by Sister Mary Ellen Lacy, D.C.
(Sisters Sherry Barrett, Mary Ellen Lacy and Janina Zilvinskis arrived in Texas in mid-July to begin their service with mothers and young children arriving from Mexico and Central America by the busloads in McAllen, Texas. Sister Mary Ellen wrote the story below and sent us the drawing at the top of this post, done by one of the children she worked with. Special thanks to Sr. Mary Ellen for granting permission to share them on our blog)
I am assisting with cases of young women who have applied for U Visas or asylum. A U Visa provides relief from deportation for victims of crimes who can and are willing to assist in the prosecution of the criminal. My clients could apply because they were victims of crime, mostly severe abuse, physical and/or sexual. The oldest was 16 when she came to ProBar for help. Horribly true, a couple of these babies got pregnant as a result of the assault. I am grateful that they have representation.
Not all kids get a lawyer – only about half. A new study released Tuesday showed that 50% of those with lawyers have a relief and get to stay. However of those who self represent – about 10% get to stay. It is not unsurprising that a child cannot plead her case adequately in the complex world of Immigration Law. It is absurd to think they might do so. Ironically, the government always has a lawyer.
My coworkers, lawyers, paralegals and clerical assistants, are young, dedicated and loving. Everyone is a passionate advocate for the young ones we serve. They work long hours, bear many hardships but do not tire of being kind. Their genuine decency and goodness is a bright light in America amidst the darkness of fear and prejudice that gets all the publicity.
I attended a “Know your rights” class with 8 kids, aged 6 to 10, 6 girls and 2 boys. All but one child was slight. Many had healing/scabbing bug bites on their arms but they were all clean and well dressed. Clearly there had been a donation of polo shirts, windbreakers, jeans and shoes that light up. They live in local houses of compassionate foster folks and come to the “foster house” for school and play. We visit them at the foster house. All were adorably obedient and loudly responded in unison to the teacher’s questions. It reminded me of my old Catholic School days.
We asked them to draw about what we discussed so they will recall what we teach. We also have them draw their families and how they got to America. My little 7 year old friend from Honduras who had initially scooted to the back and refused to sit near anyone, had quickly moved her chair to sit facing me. She was quite playful. I told her that I did not pass the Rio to get to USA. Still, she insisted I draw the passing of the Rio Bravo too. She drew a flower and a tree in the middle of her river and insisted I do the same. She was not only hopeful for her, but for me, too.
When we asked her how she came to be in the USA, she said she came by boat. She said that she had been on a train that had derailed before she was moved to the boat. She was 7 years old and said she knew no one on the boat or the train that had derailed. I imagined how frightened she must have been. I considered that the privileged will never know this kind of courage because, unless forced to, no one would willingly face this kind of terror. But let’s face it, they do it because the reality of staying home presents an even greater terror: certain death. She is from Honduras where crime against women is violent, escalating and rarely prosecuted.
We had heard rumors of a train derailing in Mexico at the shelter but it never made the news here in USA. She was the first victim we had met. Later a coworker had a case of a mom with 3 kids. She had two young ones at home with her. However she could not pass the Social service visit/evaluation to get her teenager home until she had another bed. We looked for a second hand bed this afternoon. She is so impoverished that she could afford a bed and that impoverishment would deny her the presence of her child. Then all of a sudden, it became that final beautiful scene in It’s a Wonderful Life. I called all over telling people this woman was in need. Ultimately, many folks tapped into their own gratitude and offered to pay for one. Now, we will just allow her to pick her own bed out and pay for it. It is like that around here. You just ask people for something that may help these women and kids and they generously respond. The protesters and adults who would stop a busload of children we see on the news do not dim the light of Christ that is beaming so bright in Harlingen, Brownsville and McAllen. When we treat each other as human beings with inherent dignity, it really is a wonderful life.