If you’re like me, you can’t help but see all the stories that have been flooding the media lately highlighting the current situation at the US/Mexico border.
While each media story has its angle, what I believe has been missing from the current dialogue is the human dimension of the crisis. The human dimension overrides political party or ideology, and is what we, at Catholic Social Services, are called to consider above all else.
The recent, heartbreaking stories have brought to my mind some of the parents, children, and border agents I interacted with last Christmas, when I spent the holiday helping at a Catholic Charities temporary family shelter near the border.
In particular, I remember a mother who ended up in quarantine because her three-year-old son was too sick to stay with 96 others in the one-room parish hall that was serving as a temporary shelter. When the boy was cleared for travel, my role was to take the family from the quarantine facility to the shelter where they could be processed.
I arrived to discover that the mother was traveling, not only with her very sick son, but also with her infant daughter. She carried four plastic grocery bags that contained all their possessions. The image of this exhausted, frightened mother gathering up her children and few possessions to start the next phase of her journey into the unknown has stuck with me. All year, I have found myself remembering the haunted, wary look in her eyes and wondering, “Why would a mother with two vulnerable children make such a harrowing journey?”
A few weeks ago, I got an answer to this question when a 21-year-old woman walked into CSS’ Our Lady of Guadalupe Center with the same look in her eyes. She and her six-year-old son came to the United States from El Salvador seeking asylum after her father had been shot and dismembered in front of her by the MS-13 gang. She engaged a coyote and fled to the United States. Beforehand, the coyote had told her he would charge cash for his services, but once they arrived in the US, he demanded sexual favors for his efforts.
This woman fled because she didn’t feel like she had any other option. She, like the woman I met at Christmas and many others, decided that the unknown had to be better than what she was leaving. Thankfully, when she arrived at the Guadalupe Center, desperate for assistance and fearing for her safety, we were able to get her and her son food and connect them to housing and legal services. Now they are safe.
However, I can’t help wondering where these women would be without the countless people who have dedicated themselves to this crisis. I was only at the border for a week, but, while I was there, I met people who have done so much more. One of the volunteers I worked with at the shelter was particularly memorable. He worked full time as a border agent and was so moved by the people he saw that he wanted to do more. So, after a hard day’s work, he stayed and volunteered alongside me at the shelter. I was moved by his compassion.
As I am bombarded by media stories, I remember these three people and others. They remind me how dire the situation is—and they give me hope. Most of all, they remind me that these stories are about real people—a reminder I think we all may need.
This is why I am humbled that, on September 6th, we will welcome one of my personal heroes, Sr. Normal Pimentel—the “Mother Teresa of South Texas”—to Columbus, where she will speak at our Breakfast with the Bishop.
I invite you to attend this event to join in the conversation about the human dimension of the border crisis and hear from someone who has much more experience with it than I do.
President & CEO
Catholic Social Services