September 24, 2023 Essay: Migrant Accompaniment Program
Certain chance encounters linger in my head long after the people have left my life. This is especially true with migrants. My thoughts keep wandering back to some migrants who told me their stories at Catholic Charities Legal Clinics and to some whom I welcomed at St. Francis of Assisi’s Migrant Center. Thanks to the Jesuits at the Border, I came in contact with Milagros, Sophia, and a few others who touched my heart. I don’t know what happened to them after we said goodbye. Are they all right? Does anyone look after them? I’ve seen migrants at every step of their acclimation to a new life, but I’ve never walked with one migrant as they take each step.
I’m not alone in wondering what happens to a specific migrant or migrant family as they walk away from us. Jesuit organizations not only wondered about that, but they created the Migrant Accompaniment Network for Catholics to welcome and accompany recently arrived individuals in their transition to a new environment. A group of us in Ignatian Social Justice thought, prayed, and decided to see if we could accompany migrants on a personal level. Accepting a family from the Jesuit Relief Services, we walk with them on their journey, welcoming them to the City and helping them navigate both Catholic and City organizations that do so much good.
I’d like to tell you about one family we are personally accompanying: Clara, Jose, Antonella (10), and Dylan (5). Using the Migrant Accompaniment Program terminology, Anne Melanson, Christine Meyer, and I are the family’s mentors. We accompany them, befriend them, and help them access local organizations. On July 5th, our first day together, we enjoyed a leisurely time getting acquainted and sharing a meal in friendship. They needed clothing. On our second day together, we went to the Little Shop of Kindness, where they chose a set of clothing, and we shared another meal.
When Clara was a child in Venezuela, she was deeply moved by the news coverage of 9/11 and wanted to see ground zero. Anne, a docent at the 9/11 Museum, planned a trip. We learned that the family migrated to Colombia after Venezuela became too dangerous for them. Five years later, Colombia became too perilous as well. At one of the museum exhibits, Clara wrote “God Bless Venezuela”. They wish they had been safe at home and are so grateful to America for offering them a chance to live here in safety.
At a picnic in August, Clara told me how they reached the border. They walked most of the way from Colombia with their dog. Border Patrol admitted them to the country but not the dog. Fun-loving, skinny Antonella was too brokenhearted to eat for two days. But they are here now in the safety of our City. We all prepared the children for school. On her way to school on the first day, Antonella was scared, but she came home happy. She had befriended a girl who spoke only English. The two overcame the language barrier with gestures, smiles, and goodwill.
Anne and I brought the family to the Jackson Heights Legal Clinic to learn how to apply for asylum. After the parents complete the required documentation, we will bring them to The Migrant Center to file the application. The family gives us the privilege of walking with people whose faith, courage, and fortitude are a blessing to us. When they came to our church, Fr. Hilbert, the migrants, and some St. Ignatius parishioners prayed the Our Father together, mainly in Spanish. Clara, Jose, Antonella, and Dylan have told us many times how blessed they are to have us and St. Ignatius Loyola Parish in their lives. Together we feel God’s love for each other and for ourselves. These are not chance encounters at important Catholic institutions but are dates with friends who share laughter, food, sorrow, and joy, working together toward a common goal.
In April, we started the Migrant Accompaniment Program with two families. In July, we expanded to six. We’d like to be able to welcome more families and hope you would like to join us. You could help families by being a mentor with direct family contact. You could be part of a support team in a particular subject area. You could be part of a recurring or ad hoc support group. There are so many ways to get involved. For more information, please contact Laura de Boisblanc at [email protected].
— Laura de Boisblanc, Chair, Ignatian Social Justice Ministry