Saturday, December 29th, 2018
Often people ask why so many people risk their lives to come to the United States. The story of a woman I met today gave me renewed insight.
Maria lives in the countryside of Guatemala. She has three children, and her husband abandoned her. She lives with her grandmother, three sisters and her father, who is blind and cannot work. The three sisters have not married and are unable to find employment in the rural area. Maria faced the same issue: No way to support her three girls. Neighbors shared food when they were able, but often the family went hungry. Desperate, the family decided that Maria should make the journey to the United States with her one-year old child, Sonia.
With great courage and faith, Maria set out alone with her daughter to make the journey north. The family borrowed money so that Maria and baby Sonia could travel on buses and trucks. The trucks were the hardest because the cold wind blew between the slats. The hardships doubled as Maria worked to protect and care for Sonia. She was nursing so the baby had nourishment, but Maria knew hunger. Once they stayed in a house and when the baby cried, Maria was asked to cover the baby’s mouth to stop her from crying. Another time they had no place to stay and slept in an outhouse. Maria did not turn back but kept before her the hope that she could one day feed her family, get medical help for her grandmother and educate her 12-year-old daughter with special needs.
Maria taught me anew that desperation is the motivation, but love, faith and courage make the journey possible. This is but one of the many stories of immigrants who have made this perilous journey, and I am grateful to Maria for sharing her experience.
-Sister Margaret McGuirk
Friday, Dec. 28, 2018
Leslie Hernandez and I arrived in El Paso to begin our time volunteering at Annunciation House. As we traveled to Loretta the sun was setting and the Sierra Madre Mountains were showing off their glorious reds and oranges against a cobalt blue sky. We settled our things into Loretta Convent and today began our ministry of welcoming.
Las Posadas, the Mexican tradition of acting out Mary and Joseph’s attempt to find a place to stay in Bethlehem, is being played out in our present-day situation on the border.
News has been covering the tragic situation of two Guatemalan children dying while in the custody of immigration and earlier this week Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials unexpectedly released hundreds of migrants from detention facilities, but instead of taking them to shelters, they were dropped off in downtown El Paso without any notice and nowhere for them to go. Immigration has come to an agreement with Ruben Garcia of Annunciation House that those being released should be brought to our facilities. Just before coming here, CNN said that ICE was dropping off 500 immigrants today.
The response of the people of El Paso has been remarkable. The Loretto Sisters have opened up their gymnasium (in addition to a wing of the nursing home) to house this new influx of immigrants. People have brought boxes of toiletries, new towels and blankets, food for their travel lunches and warm meals cooked by the local churches. While we were working on the set-up for 135 people to be housed in the gym, a Ford dealer offered a 16-passenger van for transporting people to the airports and bus station. The outpouring of love and care for these newly arriving Immigrants is inspiring.
There is a strain of the flu has sickened both immigrants and volunteers. It is not covered by our present vaccinations. I accompanied a young mother with her one year old to the hospital as the baby was burning up with fever. The hospital staff cared for the mother and child with the greatest dignity and respect and gave the child the needed medicine. No distinctions were made whether they had insurance or not.
Maria and Jose are finding there is room in the INN here and children are thriving.
--Sister Margaret McGuirk
Monday, January 7th, from Linda McDonnell: Now that I’ve joined Sr. Margaret in El Paso, I’ll share blogging with her.
Thanks for sharing this journey with us.
Only last June, the white and beige tents of Tornillo rose in the scrubby desert of southwestern Texas. Set among pecan groves and cotton fields, snugged up against the tall fence of steel mesh that separates U.S. territory from the Rio Grande, Tornillo was built to house more than 3,000 immigrant teens who made the dangerous journey from Central America alone. The Texas Monthly estimates that the expanse of tents, fences, soccer fields, porta-potties and small army of guards, teachers, nurses, cooks and barbers cost taxpayers about $1 million a day to operate.
Yesterday, my first day in El Paso, I witnessed some of its dismantling.
Tornillo was part of the Trump administration’s strategy to deter immigration across the southern border by making weary, hungry, frightened people still more miserable. Until public outcry stopped it, small, sobbing children were separated from their parents. Even now, families are held in jail-like conditions, in icy cells, with scant, poor quality food and only thin foil blankets for warmth.
For the teens in Tornillo, most of whom have family in the U.S., there was another strategy: Require fingerprints from their sponsors and everyone in their households and share those fingerprints with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., many of whom have lived and worked here for decades. Fingerprints meant putting everyone in a household at risk of criminal prosecution and deportation. Previously, only parents or guardians seeking to sponsor a child were required to submit fingerprints and only if background checks indicated a possible threat to the child.
Predictably, under the new policy, the number of teens detained and the wait for sponsors grew from an average of 30 days at the end of the Obama administration to 75 days.
But last week, under public pressure, the Trump Administration policy changed – now only parents or potential sponsors will be required to submit fingerprints. National Public Radio reports that camp staffers are driving 100 kids a day to the El Paso airport to join sponsors and that the population at Tornillo has fallen from 3,000 to less than 1,500. Not all have found a home, though. Some will be moved to other facilities.
When I arrived in El Paso yesterday to join my friend Sr. Margaret McGuirk to work with immigrant families released by ICE, she proposed that we go to see Tornillo. So we made the 40-minute drive on I-10 and into the desert with Sisters Mary, Kay and Katherine. All of them are religious sisters in their 70s who have served Spanish-speaking communities for decades.
I was happy to see the camp with these dedicated women and grateful to meet some of front-line activists who’ve camped outside the camp to protest the detention and document what’s happening there.
