Northwest Providence Sister assists refugees in Texas
In October, two Sisters of Providence from Mother Joseph Province went to El Paso, Texas, to heed the cry of the poor. In the summer’s surge of refugees from Central American countries, many were unaccompanied children, crossing the border from Mexico into southern Texas. Fear of violence and terror pushed mothers to send children and teens into the unknown in search of safety, security and a better life.
While the story has faded from headlines, it is far from over. Sisters Charlene Hudon and Marisol Avila went to find out more and to see how they could help in this humanitarian crisis. Sister Charlene stayed two weeks. Sister Marisol is still there.
Sister Charlene joined other volunteers, including lawyers, social workers and counselors, determined to make a difference. This is her reflection on the experience. She shared some stories.
• Escaping domestic violence, Juana and her four-year-old son Ryan fled Guatemala by bus, paying a coyote 10,000 hard-earned pesos. After three months in a “family residential center” in Artesia, N.M., she is with her uncle in Ohio.
• Traveling with her 11-year-old son Edgar and her partner, Dora was distraught when they were separated at the border from Juarez to El Paso. When the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) learned the man was not the boy’s father, they took him into detention, letting the mother and child go. Then they waited to learn what would happen to him.
• A family in San Diego purchased bus tickets that allowed Vilma and her two small children to escape domestic violence and possibly death in Guatemala.
• A terrorized extended family of 10— a mom, dad, sister-in-law and seven young children—slipped away from their home in Guerrero, Mexico, at night to steal across the border. They know the threats are real. A family member caught up in drugs and gangs was found murdered, his throat cut and his body dismembered. The father paces the floor while the children cling to their worried mothers.
In June and July, thousands of refugees from Central America surged across the border from Mexico into the United States. The Border Patrol and Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) took people who were seeking asylum, placed them in U.S. detention centers and processed them.
More than 2,500 came through the El Paso center from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and a few from South America. Once fingerprinted and given papers, they were either held or sent other places.
People have always crossed the border looking for a better life. Migration is part of the human existence, but terror and violence are on the rise. Murders, threats to one’s livelihood, gangs, drug cartels, fear and poverty are why families, women with children and unaccompanied youth flee their homes and risk to come to the United States.
They take buses, pay coyotes and slip cash to corrupt police and army personnel to get over the border. Many die on the way, and some women fled abuse in one place to find it in another. What choice do they have? They can stay and be killed or they can suffer dangers and indignities that await them on the way to El Norte. I don’t know what I would do faced with those choices.
To do what they have done takes great courage. I see them in my mind’s eye and I hold them in my heart. This experience gave me new insight into the work Providence Associates in El Salvador do to save young people from gangs and violence. I see how the Providence educational scholarship program can lead to a better path in life.
Annunciation House is the heart of answering the cry of the poor. From there in El Paso coordinators receive notices from ICE that immigrants will come to one of three houses that take in the refugees.
Nazareth House, where I volunteered, was a nursing center for Sisters of Loretto. As it was not being used, Ruben Garcia of Annunciation House asked the sisters if it could be a transition place run by volunteers. It is a temporary respite for those who have family or friends in the U.S.
A call comes to a volunteer at Nazareth House and word spreads that three, four or five families will come that day between 1:30 and 3 p.m. That could mean six people or 36. With a knock on the door, customs agents deliver the families, who enter a strange place. They arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs. For days and perhaps weeks, they were unable to shower or change clothes. They are exhausted and emotionally drained. Within moments of entering Nazareth House, they know this is a new experience.
They are received with smiles and assurances that they are free, will be given a room to rest and take a shower, will be served food and have transportation to their desired destination. Their stay could be a few hours, a day or perhaps two. They are invited to take whatever clothing they want, but don’t take much. One boy wanted two pairs of shoes but his father said he only needed one pair and to leave the other for someone else.
My Spanish was not good but I tried to show compassion and caring. The refugees knew by touch and hugs that all would be well. I smiled and played with children, trying to read to them from a baby book in Spanish with pictures. I was relieved when they told me what the pictures were saying.
Once volunteers connect with family or friends, and money for tickets is obtained, the refugees are on their way by bus, plane or car. Each family leaves with a going-away bag of water, juice, cookies, dry soup and toys and games for the journey.
Then volunteers clean the rooms to prepare for the next guests.
What can we do?
• We can become more aware of the immigration issue, not only in the United States overall, but also where we live.
• We can invite friends and neighbors to a house party and share information on immigration and action ideas.
• We can contact legislators and the president to urge them to work for comprehensive immigration reform.
• We can join groups that promote justice for immigrants. Ask questions: Are detention centers in your area for profit? What does that mean? Volunteer to be a presence outside an immigration detention center and meet with people who visit their loved ones.
• We can pray, attend a vigil and post articles on Facebook.
Sister Charlene Hudon
Copyright © January 2015 - The Fig Tree