October 30th, 2019
“By definition, a government has no conscience; sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more.” – Albert Camus
Sister Ann Catherine and I started our road trip to El Paso on October 16th. We drove, with only a few brief stops, from Milwaukee to Fort Smith, Arkansas. That was twelve solid hours of windshield time. We arrived at St. Scholastica Monastery tired and a little punchy; well, at least I was. Neither of us had ever been to this monastery before, so we looked around for somebody who might know where we were supposed to stay for the night. We stumbled into the convent, and I asked for Sister Kimberly. She was my contact person at the monastery.
Sister Kimberly burst into the room, followed by Sister Regina. Sister Kimberly is the interim administrator of the monastery. She is a tiny woman with a noticeable limp. She also has a brilliant smile, and a positive mood that is contagious. Sister Kimberly has an energy that makes her incandescent. She practically glows.
Sisters Kimberly and Regina asked us to meet across the street at their newly purchased guest house. We did that, and the two sisters showed us around. The guest house is a beautiful building with several bedrooms. Sister Ann Catherine found her space and I claimed mine.
Sister Kimberly gave us a key to the guest house, and she gave us a spare key to the convent, so that we could come to join the community for morning prayer and Mass the next day.
My thoughts turned to business. I asked her,
“Sooooo, when would you like us to pay you for our stay here? You know, for the rooms and for our meals with you all.”
Sister Kimberly smiled at me and said firmly, “You aren’t paying us anything.”
I shrugged and replied, “Okay, but we really should…”
She cut me off, “NO. We sent one of our sisters to the border recently. This is our way of supporting your ministry.”
There really wasn’t much else to say.
Kimberly smiled again, and said, “See you at dinner!”
Sister Ann Catherine was amazed by all this. She told me,
“What hospitality! They give us the keys to the place, and then they refuse to take our money!”
It was pretty amazing, and it was totally cool. We were complete strangers to these religious sisters, but they trusted us and welcomed us with open arms.
Sister Ann Catherine and I learned about a very different kind of hospitality when we got to the El Paso and the southern border. We found out what kind of welcome migrants and asylum-seekers get from the government of the United States.
Under the guidance of President Trump, the Department of Homeland Security is doing literally everything it can to discourage migrants from coming to the United States. A migrant, arriving at a legal port of entry and seeking asylum in our country, is subjected to “metering” at the border, meaning they have to take number (like they were ordering something from a deli), and then wait to be called. The wait might take weeks or months. If a migrant has the patience and stamina to wait until their number is called, then they are subject to the “migrant protection protocols”, which require the person to remain in Mexico until their asylum case goes before an immigration court. That might mean that the migrant is stuck in Mexico for years. It also means that the migrant has little or no access to legal representation. If the migrant comes into the U.S. illegally (not at a port of entry) and tries to get asylum, they will most likely be held in a detention center (i.e. prison) for an indefinite amount of time.
Finally, it is extremely unlikely, when the migrant’s case finally goes before an immigration judge, that the individual will be allowed to remain in the United States. Immigration judges in the El Paso area have a denial rate of 95%. It is easier to win the lottery than it is to get asylum in the United States.
Do you see a pattern here?
The U.S. government, at this point in time, is doing everything it can to be inhospitable. As Dylan from the Hope Border Institute told us, the policy is all about “deterrence.”
The message to the migrants is: “Go away, and don’t come back.”
This message is problematic for migrants, many of whom are fleeing for their lives. They are often coming from Honduras, Guatamala, or El Salvador, where the gangs have threatened to kill them. These people can’t go home. It hard for them to stay in Mexico. They have no money, no jobs, and no friends in Mexico. Ciudad Juarez is a dangerous place to be. The city has ten murders a day.
The current immigration policy of the United States is cruel and cynical. It is also potentially deadly for these migrants.
It’s hard for me not to be angry as I write all this down. However, I know there are good people helping migrants on both sides of the border. At Casa Vides and at Casa Romero we saw migrants being welcomed. These people were given food, clothes, and shelter. Most of all, they are given love and respect.
They were shown hospitality.