“Treat each other like strangers, so that not everyone is deported”
The parish of Saint Anthony of Padua in Anthony, New Mexico, The United States, has carried out a pastoral process of evangelization from the very beginning. At Mass, for example, you can tell that the well organized faithful are always taking part. The small evangelization communities and other pastoral ministries have people well-formed in their faith. The next step has been to unite and strengthen Social pastoral issues.
There was – and still is – the so-called “Saint Anthony´s bread”. Amongst its main functions was handing out packages of food and necessities for those most in need and helping people pay basic amenities like gas, electricity and water. However, they started to undertake interviews and revise the social-economic aid and the majority of people stopped going because, in reality, they didn´t need the help.
The parish community still had a pending question: who are the poor and needy in our community?
The Bishop of the Diocesis of Las Cruces, Oscar Cantú knew that he had been selected on the 11th of July to be auxiliary Bishop of San José (California), and that as a result he would shortly leave the Diocesis to go far away to another pastoral service. He also knew that the Augustinian Recollects had undertaken in May a Provincial Chapter for the Province of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, which had served the Parish of San Antonio since 1993 and that would be changes in the local community, including the Parish Priest.
Even given these difficulties Cantú chose the Parish of San Antonio to be a Welcoming Centre for those seeking help as refugees. At only 36 kilometers from Anthony it is one of the hottest border points in the world, situated between the North American city of El Paso (Texas) and the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez (Chihuahua).
The welcoming service is for families that enter legally into the United States, but on a temporal basis, given that they must pass through an investigation process to see if they meet with the current laws in order to be candidates with a refugee status and in this way obtain refuge.
Every Monday, the volunteers in the Parish of Saint Anthony have the food ready, the facilities for staying overnight clean and all that is necessary in order to help those coming to rest and relax. Also the area for personal hygiene and the showers prepared with towels and soap, and the previously donated clothes selected and cleaned and ironed for whoever needs it. And some games on a table for the small children.
The first day the street was full of people curious to be witnesses of the arrival of the first bus: two journalists had filmed the installations and interviewed various volunteers.
Around 30 immigrants came to be accepted into the facilities which had been prepared for this eventuality. In some cases they arrived without anything. Given that they had entered on the Mexican side the authorities had made them leave everything: suitcases, mobile phones, children’s toys, and all type of personal belongings. It is not known why. It should be borne in mind that the majority of those entering come from Central America.
That first day there were more volunteers than immigrants, because everyone was involved to see how things would work out every Monday, and how many people they were going to need in every team of volunteers in order to correctly attend to the recent arrivals.
Once they arrived to the hostel, they were shown were they could sleep, and they explained to them the facilities and they gave them something to eat. Afterwards, case by case they started to call the families already in the United States to let them know they were in the country and to find out their exact location in order to organize a meet up.
The recent arrivals are given a simple mobile pone so that they can from this moment communicate with their families, as well as sufficient resources to be able to eat once they leave Anthony. Bearing in mind that the next step is to organize a journey to be united with their families.
Anthony is on the far South of the center of the United States and the families of those arriving to the hostel are spread all over the country. The journey is made to New York (three days) or Houston (thirteen hours by car) for example. The volunteers search on the Internet , buy and print out the relevant tickets.
At the end of the day, everyone goes off to rest, but not without first recharging their electronic vigilance systems tied to their ankles. They are used by the frontier authorities and immigration so they can follow their steps throughout the country, until they are approved and given permission to stay.
Another team of volunteers goes over the timetables for arrivals in order to organize the number of vehicles of different capacity with which the next day they will make the journeys to the bus stations in El Paso, in Texas, or Las Cruces, in New Mexico, the two big centers for travel in the region.
Some of the refugees tell their sad stories. A young father remembers that what is left of their journey is nothing in comparison with the weeks in took to arrive from Nicaragua until Ciudad Juárez. They walked for days through the mountains, travelled enclosed in the trunk of a car, suffering hunger and thirst. The worst was when one of the immigration officials detained his wife, one of his daughters and his brother-in-law in order to deport them. Why didn´t he stay with them? Because the plan is that someone makes it and then, later, they manage to bring the rest of the family.
They say that the coyotes, the people who work to cross borders and guide the immigrants, rehearse all possible outcomes before setting out. They tell them what to say and what no to say when they are questioned. When families come together the recommend that they no-one realizes:
A child with a Power Rangersmask that he found amongst the many games in the parish hall, asked before getting on the bus: “Will they take us to prison?”. Bringing to mind the place where they were enclosed during their stay in Mexico.
They advise the volunteers in Anthony to not get to attached to the different groups which pass through. But it is no easy task, and many tears are shed.