Eighteen billion dollars. That’s how much the U.S. invests every year toward customs and border protection. It’s an intimidating number, and while recognizing the work these programs do in protecting our country from foreign threats, it’s also an industry responsible for the separation of thousands of families and countless lives lost simply because they wanted a better life for themselves and their loved ones. On Wednesday, we took a break from listening to the stories of undocumented immigrants to visit those living out our call to welcome the stranger and fight for the least of us.
We began our day at Annunciation House, an organization that began in 1976 when a group of young adults reading Scripture together were inspired to find a way to live out the Gospel message as they understood it. Over 40 years later, tens of thousands of refugees have walked through their doors for food, clothing, shelter, and other assistance, living alongside volunteers in a building completely sustained by donations. Based on their situation, ranging from individuals
who were just released from ICE custody to those who must spend a few months in the U.S. every year to collect their Social Security benefits, refugees live in Annunciation House or its two partner houses, Casa Vides and the Nazareth House, for days or months at a time.
We then visited Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services (DMRS) to learn about the legal complexities within the American immigration process. Ninety percent of the services DMRS provide are free, primarily limiting any expenses to paperwork processing fees. Immigration court is unique in that the US government is not required to provide the defendant with a lawyer if they are unable to afford one. As a result, solidarity with undocumented immigrants is critical, as individuals have a 75% higher chance of winning asylum in the U.S. when they have legal representation present. At the end of the presentation, the lawyer challenged us to check where our representatives across all levels of government stand on these issues, especially as the current administration continues to discuss plans for immigration reform.
Later that evening, we met with a missionary doctor who works in Juarez. Pastora Rose Mary had described her earlier in the week as a “modern day Mother Teresa,” and, just from the small talk I had made with her in the minutes before she gave her presentation, I could already tell how perfectly fitting the description was. Her gentle but strong presence filled the room as she talked about her work in what she calls “social medicine,” or medical care with an emphasis on serving the most marginalized. I was blown away by her dedication to fighting for her patients, going as far as searching for doctors in the U.S. after her patients were turned away by those in Juarez. She empowers her own community to take charge of their own health, from providing education, to organizing local races to encourage people to exercise, to informing her patients about their legal rights to seek emergency medical care. After her patients ask about how to repay her, all she asks is for them to pass on the kindness, and called on us to do the same, remembering the marginalized regardless what line of work we pursue.
We concluded our day with a bilingual Lenten service with the Cristo Rey community. Pastora’s sermon could not be timelier, reminding us how Jesus understands the poor, as poverty was his life from his birth in a manger to his crucifixion. She read James 2, emphasizing how from our faith comes action, to fight for love and justice for the marginalized. Additionally, she asked us to remember to extend the same kindness and forgiveness that we try to give our neighbors to ourselves as well. Wednesday also marked the twentieth anniversary of Pastora’s ordination. After we sang her a beautiful rendition of “Feliz Ordination,” she reflected on her journey with Cristo Rey, the work already done and left to do, not just within the walls of her church, but with the community at large, across any and all borders that try to divide us.
It has been a difficult week, emotionally and physically. It is easy to be left feeling powerless against an eighteen billion dollar industry, realizing how we’ve only heard a handful of heartbreaking stories of the pain the system has inflicted and acknowledging that there are millions of narratives like it. While there is still a monumental amount of work left to do to bring upon drastic reforms within the system at large, it is a privilege to meet these incredible people fighting to bring upon change in their own small ways. May we likewise find the courage to reflect upon our own lives and our roles in these systems, the strength to hold these stories close, and the wisdom to draw on them to as we figure out where to go from here.
“Oh God, to those who hunger, give bread. And to those who have bread, give the hunger for justice.” ~ Latin American prayer