizing border communities and Trump administration actions to criminalize migrants and militarize the border.”

They’ll present actual cases of people who have legally sought asylum protections here and have been incarcerated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), even though they pose no danger to our community.

I’ll join them at the Federal Courthouse.

And I may not be throwing any tea overboard (a little hard to do in the desert 😊). But I will find a way – like many other like-minded Americans – to use my freedoms and my voice.

Where’s Paul Revere when you need him?paul-revere-by-wyeth

We Are All Grieving

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View from my apartment looking out across Mexico

We are grieving our loss. My fellow volunteers and I – the women and men who worked alongside me at the Nazareth hospitality center.

We know we’ve lost something special.

Several weeks ago, our center for migrants and refugees closed. We were told it was due to staff transitions in the main health center that owns the wing we were using. We thought it was temporary. So far, it hasn’t reopened.

But even before the center closed, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) had been bringing us fewer and fewer refugees. In mid-January, our daily numbers began dropping to single digits.

The interesting thing is, all of this happened soon after I’d closed on my house, packed up all my belongings and moved here – lock, stock, and barrel. Suddenly, what I loved doing most and fed me spiritually had disappeared.

You gotta wonder what the Universe has planned.

Still, I know without a doubt this is where I am meant to be. Living close to the border. Living, as I call it, “close to the bone.”

I’m not questioning my heart’s guidance.

But I am grieving. And I’m not the only one.

I realized this last week when I unexpectedly ran into several of my fellow volunteers at a Taize service.

Volunteers like Martha. Every Tuesday, she and her friend Cuki would come to Nazareth to prepare breakfast and lunch for our “guests.” When our daily numbers jumped to well over 100, they enlisted other friends to help.  They spent their entire day there, every Tuesday.

And they’ve been doing this for nearly three years.

Martha and I were so happy to see each other that night. With moist eyes, we shared how much we missed Nazareth and “the people.”grief-loss-therapy

Without really having words to express why, we both knew the fullness of this experience had touched our lives.

Other volunteers joined our conversation. And that’s when I realized, we all were grieving.

Grieving because we missed interacting with the people who had clearly given us a gift by their presence.

Grieving because we know the tragic and violent situations that existed in these people’s lives – the reasons they fled their home countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – have not changed. They’re still subjected to death threats, extortion, and gang violence. But where are they are fleeing to, we wondered?

Grieving because we know that human rights abuses are increasing – at detention facilities, at ports of entry, and elsewhere. And we don’t expect it to get better soon.

Some Customs and Border Patrol agents are turning away asylum seekers without consideration of their claims. Cases have been documented of people with credible fear being turned away at the border, like the mother who fled Guatemala after gang members killed her two sons and threatened her life. Turned away, even though those who are fleeing violence have a legal right to seek asylum in the U.S.

Or, in some cases, ICE is locking up asylum seekers. Sticking them in detention for the duration of their case, even though they pose no threat to our society. Even though they have passed their “credible fear” interview. Causing them more pain, more harm, more trauma to their children.

Here’s a recent example. Martín Méndez Pineda, a 25-year-old journalist from Acapulco, Guerrero, was detained and denied parole after seeking asylum here in El Paso. Pineda had received death threats and police beatings for his critical reports of the Mexican federal police. Only a week earlier, a female journalist had been murdered in Mexico.  Rather than assist this young man, we threw him in detention like a criminal.

Yes, we are definitely grieving over the direction our country is taking towards migrants and refugees.

Because for us, this is not just a controversial issue on the 6 o’clock news.

We have come to know “the people.” We have listened to their stories. We have accompanied them and been transformed by the encounter.

And we know they are human beings. Worthy of being treated with dignity and compassion.

El Paso Columban Missions

Please, no matter where you stand on the issue of immigration and refugees, let’s remember that these are human beings. That human rights abuses should not be part of our protocol.

And it is absolutely inhumane to separate mothers from their children as a deterrent to immigration.

All that we will accomplish by such inhumane treatment is more grief. And the loss will be much more extensive and personal than we can anticipate.

For more practical and humane suggestions for curbing the flow of illegal immigration, listen to award-winning journalist and author of Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario’s TED talk at https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/sonia+navarro+ted/15ada9caf1939193?projector=1

 

Where Have All the People Gone?

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Fear. Uncertainty. Sadness. Deep Concern.

These are just some of the feelings I and many others have been experiencing lately.

Yesterday ICE conducted immigration raids in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the town right next to El Paso. We’ve heard such raids will be happening here next.

At the Nazareth migrant and refugee hospitality center, our numbers have dropped dramatically over the past few weeks. ICE brought us only seven people yesterday. This afternoon we closed down for the rest of the weekend. Where have all the people gone?

