My last week on the border was frenetic as I tried to wrap up my legal work and bring closure to my side projects.
I had a couple legal assignments that needed resolution. One of my clients, Dania, a 16 year old, had assisted the police in locating many victims of sexual and physical abuse. Because of her help, she was entitled to a U Visa. However, she needed to obtain a certification from the law enforcement officer involved before a U Visa case can advance. This police officer had been refusing to sign for over a year. Then, God intervened. You see, I was at a Congressional delegation meeting related to the children and I met “a guy who knew THE GUY.” He was able to change the police officer’s mind. Previously, Dania, a victim of sexual abuse, had been told that her case could not proceed because there was no certification. Her legal relief was hopeless and the law firm had technically withdrawn from the case. Last week, we called to tell her that we had the certification and that she had an excellent chance of remaining in her new school, living with her relatives and feeling safe. She was beyond the moon when she asked to speak with me. She spoke to me in fair English (she knew no English when she first came here) and she said that she was doing well in school despite the language barrier. Sometimes, God uses you as a conduit to something awesome. I was as grateful as Dania.
The day before I left, I went to the foster care in Harlingen. We did intake screenings with 10 and 11 year olds. We only did three of them because it takes time to get the kids to open up (that is why rolling back Trafficking Act protections is a bad idea). Of the three kids, two had already witnessed someone being violently murdered. They could speak of it, but their affect was blunted, as if they had disassociated from it. One boy took a shine to me. He was chubby, darling and chatty. His nails were clean and seemed almost manicured. His teeth had braces and he appeared to be very healthy. It occurred to me, he was not economically poor, nor was he hungry. He was not fleeing poverty or a country he wanted to leave – he was fleeing violence because he wanted to live. His life in Honduras was fine… until the cartels and drug movers came calling. He traveled to the border by bus and was reuniting with his mom in the morning. He was brave and smiled at me. I wondered how early witnessing of abhorrent violence and the sacrifice of one’s home would play out in these kids’ lives.
Later that day, we had a call with the White House regarding the much-anticipated administrative relief for undocumented persons in the USA. Someone from DC had asked me to participate and to find others to participate, too. The White House folks wanted to talk with people who gave direct service to immigrants. It was not really about these kids and only a dozen people would participate in the call. A lot of us were immigration lawyers, which was good, because we know where the law fails. We each had 2.5 minutes to speak. Nevertheless, I think we gave well thought out recommendations that would provide for a broad range of relief for those living in fear and secrecy today. I suggested that the Secretary designate the three countries in Central Americas with Temporary Protected Status. This could allow the moms and kids to stay until their country was safe, without fear of deportation.
While donations seemed to grow, we began to notice that people’s needs were now less uniform and we had too many clothes. For example, Sr. Norma told me about one woman, who needed to give medicine to her daughter. She did not know how to do this and she only spoke Quechan. No one else there spoke Quechan. So, she needed a phone to call her spouse for directions in the administration of the medicine. As we thought about the phone, medicines, individual issues and so on, we thought it may be best to give some cash to a sister who was there and could meet these needs. So, that is what I did on my last night. I delivered the cash. As I talked with the volunteers about the decrease in the numbers of kids and moms, we got a call. Fifty families were on their way over. Sr. Janina and I worked to complete more hygiene packs while Sr. Sherry guided them to the shelter from the bus station.
We all clapped when they came in and the place came alive. Each person/family that comes into the shelter gets a Spanish speaking volunteer. The volunteer speaks with the families, asks their needs/wants and goes to the various stations to fill a backpack with hygiene stuff and clothes, diapers and food for the road. A 3 year-old cherub who kept calling everyone "mami" ran through the shelter and stole everyone’s hearts. Two other little kids were sick with coughs and sore throats. Unfortunately, there was no doctor on duty. As Providence would have it, there was a visiting doctor from New York, who was doing research on the crisis. He said he would see the kids. It was a good last night
Before I left Texas, I gave the donation responsibility to Sr. Phyllis Peters’ capable hands. She tells me that an additional $550.00 has come in since my leaving last week. The overwhelming decency of people continues to amaze me.
I am home from Texas now. I thought I was ready to leave and resume my duties here in St Louis. Yet I have found that I am struggling to release the border's hold on me. I am struggling to let go of the need to help these kids. I hope you feel the same way, too.
We worked last week with different branches of the Vincentian family to write a letter to the President and Congress. I think it is a good letter. We wrote it as one powerful, voting mass. But, if many do not sign it, it will not be powerful. I hope you will sign it if you have not yet done so. Here is the link:
People have asked me, “What can we do to help?” – Well, here you go. It will just need a click and the message will be sent online - very little effort! Then, you can help others in your family / conference sending the message as well with little time.
I know many of you do not like to sign letters or petitions. Some of you may think that a letter will not make a difference. I am asking you to sign it anyway. Dorothy Day once said, “Don't worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.” The truth is that we are our brothers and sisters' keepers. Let’s be faithful to that. And, we must remind Congress of that truth.
On my last night in Texas, I got home from work and there was a package. It was not the typical AMAZON box, to which I had become so accustomed. This package was a gray plastic bag and it was maniacally taped up. After I opened it, I found it was two papooses. There was no card so I looked at the return address. It had come from CHINA. Imagine. Someone in a country steeped in poverty had reached overseas to say that he or she cared about the innocent kids on our border. Could I call myself Vincentian if I make less of an effort?
Sr. Mary Ellen Lacy D.C.
Dream to serve the Poor; dare to promote the common good; ache to be useful to God; make some difference to His Poor that you have lived at all...or die, trying.