Sister Appoline Simard and I were invited by Annunciation House to come and work with migrants on the border in late May. You will be able to get a more detailed “picture” of our time there when you click here to view a visual presentation about our trip. Click here to view or print the presentation.
The purpose of this blog is to relate a little about our experience there and to share with you some of our questions and learnings.
Ap and I arrived on the morning of May 29. We learned we would be working at Annunciation House’s largest shelter, Casa del Refugiado, an old metal warehouse about the size of a Costco building (125,000 square feet). This building had a capacity for serving 500 people. We attended a day-long orientation with Ruben Garcia, founder, and director of Annunciation House since 1978; with volunteers from the different sections (intake, dormitory, dining area, clothing shop, office, and dispensary) color-coded to help migrants and volunteers alike make their way around such a large building.
Our specific assignment was to work in the Clothing shop, helping to make sure every member of every family had a change of clothing (shoes, underwear, socks, shirts or blouses or tees, pants, dresses) for their journeys by bus or plane. Migrants were at Casa del Refugiado for only one to three days before moving on to the next part of their transition to America.
Volunteers did many other jobs: mopped floors, served migrants in the dining room, cleaned bathrooms, did intake, made sure migrants had towels, sheets, blankets, and cots to sleep on, dispensed needed medications, contacted migrants’ sponsors, prepared sandwiches for migrants traveling to their sponsors, did laundry and took migrants to the airport.
Ap and I lived at Casa del Refugiado, and we learned so much while we were there. Contrary to what we had believed before arriving, our job was not to form relationships with migrants, not to exchange names and addresses, not to be asking migrants about their stories, but to help them take the next step in moving on to the next phase of their lives. We felt both insignificant and significant—a spoke in the wheel of this large effort.
We learned other things as well: that migrants were coming from Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, Turkey, Honduras, Cuba, and other countries; that all were seeking political asylum in this country; that their trips were arduous; that the migrants were courageous, tenacious, hopeful. Above all, every person was grateful to be where there was enough food, where there was no more trekking through a merciless desert, and out of detention.
These are some of the questions we came away with:
Would the majority of these families and individuals get settled here, then, eventually, be denied asylum and returned to the terror and poverty that has been part of their entire lives?
- Are there enough asylum judges to hear their cases?
- Why, after peace accords were signed in the 90s, are Guatemalans and Salvadorans still fleeing their countries in record numbers?
- What part does US foreign policy that includes support of dictators and governments with money and arms, play in the continued violence in these countries?
- Do we understand how our carbon footprint, our belief that we are entitled to the world’s resources affect how other people are forced to live?
These are questions of justice that we must keep asking.
Upon arriving home, Ap and I decided that we were both happy to have been part of this wonderful effort to help migrants reunite with families and friends. We were sustained by the migrants’ beauty and the beauty in the desert around us.