“The excuse for migrants is sacramental confession, but it all sums up to needing someone to listen to them and believe them”

Jose Luis Garayoa (Falces, Navarre, Spain, 1952) is an Augustinian Recollect working in El Paso (Texas, USA). One of his pastoral activities is visiting the immigrants detained in the Processing Center in that border city with Juarez, Chihuahua (Mexico).
Testimonies | 2019 Oct 14

Migration has existed even before the history of humanity started to be recorded. The Bible itself speaks of how foreigners should be treated. Christians have no excuse to have a general selfish attitude of rejection toward migrants. The Church has no borders even though nations do. 

Any government can militarize its borders but it will never be able to stop migrants with force nor with fear. Immigrants simply want a place to live, because they feel threatened in their own countries.

A video became viral showing migrants coming out of the sewage manholes in the city of El Paso. You can build the highest wall, desperate migrants will find a way in.

I’m really not an expert in foreign politics but it´s not hard to see where the problems are. Mexico was asked to hold central American immigrants in their southern border. People from Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras and Cubans joining the caravans are running away from a reality we want to ignore but we can’t: Dictatorship, no respect to human rights, corruption, no job opportunities or badly paid.

I worked with children that escaped from the Nicaraguan war while in Costa Rica. People thought the new politicians would bring progress but they were all fooled. Whoever said it, was right: “Power can turn you corrupt, and absolute power corrupts you absolutely”.

Every Friday I get to speak with men and women held at the Processing Center of El Paso. The excuse is sacramental confession but it all sums up to needing someone to listen to them and believe them. The first part of this process to be allowed to stay in the US as a refugee, the judge must hear a credible story. If it’s not credible, you’re deported out of the country.

When I ask them what makes them decide to leave everything behind, the common response is fear of drug cartels, kidnapping, threats done to their family members. Each persona has a series of dramatic personal stories to share. I believe them. Just thinking of what they had to go through to reach the border, lies to make you do that. No one risks his/her life for nothing.

They don’t tend to complain of how they are treated in the Deportation Center, nor about the food. But their inner pain is something else; it´s a pain that drills their soul when they think of their families which they left behind and not knowing anything about them and knowing that their families are anxious to know if they reached the US alive. Some don’t know how their own children are doing, they don’t know how their elder parents are taking their absence from home.

I’m surprised to see all the lawyers offering their services to fee their family member. In some cases, involving a lawyer is a total economical drainage of a family’s savings and not seeing their family member freed from the detention center.

I have received text messages from people sharing the good news with me that they were freed and how thankful they are for the Eucharistic Celebrations every Friday while detained. Other times it’s a text with bad news and they are going to be deported and they ask me if they can keep in contact with me.

I don’t see legals or illegals, I see persons like you and I, I see human being whose United Nations right to seek refuge in a foreign country is not being respected.

We are profoundly affected by this immigration crisis. John Sanders who was in charge of the Border Patrol renounced to his job after the situation in one of the detention centers where children were being detained separated from their parents. They were there for weeks when the law says you could only be detained 72 hours.

Sandra Cordero, who is the director of Families Belong Together, said the immigration procedures were cruel and inhumane. President Trump wants to create a chaotic situation to backup his rhetoric against immigrants. “Our children will not be safe until these camps are shut down” Cordero said.  

Roger Maier, director of Customs and Borders, opened the doors to the detention center in Clint so that everyone could see the reality of the center. The children were in terrible conditions. Bishop Mark Seitz immediately asked permission from the government to have volunteers inside the center.

To volunteer or work in any detention center, you must go through and FBI background investigation and attend courses to know what is and what is not allowed in the centers.  I had to go through the whole process myself.

You’ve probably seen the saddest photo of a father and daughter laying dead on the riverbank of the Río Bravo. That father never wanted to harm his daughter, all the contrary, he wanted to protect her until they reached freedom and a better opportunity in the U.S., he had put his daughter tightly in his own shirt to never lose her. It’s a photo that reached the cover of the New York Times.

But we will forget that image soon and we will continue avoiding contact with others’ suffering. Sins of omission is the worse type of sin humanity regularly practices. We’ve come to think that “not harming anyone” is all we got to avoid. Reality is that Christianity is doing good to others no matter what it takes.

The Church is on the side of those who suffer. Mark Seitz, bishop of El Paso, crossed the bridge into Mexico to lend a family a helping hand. Some 70 peaceful protesters were detained in the US senate in Washington, among them was a 90-year-old religious sister, Pat Murphy, who works with immigrants in Chicago and has been preparing prayer vigils for the past 13 years every Friday. She said: “Everyone should be ashamed at how immigrants are being treated. We are here because Christ’s gospel summons us to react when all these horrible things are done to families, especially children”.

The announcement of future raids against immigrants has moved people of all faiths to demand changes in immigration laws and procedures, especially close down centers where children are locked in cages.

Lights for liberty is the title of these quotes, which have the image of the Statue of Liberty which has always been a symbol of welcoming immigrants into this country.

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Augustinian Recollects Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

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