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Day 2: Approaching the Big Picture

October 29, 2019
By Wanda Roehl, CSA Associate

This blog post is part of a series reflecting the experience of six CSA associates as they visit the sisters in Bisbee and Tuscon. The views expressed here are their own personal reflections on the time spent near the border and with the sisters; they are not necessarily endorsed by the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes.

Sister Susan at her desk

                Our day began with a visit from Sister Susan, our lawyer on the border. She began to fill in the blanks describing the process of navigating the laws and restrictions governing entry of migrants and asylum-seekers into the U.S. Next, Sister Susan outlined her role in preparing applications to naturalize, to renew resident cards, and to immigrate family members—getting documents in order, checking backgrounds, and referring cases to lawyers in the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

                Drowning in facts that made it seem impossible that any person could get the green light to enter the U.S., we headed to the border at Naco, Sonora, Mexico. We followed Sister Mary Rose along the labyrinth of paths that led to the check in station.  Beyond were the rugged streets of Naco. We walked on paved, rocky dirt streets, and then red clay roads, past abandoned buildings and homes surrounded by walls. Repurposed corrugated tin was prevalent. Used in buildings, walls, and homes, the corrugated tin seemed to be the common denominator that bound the community together. A sense of gloom permeated the village punctuated by the barking of dogs who guarded homes or the feral dogs that stood sentinel on street corners … haggard looking animals with no homes. Even the main street lacked a sense of normal industry.

                We walked into the Asadero Los Molcajetes restaurant, one of three tables of “gringos” and felt a sense of welcome and peace in the owner’s welcome.  Many of us felt God’s touch in the host’s patience in explaining the menu and in answering our questions. Reality reasserted itself when we returned to the streets.

Border wall with cameras and razor wire

                The cemetery visit pointed out the stark divide between rich and poor. Elaborately decorated gravesites sheltered from the sun by awnings, sat side by side with raw, mounded, dirt-covered graves simply marked with hand-written dates. At the back of the cemetery, a road brought us face to face with the symbol of the ugliness of our pilgrimage—the wall. Our group grew quiet. Confronted with all that wall implied, we kept our own counsel as our eyes followed the long wall through the desert that traveled east toward Texas and west to California.

Associates listen to a woman's story

                The wall took on a new meaning that night when our group welcomed a Latino friend of Sister Mary Rose. The woman’s story gave life to Sister Susan’s account of the migrant and asylum-seekers struggles to make a better life for their families.  She recounted the ordeals of her family … her wish to help her grandchildren overcome the PTSD symptoms from seeing people shot in the street in Naco, Sonora, and the trauma of watching their mother being led away in handcuffs by the Border Patrol when she applied for asylum. We heard the grief in her voice as she shared the heartbreak of holding her sobbing granddaughter who longed to be reunited with her mother … her mother who was waiting for her court date in a federal detention center in central Arizona.

                Her story and thousands of stories like hers put into perspective the drive and commitment that fuels Sisters Mary Rose, Susan, Christi, and Kathy, the heart and soul of their operation, to seek justice every day for oppressed people.

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