Selfless acts of kindness;
Local Sisters offer help to newly arrived migrants in El Paso
By Dave and Charlene Scott Myers
Southwest Kansas Catholic
A little migrant boy and his family, recently arrived at the southern border of the United States, were preparing to go to the airport to fly to the home of their sponsor.
The tired child, who had been through so much, looked down at the small, stuffed lamb he held tight and said, “Don’t worry. It will be ok. I am here to take care of you.”
Sister Imelda Schmidt smiled as she relayed the story March 15 to a large group gathered at St. Patrick worship site at Prince of Peace Parish in Great Bend.
She and Sister Roserita Weber, who also spoke, were two of five Dominican Sisters of Peace who recently volunteered in El Paso, Texas to aid in the processing of recently arrived migrants. The other sisters were Mary Vuong, Doris Regan and Barbara Kane, all from Ohio.
“Of course, he was trying to reassure himself,” Sister Imelda said of the child.
The little boy was one of many migrants that the sisters served during their three-week stay, beginning in late December, in El Paso. Run by volunteers, Annunciation House and its assistant centers offers support, sanctuary, and perhaps most important of all for the tired migrants, a welcoming smile.
“They were so happy to see smiling people again,” Sister Roserita said.
Once checked in, the family or individual is processed and assigned a cot in a large, community sleeping area, one side for men, the other for women. After several days on a bus, or in some cases, on foot, they are gratified to be offered a new set of clothing, a warm coat, and a shower.
“They will come in wearing flip-flops because it’s pretty warm where they are from,” said Sister Imelda. “It can get very cold in El Paso. We had long lines of donated shoes under the tables with clothing that they could choose from.”
Few of the immigrants were from Mexico, Sister Imelda explained. “They were from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Brazil and one family each from Russia and Cuba.”
“The families from Brazil spoke Portuguese, and we seldom had an interpreter for them,” Sister Roserita added.
While in Texas, Sisters Roserita, Imelda and the other Sisters helped process papers, distribute clothing, and serve meals to the tired multitude. They aided the migrants in contacting their sponsors and arranging for transportation. They drove them to the bus or train station, or the airport.
And they did so with a welcoming smile, like a spiritual embrace.
Why would the families leave their home to suffer through days of travel, only to come to a foreign country where the struggle would continue as they try to make a new start?
For some, it’s the violent gangs that forced them to make the drastic and frightening decision, Sister Roserita said. A son, a brother, a young father is approached by a gang. They are asked to join, as if there is more than one answer. After all, a refusal can equate to a death sentence for the teenager or his family. They rushed to escape with their lives.
For others, especially those from Guatemala, it is a necessary move if they want to feed their family.
For another, finances had nothing to do with it. One young man had seen his father murdered before his eyes.
“Their sponsors were at least as happy as the migrant to hear that they were okay,” Sister Roserita said with a smile.
“One of the men had sent his money to a sponsor who was supposed to purchase his bus ticket,” Sister Roserita said. “We couldn’t track him down. We called the sponsor’s son. He said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ So he drove across country with two friends to pick up the man and take him home.”
After two weeks with their sponsor, the migrant has to attend immigration court and explain to the judge why he or she felt it necessary to leave their country of origin.
“I wish we could have talked more with [the migrants],” Sister Roserita said. “Many were gone within a day or two.”
It’s not such a happy ending for those who do not have their paperwork in order, or do not have a sponsor. For them, their tired journey across country ends in arrest and eventual deportation.
On Wednesdays, the Sisters had the day off. On one of these days, they travelled to the Mexico border.
“There are plenty of walls down there,” Sister Roserita said, shaking her head. “Near the Tornillo, the detention camp for youth, they had signs up all over: ‘Free the Children.’ In the last two months, 200 more children have been separated from their parents at the border.”
As is the case with all tragedies, whether a tornado, tropical storm, or those tragedies housed more deeply in the hearts of immigrants and refugees fleeing their homeland, the El Paso community has joined to offer an unprecedented hand to their southern neighbors. Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, Mark Seitz, paid a visit to the center one day and told them that there is nothing he wouldn’t do to help the migrants. Their website, www.elpasodiocese.org is blanketed with ways to help. The townsfolk have donated a multitude of volunteer time and material goods.
The tired child who had been through so much looked down at the small, stuffed lamb he had been given and said, “Don’t worry. It will be ok. I am here to take care of you.”
In fact, the little boy reflected in his assurance those same words uttered again and again by the Sisters serving as volunteers, helping God’s children in need: “Don’t worry. It will be ok. We are here to take care of you.”