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Encounters with our sisters and brothers in Laredo, Texas

by RSHM Eastern American AreaCategory: Updates

From Clare Horn, SHM Extended Family and Mary Lang, RSHM

Early release of asylum seekers under the Title 42 U.S. health law

Beginning on Monday, June 14, small groups of asylum seekers waiting for months in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico were released over the border to Catholic Charities in Laredo, Texas. Each day we and other volunteers, working in shifts, wait outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) Center to greet each group escorted by the USCBP. Our makeshift welcome center includes a table under a tree that provides shade in temps nearing 100 degrees, a cooler containing water and food, and two maps, one with directions to the local bus terminal and the other of the United States showing the location of their final destination. (Our welcome center attracts some passersby who give us questioning looks and outlandish comments(!!), and some who thank us for what we are doing. We register each person or family, with some departing immediately for the bus terminal and others without finalized travel plans coming back to La Frontera, which has a capacity for 140.

Volunteers help register and process individuals crossing the border. They are seated at tables set up outdoors in front of some trees on a sunny day.

These small groups are part of over 100,000 asylum seekers waiting along the entire U.S. – Mexico border waiting for the Title 42 health law to be lifted. In March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the previous administration enacted Title 42 of the U.S. public health code suspending the right to seek asylum and turning away migrants seeking a better life. As of June 14, certain asylum seekers and migrants were granted an exemption to Title 42 due to age, disability, illness, LGBTQ, and families with children age 5 and under. These groups have been helped by a number of nonprofit humanitarian organizations such as Save the Children and HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) whose mission is to “Welcome the Stanger. Protect the Refugee.” HIAS accompanies these small groups from their shelters in Nuevo Laredo to the border and hands them over to the USCBP who then escorts them to Catholic Charities at our welcoming site. As these individuals and families approach the Mexico – US border and cross into the U.S. they remain vulnerable to robbery, kidnapping, human trafficking, and exploitation.

Monday, June 14

During our shift, a small group of 11 consisting of a family of 3 from Guatemala and an extended family of 8 from Guanajuato, Mexico arrived. As the USCBP and the group approached we spontaneously clapped and cheered which brought smiles to everyone’s face. As the family from Mexico became more relaxed, they shared the story of the grandparents who owned several businesses and had recently been pressured by the drug cartels to use their businesses as a cover for drug trafficking. Initially, they refused.  After their younger son was kidnapped by a cartel and returned only after a ransom was paid, they decided to leave everything and apply for asylum in the U.S. We spent a brief time together and then sent them off with hugs, prayers, and good wishes as they left for the bus terminal and their new life in Dallas, Texas.

Tuesday, June 15

We encountered another family of 5 from Mexico. We had more time with them since they spent the night at La Frontera finalizing their bus plans to California where the mother’s brother lives. There are 3 children in the family, two girls ages 5 and 6 (Irish twins), and a boy, age 9.  The mother is 8 ½ months pregnant. The father had owned a small bodega in Zacatecas, Mexico until the cartels threatened to harm the children. They took a bus to Nuevo Laredo close to the border and waited over 4 months during which time they were cared for by one of the humanitarian organizations. The mother shared that one day while she and the children were walking, a van pulled up and snatched the children. The driver of another van witnessed the incident and invited the mother to come along with him as he followed the first van. When the first van was stopped by a patrol, they were able to rescue the children.  The trauma experienced by this family will certainly have long-term effects. The mother reported that the son had received some therapy after this trauma. At one point the mother was in tears as she shared that they were short $200 in purchasing the bus tickets. Immediately upon hearing of this situation several of us generously chipped in the balance needed. Upon receiving this money, she asked why we did this for her. We replied that this is what Jesus would want us to do.

In addition to these small groups arriving with exemptions under Title 42, we receive larger groups from Texas detention centers in Del Rio, Eagle Pass, and McAllen. They had been picked up by U.S. Border Patrol for illegally crossing the Rio Grande River, arrested, and placed in a detention center. The river is lower in these areas and easier to cross.  The immigrants who have come during our stay have come from Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru, Venezuela, Cuba, and Haiti (Haitians who had been living for a number of years in Chile or Brazil). These are the individuals and families that enter the U.S. between the ports of entry and are picked up by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Our encounters with these immigrants who have traveled many, many months through treacherous lands and faced danger every step of the way have touched our hearts and changed us. This has given us the courage and strength to reach out to comfort and support them.

In gratitude for RSHM sponsoring us, all are invited to join in us praying Mary’s Magnificat and our Magnificat.

Our souls magnify the holiness that dwells within us.
And our spirits rejoice in the presence of the Holy One
Because we have been touched and called by God.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call us blessed.
For great things have been done through us
And those who went before us.
We have gathered our courage and steadfastness
And worked to heal the broken-hearted
With tenderness and care.
Yes, we have been hungry
And filled each other with good things.
For we have kept our promises and
Journeyed and struggled….
Touching and healing….                                                                    
Laughing and crying…
Questioning and loving…
Yes, by our living and faithfulness,
By our passion and our courage…
All generations to come will be blessed
And called forth
To join us on the journey. (Diann L. Neu)


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