Blog Archives

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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Who Will Protect the Children?

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“You can lock people inside a burning house, you can close the front door, but they will find a way out.”

That’s how Michelle Brané, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, explained why women and unaccompanied children are willing to risk their lives to come here. “The U.S. doesn’t want to recognize this as a refugee situation. They want Mexico to be the buffer, to stop arrivals before they get to our border.”

I’ve known for some time. We are paying Mexico, a corrupt government, to stop migrants and refugees from coming here to seek asylum. What I didn’t know was the extent to which corrupt immigration officials and police, gang members, kidnappers, and thieves are attacking, maiming, and killing those passing through Mexico. And basically, the U.S. is condoning whatever happens, so long as we don’t have to deal with them at our borders.

Award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario calls it a “ferocious crackdown” instituted by the Obama administration, to keep the migrants away. I read her excellent and extremely disturbing article in the October 10th issue of the New York Times. (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/opinion/sunday/the-refugees-at-our-door.html?ref=opinion&_r=1)

Sadly, the story Ms. Nazario tells of July Elizabeth Pérez is not new to me. July fled Honduras after her 14-year-old son was killed by gang members. Then they threatened her own life and that of her other children. Migrants at our center in El Paso had family members killed or threatened.

Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Guatemala and El Salvador have rampant violence. Yet some in our country claim these people are fleeing to the U.S. for free health care. Or to take advantage of our system. Some say we have enough to deal with and should close off our borders. Isolate ourselves by building a wall. Never mind that many children who are fleeing are refugees with legitimate cases for asylum.
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But then there are people who take great risks to help. Some put their lives on the line.

Ms. Nazario mentions Fr. Alejandro Solalinde in her article. He’s the Mexican priest I highlighted in a previous post for winning the Voice of the Voiceless award. He courageously opened and runs a migrant shelter in a dangerous section of Mexico. He publicly denounces the abuses. He has to have bodyguards to protect him. Speaking out could cost him his life.

But he won’t be silent. And he won’t stop helping these desperate, frightened people.

He’s not alone in his heroic compassion for humanity.

I think of the School Sisters of St. Francis who live in Juarez, Mexico. The Sisters I stayed with for a few days on a previous stint volunteering at the border. Sr. Arlene works at a human rights center helping the families of those who have been tortured or “disappeared.”

Here’s what she said when I asked why she takes this risk:

“When I walk with others in compassion, I have been led to places not of my choosing. I have learned that compassion does not allow me to be at peace with what is comfortable.”

What’s happening in Syria and Iraq is horrendous and heartbreaking. And we have a similar situation right here. At our doorstep.

Like Sr. Arlene, I can’t live with what’s comfortable anymore. I can’t live in ignorance, fear, and isolation. I choose to risk opening my heart and doing something beyond listening to the politicians.

What about you? Will you join me in choosing to live more consciously? To be aware of what’s happening outside our own backyard? Beyond our borders? Can’t we, together, do something more to support children whose government will not protect them?

We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.Pope Francis speaking on migrants and refugees here in North America and around the world in his September 24th congressional address

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