Loretto Back at the Border in 2019
By Mary Jean Friel and Mary Helen Sandoval
The Latin America/Caribbean Committee sponsored a trip to the Mexican border at Nogales, Mexico. We led the excursion. Due to the strong support of the administrative team of St. Mary’s Academy (SMA), six staff members were able to participate, and the Loretto Volunteer Program sponsored two women. Participants were Jean East, Mary Drey, Lillian Forward, Christian Garcia, Michelle Irwin, Ines McCall, Mary Pat Mueller, Joe Riehl, Melissa Feito and Maddy Herries.
Day one, we spent at the court in Tucson, Ariz., observing how the court system deals with those who cross into the United States without documentation. We visited South Side Presbyterian Church and learned its history of providing sanctuary. Later we gathered in prayer at a local shrine for those who have died while crossing the desert.
Day two, we traveled to Nogales, Mexico, loaded with donations. Cruzado Fronteras, a non-profit group of the Episcopal Diocese, drove us across the border.
Day three, Bob Key from Samaritans led us on a walk over treacherous terrain for nearly 5 miles to the Mexican border. We left food and water for the migrants. We ended the day sharing a dinner and reflections as guests of Eileen Harrington and Nadia Aswad.
Reflections from Mary Pat, Michelle, Christina and Jean provide insight into our group’s experience and solidarity:
Noted Mary Pat, “Our trip to Nogales, Mexico, provided a firsthand view of how immigrants from nations to the south are met and supported in finding a new life. What I experienced was both depressing and hopeful.
“I learned about how many immigrants come through the official ports of entry to claim asylum. Only a small percentage is given asylum status through this process. After detention, immigrants are bused to nearby cities to make their way back to their homeland from which most escaped unspeakable danger.
“There were signs of hope seen, too. We visited one shelter, among many, for immigrants in Nogales. Various groups provide basic needs for the people and develop programs to alleviate the suffering in the sick children and in the tragic stories of the men and women gathered there. The hope is to provide not only food and shelter, but connections for employment, medical and legal services, and schooling for children, but there are not enough resources. The result of billions of dollars spent for steel walls, razor-wire fencing and lookout towers signifies the United States’ simplistic and dehumanizing policy-making. As people who hold the belief that all persons are equal in dignity and worth, we are challenged to take part in welcoming and caring for our suffering brothers and sisters.”
Said Michelle, “After visiting La Roca, a shelter overlooking the border wall in Nogales, Mexico, I felt helpless. The shelter comfortably houses 60 people but was at maximum with nearly 100 migrants. I walked down the steps with tears in my eyes thinking, ‘I have everything but nothing to give.’ The people who spent countless days fleeing violence for a better life for themselves and their children had little more than the clothes on their backs. Then, Deacon Rodger Babnew from Cruzado Fronteras escorted our group to the local grocery store where we filled five shopping carts to take back to the shelter. I couldn’t stop thinking of the children at the shelter who had no toys, books or outdoor play equipment. I wandered around the craft aisle looking for items to give the little ones something to occupy their heavy hearts and minds. Our group purchased packs of crayons, drawing paper and candy. I felt more content knowing that we would be able to provide the migrants with healthy food and something to keep them somewhat occupied while they anxiously await their fate. The smiles on the children’s faces and the gratitude we received were a sign that we had accomplished a portion of what we set out to do. “
Wrote Christina, “I was an ambassador for the Loretto Community on the border trip. One of the people I met at La Roca was María. She was fleeing from the violence in Honduras, traveling with her 6-year-old son. As I listened to her story, emotion overcame me. I don’t remember what I said, but the tears started, and we hugged. She told me how she needed that hug. María thanked me and then she thanked God.
“I’ve thought about that scene since returning from the border. I have flashbacks of the embrace I shared with María. We were one; no walls separated us. We were together, the essence of humanity. María was me, and I was her. We all have felt alone, afraid, tired, judged, misunderstood, hopeless and hopeful. When we see each other in that light, we have no choice but to be kind to one another; to recognize and treat each other with compassion.”
Reflected Jean, “The longing of young men and women with their children walking for freedom from violence, a safe harbor, a kind word. I think of the Border experience as one of contrasts. … The kindness and caring of many who witness, bring food and clothing to those in shelters, nurses who volunteer time, churches as sanctuaries, Samaritans leaving water at a fence with concertina wire, six rows of it as if one was not enough, men in handcuffs, reciting ‘culpable,’ our policies that make borders about legalities instead of humanity.”