Although I can only speculate as to what’s happening, I can tell you for certain that it’s not because the violence has decreased in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Are those who are presenting themselves to Border Patrol at the bridge asking for asylum being turned away? If so, it’s a certain death sentence for many if they return to their country.

Or are they possibly being sent directly to detention facilities?

Hoping to get some answers, I attended a meeting of the Borderland Immigration Council last night. Instead, my eyes were opened to the increase in blatant cases of denial of fundamental human rights and dignity that is happening right here in El Paso.

Family separation. Due process violations. Unaccountable and arbitrary denial of attorneys’ requests for migrants’ stays of removal. Even for a person with the most urgent humanitarian claims.

In some cases, mothers have even been separated from their children and put in detention. That’s not something I’d heard of happening before.

Yet, sadly, it is.

One woman who had been separated from her five-year-old daughter suffered so much stress, she gave up her case for asylum after being detained for five months with no contact with her daughter. The child had been placed in foster care, and at some point, grown so distraught, she had stopped eating. As a mother, that’s heartbreaking to me.

A Mexican woman who had been beaten and tortured by her boyfriend in her country and then threatened by the Mexican government for exposing their ineptness in helping her, came to the U.S. seeking asylum. Instead she was thrown in detention and treated like a criminal. “I was living in hell there, and I came to another hell here,” she said in an interview.

Case after case I heard of people being treated inhumanely.

It seems we have turned immigrants into “the other.” Criminals. Job stealers. Leeches.

Easily labeled as “bad.” “Wrong.”

Even worse, we have made them disposable, invisible, valueless.

And allowed ourselves to believe that their lives don’t matter. Or somehow matter less than ours.

Compassionate leadership. American values. Humane treatment of other human beings. Wise and thoughtful decision-making.

This is what I seek from my elected officials. And if not, then they need to be held accountable. No matter what their political affiliation.jimmy-carter

Creating greater division among people based on politics, religion, race, country of origin, even differences of opinion, will not heal us. It will not make America great again.

Nabbing undocumented people who have no criminal record and are positively contributing to our society will not make us safer or richer. It will only instill greater fear in our society.

It already has.

As people on this planet we share a common humanity. A oneness with the divine Creator. Knowing that divine spark lives in each of us enables me to have faith in what is possible.

And to hope that the people will come back. Both those who seek safe refuge and those who allow themselves to “see” the other.

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What You Do to Me

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I have never felt so close to the truth of these words.

They have never been as powerful for me as they are now.

Sure, I’ve volunteered before.  Served dinner to homeless men. Worked in an after-school program with juveniles in a housing project. Visited strangers in nursing homes. Manned a phone at a survival crisis hotline. Mentored single moms and their kids. Even volunteered at an orphanage in Bolivia.

Each of these have been rewarding in themselves.

But nothing like what I experienced on Thursday.

I’ll try to explain.

The morning started out busier than usual.

The moment I walk through the door at the Nazareth migrant hospitality center, I’m bombarded with requests. A couple of moms stand at the doorway of the hygiene room waiting for Pampers. Someone needs Tylenol. Someone else wants cough medicine for her child. Families are lined up ready to head out and pile into a van waiting to take them to the airport. One mom hugs her bare arms, looking cold in a pink tee shirt. Some of the children don’t have coats.

“Where are you going? What state?” I ask Nanci, the mom of one of the coatless children.

“Maryland,” she tells me.

“Oh, necesita un abrigo,” I say and run off to the clothing closet to retrieve whatever coats I can find before they’re herded out the door.

With only a few volunteers working in the office, it can feel impossible to try to handle the needs of 100-150 people. Because that’s what we’ve been seeing the past several weeks as the number of migrants and refugees arriving daily has been doubling and tripling.

We do the best we can. Sometimes we make decisions by the seat or our pants.

Like now.

My first priority is to get these travelers coats for their journey. Then I dole out the appropriate-sized Pampers and am about to head to the medicine room when Adolfo, our center coordinator, asks me to accompany the van driver to the airport. It’s his first time driving solo and he doesn’t know what to do.

So off I go. Me. The driver. Four moms. And eight kids.

Although we’re not required to accompany them all the way to their gates, it’s something I like to do. After all, none of these women have ever flown before. They don’t know the language. They don’t know what they’re doing. Their fear and anxiety are palpable.

So, I ask the airline agent for a special pass to accompany the moms and their children through security and to their gates. And I ask her to please have someone help the women who will be making connections in overwhelming Dallas. I’ll walk each of them to their gates, show them the letter and number matching the one on their ticket. Review several times the flight number, the boarding time, the time the plane actually leaves, the difference between their two boarding passes if they have a connecting flight.

At security, I wait while each of the adults are patted down thoroughly, their belongings picked through, their papers scrutinized. It takes a while.

