A road trip to El Paso, Texas from Tucson, Arizona is six long hours of straight roads and lots of sagebrush but also some spectacular views of mountains of rock and a little bit of snow in New Mexico. The purpose of the trip was to visit with groups in El Paso, TX and Las Cruces, NM who provide border immersion experiences. The other reason was to attend a meeting of local El Pasan organizations that are preparing for the wave of applicants for the DAPA program, the President's executive order creating a non-deportation status for parents of U.S. citizens.
El Paso is right on the border - you can see Mexico from the freeway - so near and yet so far. One of the most interesting groups in El Paso providing shelter to migrants is Annunciation House. http://www.annuciationhouse.org. It is an old building, a bit run-down, that housed up to 100 persons this past summer. A normal week sees 60-90 people in transit. ICE now releases immigrants to Annunciation House on humanitarian parole. These immigrants have permission to travel to family after their release from ICE. A volunteer, Raul, told me that the ICE director in El Paso, called them this summer to ask for help as ICE was overwhelmed with the surge of migrants. At the height of the surge there were five shelters in El Paso with one remaining, Nazareth House, besides Anunciation House.
Annunciation House also offers border immersion trips to university and religious delegations. The nearby Columban Mission Center does the same and collaborates with Annunciation House. While at the house migrants - men,women and children wander in and out of the kitchen, preparing food. In the upstairs women's dorm a mother is washing clothes by hand to hang out on the roof top clothes line. In the basement it is like a thrift store - clothes by all sizes, shoes, baby clothes, etc. are stacked in rows - migrants come in and select what they need for their travels.
In the afternoon I head to Nazareth House to meet with a local volunteer, Pauline. ICE calls to advise them how many guests they will have for the night. The House provides showers, clothing, a private room for sleeping and a transportation coordinator who arranges transport to their families. Suddenly, the door bell rings and in walks a mother and daughter. Pauline asks for help in translating the information to the family. I start chatting in Spanish with the five year old daughter who turns to her mother and says, Ella esta hablando en espanol. Yeah, my Spanish is understood.
In touring the facility I am moved by the paintings the children have made while in residence. The average stay if 1 to 2 days. The shelter walls are covered with children's art - much of which expresses appreciation for the kindness shown to them. A number are from Guatemala - Raul said that 60% of the migrants since this summer are from Central America.
What an incredible act of hospitality to receive these travellers from Mexico and Central America en route, I hope, to a safer and more secure existence. Gracias a Dios!
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?