Blog Archives

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.

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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

 

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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