Category Archives: Social Justice

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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Filed under Immigration, Ministries, Social Justice, Social Work

Human Trafficking and the Super Bowl

Human trafficking involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through use of force, fraud, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. People may be considered trafficking victims regardless of whether they were born into a state of servitude, were transported to the exploitative situation, previously consented to work for a trafficker, or participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked. Trafficking in persons affects virtually every country of the world today, including the United States. The majority of victims are women and children who are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. It is one of the fastest growing criminal activities after drugs and arms. It is estimated that between 700,000 to two million persons are trafficked each year worldwide. Trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry, the second largest crime in terms of dollars exchanged.

The United States is one of the countries of destination of women and children trafficked for sexual purposes from all over the world. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates that 50,000 to 100,000 women are trafficked to the United States each year. In the past decade as many as 750,000 women have been trafficked into the United States. According to UNICEF estimates, there are between 90,000 and 300,000 prostituted minors in the country.

Major sporting events, such as this weekend’s Super Bowl, are magnets for activities connected with human trafficking. These events draw large crowds, are primarily male-attended, and have a partying atmosphere connected with them. The party atmosphere surrounding the game may be an enticement for some to break the law, and that attitude is what traffickers hope to capitalize on.

The Daughters of Charity are collaborating with other groups of Catholic religious women and with other sectors of society to stop what Pope Francis has called “the most extensive form of slavery of the 21st century.” Learn more about trafficking and efforts to combat it with the resources below. They were used in the writing of this post.

Nuns, Trafficking, and the Super Bowl (about the 2012 Super Bowl)

20 Ways You Can Fight Trafficking

Sisters Around the World Fight Trafficking

Stop Enslavement Newsletter

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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:


Filed under Immigration, Ministries, Social Justice, Social Work