Passersby look at us. We must be a sight. The women in their ankle monitors like criminals wear. The white trash bags we’ve given them to store their few articles of clothing. They stand out like refugees, but I know they’ve already been through much worse.

The last mom is nearly finished when Nanci comes over, looks right at me, and begins showering blessings over me. Blessings for my health, for my life, and I don’t know what all else, but she goes on and on. I’m not getting everything she’s saying and I tell her I don’t understand.

“You’re an angel from God,” she repeats slowly.

“Yes, you’re an angel from God,” Estrella, another mom, pipes in.

I feel my eyes moisten.

This is not just a clichéd expression. These women sincerely appreciate my kindness. A kindness that probably no one has ever shown them before.

I want to protest that “I’m no angel.”

But I simply say, “It is my pleasure.”

Because it is.

And in this moment, I recognize something. It’s there in Nanci’s eyes.

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Christ is right here in front of me.

Reflected in this woman. A woman who had been a stranger. And who now is a reflection of the heart of Christ.

In this moment, I understand, more fully than I have before. How these people who live on the margins are close to Christ.

“What you do to me.”

And I know exactly why I am doing this.

Even more clearly than when I made the initial decision to come to El Paso.

And I know why I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.what-you-do-to-me

 

 

Abiding in Abundance

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Sunrise at Atlantic Beach, N.C.

I’ve left the shore behind.

Leaving Atlantic Beach wasn’t easy. After all, I grew up near the ocean on the East Coast. And nowadays, ensconced in the El Paso desert, I’m lucky when I spot an occasional raindrop.

But even more challenging – within one week of returning to El Paso from my reunion/vacation in North Carolina, I found myself packing.  I needed to move. Again.

I knew before I left for NC that I’d to have to find another place to live. My three months of room and board at the house for volunteers were coming to an end.

Truthfully, I’d expected my house in Virginia to sell quickly. And I’d be settling into a new home by now.

But my plan didn’t materialize.  So, instead, I had to move into another temporary living situation. Another place that’s not my own.

And, yes, that’s challenging.

But it’s also a gift. A spiritual practice that’s continually teaching me about letting go. About my real “home.” And about the abundance of the Universe.

No sooner had I started wondering where I would go next and what I could afford when an idea came to me. Call Anita. As it turns out, this woman, who hardly knows me, was happy to rent out her extra bedroom. At an unbelievably reasonable rate.

Once again I was given what I needed.

So I began my vacation grateful that I had a place to go once I returned.

And I was open. Receptive to how the Spirit might speak to me at the ocean.

What struck me at every turn? The abundance of the Universe.

I recognized it in my morning walks along the shore as the rising sun cast multi-colored hues of pink and peach across an infinite sky. In the endless waves rolling onto the beach in a constant, humbling roar. In the calm waters that glittered and stretched majestically beyond the horizon. In the sandpipers and pelicans fed from the ocean.

It’s easy to see how Nature exemplifies the abundance of God. With her ever-present giving and receiving, she demonstrates what it means to be “in the flow” of life.

But I wonder. What if we, as human beings, could trust in an abundant Universe? What would our lives look like if we could abide in this flow of giving and receiving? Trusting that we will be given what we need? In every moment? Just as Nature does?

I think I know. The migrants have shown me.

The poor I’ve met live with a concept of the abundance of God more fully and completely than anyone else I know. They’ve tapped into this truth. God provides. You can trust in the flow of the give and take of life.

Here’s a recent example.

We’ve been crazy busy at the Nazareth migrant center. And last week, in our rush to get a mom to the bus station, we neglected to give her a “care package” of food that I’d prepared for her long journey.

A little while later, Linda, a fellow volunteer, showed up at the bus station with other migrants heading out of state.  Linda was amazed when the fellow travelers, realizing this woman didn’t have a care package, started pulling food from their own bags to give her. One woman, who said she was “only going as far as Los Angeles,” gave this mom her entire tote bag of goodies. She figured this woman needed it more.

Giving from their need. This is unheard of.

Or is it?

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Believing that more is given to the one who gives. That giving is receiving. And in the receiving is the giving.

It’s a message I’ve heard from the Gospel. And a spiritual law that I recently came across in a Pathwork Guide Lecture. This line from that lecture says it all for me:

“I will let God give through me in sincerity, in strength, in truth, in wisdom, in beauty.” (PGL #233, pg. 8)

Isn’t that what Nature does? Isn’t that what these migrants did for that mom?

To live life fully we need to move beyond our fear of not having enough. We need to leave the comfort of the shore behind. To trust in the abundance that is given to us and through us.

Whether I stand, sure-footed, on the shore of a North Carolina beach or move like a nomad from place to place in the El Paso desert, I want to learn this lesson.  Nature is teaching me. And so are the poor.