(Originally published in August 2014 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper)
Alongside this story are the mothers who come with their children, refugees escaping from the violence of their homeland in Central America’s northern triangle. They travel 10, 15, 20 days, some up to a month or more, to find their way to the United States. They come looking for a safe place to raise their children.
In a Time Magazine opinion piece, Joe Klein compared the countries they are leaving as the “Latino equivalent of Syria or Iraq.” “But in Central America,” he adds, “its anarchy, not religious fanaticism, they are fleeing, the rampaging of militant gangs.”
What would you do if your son was forced to join a gang or face death? If your daughter could be kidnapped at any moment?
The countries they flee – Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, are the most dangerous in the world. They rank in the top 10 countries with the highest murder rates. Honduras ranks at the top, where the chances of getting murdered are 1 in 14.
“What we are seeing unfold in front of our eyes is a humanitarian and refugee reality, not an immigration problem,” writes Bishop Daniel E. Flores in his blog.
Embedded in this unfolding are the stories of courageous women of faith, mothers, aunts, even grandmothers who are speaking up against the violence in their homelands and speaking through their actions, fleeing what they know in a desperate attempt to protect their families, even if it means facing danger.
From Honduras, Maxelina, Rosa Evilinda, Marta; from Guatemala, Maria Luisa, Griselda, Hermosinda; from El Salvador, Yenny Lezeth, Maria, and thousands more are risking everything, taking desperate measures, selling their homes, asking for loans, crossing into unknown territory with their children in their arms.
“Vienen para poder vivir,” said Sister Juliana Garcia, a Missionary of Jesus, who visited the assistance center established by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen. They come so that they may live. They arrive here on hope and prayers.
More than 55,000 have crossed into the United States from Oct. 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, apprehended, detained and released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with instructions to appear in court at a specified date.
The refugee women we meet at the parish who share their stories bless us with their determination to persevere, with their resolve to journey ahead even as their future remains uncertain. I admire their courage. They are navigating in a foreign land and facing deportation. Many of them don’t even know what they are signing when they are processed through Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
It broke my heart when a woman with two children from El Salvador asked me to explain to her what she had signed. “Por favor expliqueme lo que firme.” What she signed were her deportation papers.
Her only crime, crossing into the United States illegally. She did not leave her birth city of San Salvador on a whim, seeking riches. She came as a refugee. She, like the thousands who are crossing, took this desperate measure to save her children’s lives, to find a safe place to live.
There are some in our country who want the U.S. government to return the women and children to their homelands. While “we are a nation of laws,” as Texas Governor Rick Perry said before a U.S. House field hearing in July, we must remember we are also a nation who cares.
I have witnessed this caring and the outpouring of help at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen and at Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Brownsville where Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is providing newly arrived immigrants with some basics needs – food, clothing, a shower, a place to rest and medical attention prior to their continued journey.
Caring volunteers have assisted more than 5,200 people since the centers opened on June 10 in McAllen and June 13 in Brownsville.
We applaud as our immigrant brothers and sisters come through the doors of Sacred Heart Church parish hall. We welcome them, the women and children who braved an often dangerous trek from their homelands in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. We cry with them, and we stand in solidarity with their desire for asylum.
These women of faith are taking bold moves in their struggle to live. We pray partisan politics will not stand in the way.
Brenda Nettles Riojas