Ignatian Social Justice Essay: Reflections on the Border
At the end of January, members of our Ignatian Social Justice ministry, along with Pastoral Year Priest Fr. Danny Gustafson, traveled to the Texas/Mexico border for a six-day mission trip to volunteer with Friends of the Border, a migrant relief project headed by Fr. Brian Strassburger, S.J., and Fr. Louie Hotop, S.J.
Here are their reflections on that experience:
In a week full of emotional moments, the most heartbreaking times for me were when we left the refugees and migrants in Mexico and walked back over the bridge across the Rio Grande to the U.S. This child of immigrants was heading back to a clean bed, a warm shower, and a tasty meal, while they would spend another restless night on the ground, cold and wet, in a dangerous camp. I could call or text my children knowing they were safe, while the parents in the camp were either separated from their kids or had kids with them in squalid conditions. And, the U.S. border guards saw my white skin and waved me through to the passport checkpoint with a smile, while the asylum seekers in the camp, desperately fleeing from violence, literally risking their lives for the chance to come to the U.S., weren’t even allowed to present themselves for asylum at a U.S. point of entry, as international law requires. This juxtaposition of my unearned privilege and their severe deprivation leaves a deep, painful ache in my heart.
- Christine Meyer
While interviewing four indigenous Mayan migrant women about their arduous journey from Guatemala, they related the story about two women who had given birth in the showers of the camp the day before. The new babies seemed to be okay because they were helped in the birthing process by other migrant women. We brought down to the border some of my granddaughters’ baby clothes that Molly and Nora had outgrown. My eyes welled up when I saw Maria holding up a tiny blanket from the pile of clothes and saying that she would make sure that one of the new babies received this blanket. I was humbled to see the generosity of women who have absolutely nothing – not even a country to call their own – lookout for these new mothers and babies. What does life hold for a tiny baby who starts out life on the dirt floor of a migrant camp shower?
- Dolores Troy-Quinn
At the start of every Mass in Reynosa, MX, the priest says: “God is with you in your suffering”. And there is incredible suffering. After the Mass we attended, we colored and chatted with the children. Milagros, a 22-year-old El Salvadoran whose name means miracle in English, joined me. She wanted to tell me her story and practice her English. She had paid a smuggler to take her to her sponsor in NJ. She went by bus, train, tractor-trailer, etc., and got as far as McAllen, TX. The coyote hid her for a week in McAllen before telling her to move on. On December 3rd, Border Patrol caught her and rejected her from the country. She planned to cross over again on February 3rd. I pray for her safety every day and went to Mass on the morning of February 3rd to pray in church on that special day. Her calm demeanor and quiet determination to live a life in safety is a gift from God. I ask that you pray for Milagros and for the people suffering at the border.
- Laura De Boisblanc
Among the many good people I have met (and there are many) one person stands out. While I was talking with his indigenous Mayan mom about her harrowing tale escaping the highlands of Guatemala in a cattle car and wading across the Rio Grande River in a rubber tube, her son Edwin, age 7, sat quietly at a nearby table drawing in a coloring book with the crayons donated by St. Ignatius Loyola parishioners. At the end of lunch, Edwin threw his reed-like arms around me and proudly presented me with the art project he had just drawn. As we hugged, I thought of Edwin’s future. Will he cross into the United States? If not, he may well return to Guatemala and be a target for human traffickers. His mom fears she will be killed by the drug cartels. My hope and prayer is that Edwin and his mom do cross to the U.S. If and when he makes it to New York, and we meet again, Edwin will see his artwork hanging in my apartment not far from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Edwin, your art may not be worth the millions typical of the Met but it is priceless to me. Mucho gusto, Edwin. Vaya con Dios!
- Terry Quinn
“Que Dios te bendiga y la Virgin te acompañe, en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo, Amén.” May God bless you and the Virgin accompany you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. I said those words over dozens of people at the various Masses we celebrated with migrants. Their faces and stories remain with me: a pregnant woman waiting in Texas to be reunited with her relatives already in the U.S., a young boy who had been abducted by a Mexican drug cartel, an elderly woman who needed a cane to walk around the muddy camp in Reynosa, and a young family of four who hadn’t had the chance to go to Mass in weeks. I learned only a little of what their pasts held, was able to spend only a few moments with them, and can only hope and pray that through God’s blessing, the Virgin’s accompaniment, and our work on their behalf, the future brings them peace, safety, and joy.
- Danny Gustafson, SJ