Closing Reflections on El Paso
It’s Thursday of my last week in El Paso. As I ponder the last 4 weeks, I’m filled with more questions than answers, more confusion than clarity, and an awareness of the deep human cost of demagoguery.
This article from the Washington Post is an excellent summary of the ministry to the migrants being done by Annunciation House. They are to be commended and supported for their efforts over the last 40+ years.
It has been heart-breaking to witness grown men sob as they speak to relatives here in the United States. They are speaking in their indigenous language, so I don’t understand what they are saying. The feelings, however, are patently clear and raw.
It has been heart-warming to meet so many selfless, caring volunteers whose primary focus is to make the guests feel welcome and to reunite them with their families as soon as possible. The volunteers have been lay and religious; single and married; of all religious denominations. They/we have been united in a common purpose of Annunciation House: “No refugee to the streets”
That purpose has been seriously tested as the Border Patrol rounds up more asylum-seekers. Because the detention centers are full, these individuals are not processed through ICE. Rather, the Border Patrol has tried to release these individuals to the streets of El Paso. It’s only through the tireless efforts of Rubén Garcia, Annunciation House founder, that living spaces have been found for these people. This practice has been called “catch and release” a phrase we attribute to fishing, not human beings.
What does it mean that the elegant, beloved symbol of freedom, Lady Liberty, stands in New York harbor and we find walls, razor wire and “hieleras” in the southwest border?
What does it mean that undocumented people are called “alien?” Aliens are mysterious, extraterrestrial frightening phenomena. Undocumented people are human beings like us with hopes, dreams and aspirations. Except for an accident of birth, we could be “alien!”
What does it mean that families make a choice to undertake a profoundly perilous, arduous journey seeking a better life for themselves and their children to be greeted with cruelty, abuse and a lack of respect by the greatest(?) country in the world? This is no walk in the park they undertake. The conditions under which they are living prompt this decision. Like any of us, they would prefer to “stay home” in their own culture but that becomes an untenable possibility.
What does it mean that women being welcomed into Casa Oscar Romero and being told “this house is your house” begin to cry, because it’s the first time they have felt welcomed anywhere since arriving in the US?
What does it mean that children 3, 6, 7, or 11 years old are able to tolerate hunger and fatigue? That they have developed long-suffering patience when no one of any age should have to do so?
What does it mean that a man from Guatemala asks if he can say a prayer before eating? Or that another man asks if he can speak in his “own” language?
What does it mean that I return home with less than half the clothing I arrived with and still have more than enough?
This month-long experience will take much longer to integrate into my life and process adequately. I try to summarize it below in poetry form. The impetus for the words in quotations is the poem by Emma Lazarus entitled The New Colossus. I invite you to read and reflect on it in light of what is occurring here in the southwest.
Cypress, cactus and palm live side by side in your desert scrub-grass and sparks my longing for an
abundance of green and bouquets of flowers. The Franklin mountains pierce the sky to the west. Your
dry, windy climate has ravaged my respiratory system and shortened my breathing.
Yet all of that is nothing to the sight of endless lines of women, men, children and babies who arrive at
the front door of Casa Oscar Romero. They are the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe
free” of Emma Lazarus.
Those people and their stories and their plight have broken my heart in ways that I don’t yet have words
for. I have been tenderized, pounded down, with the weight of their grief and loss. And, strangely, I have
been buoyed up by their turn toward hope and optimism after spending a few hours in this House of
We all know their struggle has only begun and may continue for years; in a short period of time they may
find themselves once again in Guatemala or Honduras.
Meanwhile I return home a changed woman even as I don’t fully appreciate how and in what way that
change will manifest. For a few short weeks I have been a “mother to exiles”; a beacon of welcome to
the “wretched refuse of your teeming” border.
I have lived the experience of “being enriched by those we serve.” Thank you. Gracias .