By: Jason Songe and Juan Mendez, Seminarians
On Friday, December 13th, one priest and 41 seminarians from Notre Dame Seminary crossed the US/Mexico border into Juarez. We were accompanied by some El Paso locals who hosted us throughout our mission trip. They helped us to minister to those living outside in Juarez, waiting to gain entry into the United States. We distributed food, diapers, rosaries, and other life essentials to them. Click here for our location that day. The multi-colored blobs you see on Google Earth are tents. What follows is one of many stories from that day.
Jason Songe: Knowing a minuscule amount of Spanish, I teamed with fellow seminarian Juan Mendez, who is fluent in Spanish. I said, “Let’s go talk to some people,” and we started walking down the line of tents on the sidewalk. This area is on the same block as a Greyhound bus station. Concrete all around. It felt like the edge of the world, where hope does not breathe easy. Where humans don’t seem welcome. It was normal for busses to come down this narrow road and cover the tents in exhaust. Juan couldn’t help but notice how unsafe the area is for children running around, dodging oversized bus tires.
Juan Mendez: Jason and I approached a teenager who was outside of the tent. There were some some cups of hot chocolate that he was looking after which belong to his parents and his little sisters. He was fifteen years old. He knew the “Our Father” and was not shy. He was happy that we were talking to him. His little sister came, and she was cheery and happy. We started praying a hail Mary, to which the little girl did not know, but as we were praying she knew the words to the prayer.
JS: She knew the prayer in Spanish much better than I did, to no one’s surprise. Nontheless, we were trying to connect to them through the prayers, hoping that the prayers we knew in different languages could be a common ground to build on.
JM: The boy’s parents came over from where the other group of seminarians were handing gloves and candy. They said they had been at the border for about three weeks and were waiting to hear from INS if they could qualify for asylum. They were optimistic and happy like their son. They were happy because we were talking to them. Jason was asking me to translate, and I was translating some of the questions that he wanted to know.
JS: What made them leave their state in Mexico?
JM: They said that the violence and cartels were very violent and that they wanted to give their three children a better life. They said that it gets very difficult for them. The agents that are standing halfway in the bridge connecting Mexico to the U.S.A. deny entry to those seeking asylum…”
JS: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offer form I-589, the Application for Asylum. It states that “to obtain asylum…you must be physically present in the United States.” This is why the migrants want to get over the bridge.
JM: “…the only hope sometimes to get through, they said, is if they are accompanied by a priest or Bishop.”
JS: Dylan Corbett is the executive director of Hope Border Institute.
Dylan Corbett: We and our partners here on the border regularly engage in the accompaniment of both Central Americans and Mexicans at the bridge in order to pressure agents to fulfill their lawful duty to process asylum seekers. Often times, faith leaders will participate in accompaniments. Here locally, local priests, the Catholic bishop of El Paso, the episcopal bishop of the region, Franciscan priests and leaders from the interfaith community have participated in these accompaniments.
JS: According to their website, Hope Border Institute uses Catholic social teaching “to build justice and deepen solidarity across the borderlands.” Corbett spoke to the seminarians on multiple occasions in El Paso about the history of the region and the current state of the border. Corbett accuses border agents of profiling based on nationality. This issue is very complicated, and I’m talking about only the timespan I’ve looked at: the last five years. Understanding profiling of any sort becomes dense due to the changing laws(at least yearly, it seems). Click here for an article that is a good starting point if you’re looking to research the issue. Back to the story…
JM: Upon entry to the court, they have no lawyer, so they have to communicate with the court and the judge in Spanish or to the best of their ability. If they are denied asylum, which they said is most of the time, they are deported back to Mexico and cannot seek asylum for another five years.
JS: As I spoke to the husband and looked in his eyes, I felt the urge to do anything possible to get these people to where they wanted to go. And I understood how priests or others could let their compassion overtake them and exhaust them. With this burning in my heart, I understood how they could become activists or social workers, losing touch with their prayer life, which should always be the foundation for any good action.
JM: They had a little shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. They said that if it wasn’t for their faith, they would not know what to do.
JS: Their faith in the face of such difficulty and uncertainty inspired me to have a greater trust for God, and I made sure that Juan told them so.
JM: They are hopeful that the mercy of God will help them. They also gather as a group with other Catholics that live in the street, and they share their sorrows and happiness. We finished off with a prayer.
JS: As we had been talking to the family, other migrants and seminarians had approached to hear the conversation, so it was wonderful to be able to join hands with them and bring the power of their prayer to bear on the family’s intentions.
JM: They were very hopeful and thankful that we prayed with them and that we would keep them in our prayer.
JS: I told them we would bring their story back to the seminary.
About the Author: Jason Songe and Juan Mendez, Seminarians
Jason and Juan are seminarians at Notre Dame Seminary.
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