Answering call to US-Mexico border, sisters share the intensity, gifts of what they witness

A migrant family from Nicaragua seeking asylum in the U.S. waits to be transported to a Border Patrol processing facility after crossing the Rio Grande into La Joya, Texas, May 13, 2021. (CNS/Reuters/Adrees Latif)

Sr. Kristin Peters of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration traveled to Arizona, where she ministered with Casa Alitas, the Kino Border Initiative and the Tucson Samaritans, who help migrants braving the desert to cross from Mexico into the United States. She reports here on her time with the Tucson Samaritans:

When we travel with Christine of the Tucson Samaritans into the desert, she implores us to please, please tell people what the border wall has done. She asks that we show them and tell them the damage that it has caused.

Into a 4×4 vehicle we pack gallon jugs of water, a backpack filled with water and food, and Samaritan signs for the truck. Though it is unlikely, she tells us if we meet a migrant, we will offer the bag and talk with the person about what they need. The migrant may want to give up the journey or continue. They make their own decision; we do not influence them.

The Tucson Samaritans are volunteers who put water into the desert and educate groups who come to Tucson to learn about the border. The Jeep we travel in is named Joe, after former county sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was particularly inhumane in his treatment toward immigrants. Proceeds from a U.S. Justice Department civil rights lawsuit against Arpaio’s office benefited community groups that support immigrants; the Jeep named for Arpaio was paid for by the settlement.

Christine says 258 people have died this year in the desert. I understand over the last 10 years, there have been almost 6,000 deaths in the desert.

As we drive, Christine notes that migrants walk along this road hoping someone their coyotes have paid will pick them up. We pull over at a mile marker indicating 38 miles from the border checkpoint. There is a cross. We stand in solidarity, acknowledging the effects of the border wall and the severity of our immigration policy. I ask Christine why she does this work with Tucson Samaritans. She says she knows what it is like to be thirsty when hiking in the desert; it is a humanitarian thing.

She adds that the United States has signed on to international law, which allows people to come to your border to ask for asylum. Given the number of families sending their children alone, it seems we are truly only giving children a chance for refuge. She and others I have met report that men are often separated from their families, put in detention or returned to distant border towns.

We return to the truck and head toward the border wall. The stories unravel as we drive. As Christine shares, I remember Diego, who works at Casa Alitas. He described the organization as grassroots and volunteer-led. He shares this in a way that is touching, noting that it is the community volunteers who are truly the ones who make the difference. When I asked Diego why he does this work, he asked me what I would do if it were my family.

The wall comes to an end and begins again at various stops where the steel slats did not match. At the end of the wall, two water jugs are placed. I think in this way, we leave our mark. We then drive in the opposite direction, leaving jugs of water near where there are other gaps in the steel construction.

On this journey through the desert, I witnessed many who remain standing in solidarity, just as there are many who continue to seek a better life for their families in this country. Equally, I witness the many dreams lost in crossing the desert.

Near the end of our journey, at mile marker 19, we kneel and stand at the cross of an infant who was born and died in the crossing. We mark her life and her mother’s life with our tears and our prayers. Through this encuentro, we walk away with our heart and conscience pricked. Hopefully, we are provoked with a clearer sense of mission and forthcoming action.

Mercy Sisters Peggy Verstege and Carmelita Hagan paused in the airport in Laredo, Texas, on their way back from the border to write a reflection, “Shoes for the Journey”:

The young mothers and children come.

Young fathers come with children, too.

They come miles, believing that life will be better in this country.

They come tired but trusting us to help them go forward.

They come hungry and hot.

They come each day.

Most need clothes.

Many need shoes for the journey.

Each day is busy, busy … Long and hot … Sometimes chaotic … but real.

¿Tiene camiseta? ¿Pantalones? ¿Zapatos? [Do you have a T-shirt? Jeans? Shoes?]

¿Bolsa? ¿Banar? ¿Por favor? Yo tengo hambre. ¿Comida? ¿Agua? Por favor [Bag? Bath? Please? I am hungry. Food? Water? Please]

They wait in line to be processed.

They wait for food, clothing, and a place to sleep.

They wait with patience in the Texas heat.

They live in hope, a precious thread for life.

What more must we be and do for the journey?

Will the seekers be welcomed?

We can only hope and act in love, prepare food, find water and get the clothes and shoes for their journey.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/justice/ministry/answering-call-us-mexico-border-sisters-share-intensity-gifts-what-they

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