Musician and activist Martin Bates drove us around the camp’s perimeter, where we watched workers taking apart the vast dining camp and tossing metal bed frames into dumpsters. As we watched, a soccer ball came flying over the fence. Plastic sheeting blocked our view into the soccer field. But Martin retrieved the ball, and one by one, we grey-haired women with arthritic fingers wrote blessings and messages of hope in Spanish. And with a great hurl, gentle Martin tossed it back over the fence.
Noticias de la frontera/ News from the Border
From late December until the middle of January 2019, Sr. Margaret McGuirk, a Dominican sister from Incarnation/Sagrado Corazon Parish in Minneapolis, and two other parishioners will blog about caring for newly-arrived immigrant families on the Mexican border.
The three women are working as volunteers at Annunciation House, a Catholic refuge in
El Paso, Texas, that cares for families released by federal immigration officials. We invite you to follow their journey.
Thursday, January 3, 2019
I have often thought that everyone dreams of coming to the United States, but over and over I hear immigrants’ stories of being torn away from what they love most -- their families. "Marisol", a beautiful young mother in her thirties, shared such a story with me at the Loretto Hospitality Center for Migrants in El Paso yesterday. As usual, I’m using pseudonyms to protect people’s privacy.
Marisol was an administrator for a successful company in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and is raising her small daughter, Rosa, alone. She loves the large family of eight children that she grew up in. Even as adults, with families of their own, her brothers and sisters have remained close.
Marisol’s father, Martin, has served as a “delegate of the Word” for the past 30 years. In the rural areas, there are few priests and the delegate celebrates the liturgy of the Word, preaches and helps organize community projects. Martin is a strong leader and highly respected and loved.
One day Marisol was driving home from work with Rosa in the car. Suddenly a car pulled up in front and blocked her from moving. A man got out and attempted to kidnap little Rosa. Marisol was able to drive the man away by honking and getting bystanders’ attention. But Marisol knew that the kidnapper would try again and that Rosa was in danger. Her family advised her to flee with Rosa. For safety, they joined the caravan of people traveling north. She waited 10 days in Ciudad Juarez before U.S. authorities allowed her and Rosa to cross the border and plead for asylum. She will wait until an immigration judge hears her case.
Marisol described the pain of leaving behind all of her friends and family and her willingness to do anything to protect her daughter. “I have trusted in God every step of this journey and I know that God will be with me no matter what happens,” she told me. She expressed her deep gratitude for the care that she received at Loretto.
Immigrants like Marisol do not come empty-handed to our border. They bring with unimaginable talents and drive. Certainly, they have enriched our Catholic faith in the United States with their traditions and beliefs. It has humbled me to be one small part of their incredible journey.
--Sr. Margaret McGuirk
Sunday, December 30, 2018
Today we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family, and I met a Holy Family as I did the intake interview at
our shelter. Hector and Claudia arrived with their two-year-old daughter, Lupe. They were very happy
living in Michoacan, a state in southwestern Mexico. Hector had a good job working for a banana
company and Claudia was a middle school teacher. They owned a home and a car, and their little girl was
the joy of their lives.
This past month Claudia was kidnapped by gang members and held in a house of unknown location. Hector
pleaded with this gang to release his wife but to no avail. If he involved the police, he knew the gang
would kill his beloved Claudia. The gang’s motivation was to force this family to join forces with them.
Claudia gave her captors the impression that she would work with them and convinced them to allow her to
go to her teaching job. They relented and drove her there and said that they would be back at 4 PM. She
entered the school by the front door and departed by a back door, taking a bus to relatives in another part of
Mexico. Immediately, with little Lupe in his arms, Hector left behind everything and joined Claudia.
Because the gang networks extend throughout Mexico, their only option was to flee for their lives.
They spoke of how God has been with them throughout this ordeal and pray that they can find peace and
happiness once again in the United States. They are taking a two-day bus ride to a small town in
Washington state. We have fortified them with sufficient food for the journey. They trust that new doors
will be opened to them.
- Sr. Margaret McGuirk
Wednesday, Jan 10th 2018
The opening prayer of the Feast of the Epiphany calls us forth:
Arise, people of God, for your light has come and the glory of our God shines on you.
Our immigrants are such Epiphany people who have risen up, taken a journey and arrived at
Annunciation House tired and hopeful that they will soon reach their final destination. They
know what they left behind and are praying that a new home awaits them. Like the Magi who
were guided by the star, they speak of their trust in God who have guided them through some of
the most difficult situations. It is their courage to face the unknown and their stories that touch
my heart, especially one that Yvette shared yesterday. As usual I use pseudonyms to protect her
The dream of a better life for her daughter propelled Yvette to leave her home in Honduras, cross
the border and present herself to immigration agents. She grew up in a rural part of the country
where there was limited opportunity for education. She was able to make it to the 6 th grade, but
her family did not have money for books, transportation and housing needed for her to study
After her baby girl was born, Monica became the center of her life. But when Monica developed
asthma, Yvette found it hard to make enough money to pay for medicine and visits to the
emergency room. She took small jobs such as ironing and cleaning houses, but there was not
enough work. Meanwhile, the area gang kept an eye on her. Three times when she was going to
buy food, they stole the little she had.
Trapped and desperate, Yvette realized that this was not the life that she wanted for her little
daughter. Her very desperation became an epiphany that gave her the courage to risk everything
and set out north with the belief that God would guide her and her child to a better life.
“A people who live in darkness have seen a great light.” Yvette’s story represents so many who
see “home” and all it means disappear behind them and walk in the hope that a new home awaits
them in this foreign land of promise.
- Sr. Margaret McGuirk