Monday, October 21, 2019

We only have today to act

(In San Antonio, the Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC) has been serving asylum seekers since 2014 as they are released from nearby detention centers.  These have been primarily family units who have been processed at the border and often held for extended periods in facilities in Dilley, Karnes, and Pearsall.  When they have passed their credible fear interviews and found sponsors, they are bused to the Greyhound station or airport in San Antonio to begin their journeys across the states to their sponsor locations.  IWC volunteers are at these locations to greet them, give each family a backpack with supplies for the trip, explain their tickets and primarily express warm welcomes which they often haven’t received before along the way.)

Seven individuals associated with IWC travelled by plane and car to attend the Teach-In 2019: Jornada por la Justicia co-presented by the Hope Border Institute and the Latinx Catholic Leadership Coalition.  Our group arrived Friday, October 11 and quickly set up at a table to display information about IWC.  Flyers for the Bold Border Action on October 26 in Laredo were placed in front along with pictures of immigrant kids who have died while being held by Customs and Border Patrol or ICE.   

After a prayer and blessing we began a discussion of Our Communities Are Under Attack: Undermining White Supremacy Through Solidarity.

Msgr. Arturo Bañuelos was the keynote speaker for the evening and spoke passionately about the El Paso mass shooting on August 3, 2019.  He personalized the tragedy with stories of the individuals killed and those who survived.  While the normal response was to speak of gun control or mental illness, Msgr. Bañuelos was clear about the cause being rooted in white supremacy and the hatred that is expressed for “others”, in this case those with brown skin.  While talking about the gunman, he laid the blame to those who use statements against immigrants linking them to murderers and rapist.  With the same brush all Hispanics are described as invaders who threaten the way of life for those white Americans.  “The wall is a Monument to Hate.”

Msgr. Bañuelos called on all of us not to only express empathy and compassion for our immigrant neighbors but to relate our lives directly to theirs.  We need to see them clearly as those who are only different from us by circumstance.  The challenge to each of us is in how we change our lives to contribute less to the situations that have impoverished their lands.  It is the use of resources to advance our economy that has contributed to inequities and environmental consequences felt around the globe.  Our trade policies have again exploited cheap labor and goods from other countries who are coerced to buy our surpluses of agricultural and manufactured goods which compete unfairly with their existing ways of living.  Our political goals are imposed on others often creating wars and struggles that really are just proxy wars for dominant global ideologies.

He concluded his call to action with the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who stood at the foot of the cross as her son was crucified.  Her tears and anguish were a sharing in the pain felt by her son.  As Jesus looked down on her, he turned to His disciple, John and said “John, here is your mother.”  And then to his mother he said “Here is your son”.  Jesus is asking each of us to see the mother who is forced to Remain in Mexico as our mother.  To see her child as our child.  When we take this position, we will act in love and true compassion to do what we can do to change this tragedy.  

Saturday October 12, we began with a panel discussion on Latinx Theological Narratives y la Construcción del poder político. We had great speakers who spoke to the need for care for the fragility of life.  The variety of experiences and backgrounds we all come from contributes to the message when we are unified.  

Breakout workshops were offered during the day on various topics relating to Overcoming Racism, Know your Rights, Catholic Social Teaching, the history of Border Militarization, etc.  Each in our group chose topics that interested them and we tried to absorb as much information as possible while making contacts along the way.  

Around noon we listened to a panel discuss From the Margins to the Center: Latinx Power and Immigration Reform.  Another round of workshops followed our quick lunch and after these we gathered again to prepare for the Actions that afternoon.  Two Actions were offered.  Those who were able and desired would cross over the bridge into Mexico and visit where the Remain in Mexico asylum seekers were camping along a narrow street.  They would offer prayers and a blessing of the bridge as they returned.  A second group who preferred to stay on the U.S. side of the border were invited to participate in a Jericho walk. They would start at the Sacred Heart church and walk the path outlined to prayerfully witness to the plight of asylum seekers.

My wife, Lucretia, was one of a small group who also went into Mexico to meet the asylum seekers but with a special mission in mind.  She describes that here:

After a wonderful weekend of learning more about discrimination, racism and how to fight it, 150-200 people went across the border in El Paso to Juarez to visit with the Asylum seekers waiting on the other side of our border. We saw the tents that they sleep in along the buildings right over the bridge. They are made of tarps and garbage bags and blankets they have scrounged up or been given. They had smiles on their faces and greeted us warmly. I talked with a couple of them. One teenage boy said to me, “The Americans want us to come, but the Mexicans are keeping us on this side.” They want to believe in our goodness so much.
 After the large group prayed with the immigrants and handed out some food, the majority of the people left to walk back across and bless the bridge. I was one of the privileged ones who was allowed to stay to walk with 15 Mexican Asylum Seekers to the border to ask for asylum. There were about 10 of us. We decided to wait about 30 minutes while an attorney explained to us and to the immigrants what would be happening at the border.

