Category Archives: Immigration

More stories of Daughters of Charity at the border

By Sister Mary Ellen Lacy

Sister Mary Ellen Lacy has shared with us many powerful stories of her work with immigrants along the border. The story below, received today, is shared here with her permission.

In mass yesterday, I was contemplating my time here on the border and the fact that it will be ending soon. As the array of scared, wounded children I have met flashed through my mind, the gospel was read by a blind deacon. The subsequent homily was delivered by a local priest who had just been released from the hospital after a kidney transplant. Both men were giving all they had toward the hastening of the Kingdom. Coincidentally, yesterday’s gospel was about the loaves and fishes. You know the one, Jesus is sorrowful at the death of John the Baptist. He goes to the beach and thousands follow Him. It gets late and everyone is hungry. The apostles want to send the folks away because they think they have insufficient resources to feed everyone. Jesus gets a little ticked and He says, (and I paraphrase) “Look, this is how it works. Share what you have, trust me and I will multiply your gifts into abundance.” You know how it ends: everyone eats plenty and there are overflowing baskets left over.

My immediate thought was of those who focus on money and worry that we do not have enough resources to care for these scared, alone and victimized children. These citizens want to send the kids back into the burning building because they fear they will not get their self appointed, entitled portion. The citizens do not see that all is gift and we must let go to allow the Spirit to work.

After I pointed the finger outward, I directed it to me. It seemed only fair. I had to question, have I given all I can? Are there things that I can still do that God will multiply for these kids? It is easy to point at the sign wavers, bus stoppers and racists; but they are suffering from fear and selfishness. Besides, by focusing on them, I do exactly what I hate about the press. I make the negative opinion seem more prevalent and powerful than it is.

I asked Jesus, what have I withheld? Do I speak often enough about the plight of the kids in the grocery store or to other casual acquaintances? Or do I only speak boldly when I am with people known to agree with me? Will I take the August recess as a chance to further the kids’ cause with my elected officials and friends? Is there something more I can do? I want to give everything I have so that it may be multiplied for the sake of His kingdom.

I decided that, in today’s terms, Jesus says in this gospel : Throw all in, believe in MY abilities and just watch how I roll … After Mass, [we] organized all the checks that had been donated for the kids, it was time to shop … We went to Kmart with all the money. Lo and behold, we found that shoes and hoodies were on sale, 2 for the price of 1! Sherpa throws were on sale for 10 bucks. BOOM! In the end, we purchased three shopping carts, loaded to the gills.

Many folks threw in, we believed Jesus would work through us and once again, our baskets overflowed. That’s how He rolls. Thanks to all the generous benefactors who allowed the Spirit to move you!

I recalled, when I met with the Congressional delegation that came here 2 Fridays ago, Rep Carter approached me after I spoke. He placed a pin in my hand. He said he wanted me to have it.

It read: “God is Good … all the time”.

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DCs working with immigrants at the U.S./Mexican border, McAllen, TX

Drawing by a child from El Salvador (courtesy of Sister Mary Ellen Lacy)

Drawing by a child from El Salvador (courtesy of Sister Mary Ellen Lacy)

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.

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National Migration Week, DCs work with immigrants in El Paso

Las Americas Immigrant and Family Center

National Migration Week will be observed in dioceses around the country January 5-11. The theme is “Out of the Darkness,” and echoes the figurative darkness undocumented immigrants, children, refugees and victims of human trafficking must face when their ability to live out their lives is severely restricted, often due to violence and exploitation.

During the week, Catholics are called to participate through prayer and action to try and ease the struggles of immigrants, migrants and vulnerable populations and to reflect on the Church’s obligation to welcome the stranger.

Daughters of Charity are actively involved in service to, and advocacy for, immigrant populations. One such example, is the work of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, in El Paso, Texas. Two Daughters of Charity from the Province of St. Louise, Sisters Phyllis Nolan and Nancy Sullivan, currently serve there.

Las Americas was born on May 1, 1987 to answer the needs of a large influx of Central Americans who sought refuge in El Paso. By the mid-1990’s, Las Americas began to assist children and women detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service through its Justice for Women and Children Project. Las Americas also started representing battered immigrant women under the Battered Immigrant Women Project. Today, Las Americas continues to be one of the only non-profit legal service providers to assist low-income immigrants in the El Paso region.

Las Americas’ vision is that of a country where all immigrants have access to high quality legal representation based on the principle of justice and human rights. Las Americas’ mission is to see this vision realized by providing high quality legal representation to immigrants and by advocating for human rights.Las Americas’ mission includes not only direct service to the most vulnerable of immigrants but also advocacy for the rights of immigrants and education on immigration issues.

Since 2000, Las Americas has assisted asylum seekers from over 25 countries, including Algeria, Dominican Republic, Bosnia, El Salvador, India, Burundi, Georgia, Mexico, and Colombia. Wars and repressive governments continue to create a flood of refugees to our shores. Las Americas continues to provide legal services for these refugees, works to prevent unjust deportations, and challenges Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies regarding the treatment of refugees and other detained persons in the area.

In 2008, drug-related violence began to tear apart Ciudad Juárez, El Paso’s sister city south of the border and Las Americas staff started to see an influx in Mexican asylum seekers who sought relief in the United States. Many Mexican refugees have received threats from cartels or criminal organizations with ties to corrupt Mexican government officials. Las Americas completes an average of 15 intakes a week of people fleeing the violence in Mexico.

Learn more about Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center at its website: http://www.las-americas.org

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