During that time, I was able to speak with a mother and father and two of their children. Their baby daughter was 11 months old. She smiled and enjoyed taking my finger. This family had tried to cross the night before, but had been turned back. Their seven-year-old son had several questions for me about money.  He asked the amount of three quarters and what it would buy. His friend had the three quarters. He asked if the candy in the United States tasted good. He said that he liked chocolate. He smiled a lot and was anxious to cross. The family also had an 11-year old that I didn’t get to speak with because he was with his friends. 

On the way across the bridge, I walked with a mother and her son, about 12-years old. I told her that I was praying for them. She thanked me very much and said that she too was praying. I was feeling a little anxious or excited. I could not imagine how they were feeling. They were told that they would do all the talking and that we would remain silent just being in support of them. They did not look like people who were used to standing up for themselves, so I imagined the fear they must be feeling, going up to several border patrol officers and asking to be let in. 

When we first arrived at the border, the first family that was with us asked to cross and was told that only legal people could cross the check-point. Of course, asking for Asylum is legal, but right now that does not matter to our government. We all just stood there. When they saw that we were not leaving, they asked us to stand to the side. I noticed one officer make a phone call. 

About 15 minutes later an officer came down the line of immigrants and asked for their papers. Many other officers showed up. I feel certain that this was a very scary time for the immigrants not knowing what was going to happen. I knew that many people were praying for us on the other side.

One of the officers asked where we were from.  When we told him, he asked if the Catholic Bishop was with us. He had not come. We waited in silence another 15 minutes. Finally, all 15 immigrants were allowed to pass after being warned that all their belongings would be taken away and they would be put in detention (the hilera, the refrigerator). The families agreed to this. 

After they walked through the border, we were allowed to cross. We could see the immigrants taken to another room, but near enough that I could see the immigrants giving up their belongings and hear the border patrol yelling at them. I could not hear what they were saying. I could hear their tone of voice, and I would not like to be talked to in that manner. I still was feeling anxious knowing what the immigrants with small children would be going through. But I was also feeling very elated knowing that we had helped 15 people cross. I knew that the Holy Spirit had been with us. We were preparing to spend two to three hours on the border and it took only 30 minutes - a record.  Glory be to God.

We continue praying for the families on the border and those 15 who have crossed.  We hope to hear that they have spent only two days (the minimum) in the hilera and then are released to the Annunciation House in El Paso.  (reflection by Lucretia)

All of the Action participants gathered that evening to eat together, visit, and learn from others what each had seen.  It was a time of celebration as we learned the good news of what had occurred on the bridge.

Sunday, October 13 began with a panel discussion of Latinx Leadership for the Present Moment.  One of the panelists was Rev. Mark J. Seitz, Bishop of the Diocese of El Paso.  At the conclusion of the panel discussion, there was a time of reflection for students and also others in attendance.  Everyone was invited to come together at a chapel service for the Celebración de la Eucaristía overseen by Bishop Seitz.  Bishop Seitz then held a formal signing of his Pastoral Letter: Night Will Be No More (Noche Ya No Habrá).

I was so impressed with the preparation that was obvious from both of the co-sponsors of this teach-in.  To bring together such a diverse group of speakers and participants and offer such depth of material and spiritual expression felt Spirit led.  Thank you to all.

 My sincere hope is that communication paths will be forged within the Latinx communities and also interfaith and justice groups to amplify this message of inclusion and solidarity.   Asylum seekers come from many different countries, backgrounds, and religious faiths and yet all fall victim to the same fate when they reach the border.   Each of us who hear the call to “Love our Neighbor” shed tears as we witness crosses left by a roadside for those killed by hate.  We grieve over children pulled from their parents.  We hurt to see mothers and fathers separated from each other and their children by our country’s failures to hear asylum pleas.  We know from history that these are not unique only to today, but we only have today to act.  

Our experiences at Teach-In 2019: Jornada por la Justicia in El Paso
 by Terry and Lucretia Burton from the Interfaith Welcome Coalition in San Antonio


We are inviting all of you to join us with Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC) and many other organizations for a #BoldBorderAction on Saturday, October 26th, in Laredo, TX.  The focus of the event is to be in solidarity with migrants and targeted communities.

For those who want to participate, please contact Sr. Jean Durel at ASAP. We need to know before Thursday, October 24TH If you are going to join us on the bus.
Our Congregation and IWC will be chartering buses, leaving Saturday, October 26th, at 9:30, am from University Presbyterian on Bushnell. Bring a hat, a drink, your water bottle, lunch, and snack. The bus leaves Laredo at 3:00, so home about 6:00.
Let’s have strong CCVI participation in the event, either by physical presence in Laredo or a virtual/phone presence. IT ALL MAKES A REAL DIFFERENCE!

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