Maryknoll Sisters Ann Hayden and Patricia "Pat" Edmiston are on mission in Peñitas, a small, rural border town in deep south Texas, fourteen miles west of the city of McAllen, home of the largest immigration processing center in the United States where currently thousands of undocumented adults and immigrant children separated from their parents by U.S. Border Patrol are detained.
Photo: Immigrants held in cages during processing by U.S. Border Patrol at the Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, on Sunday, June 17, 2018. Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Sister Ann wrote the following poem and report on June 23, 2018.
Power without truth mongers lies in ugly turns of rhetoric.
Power without righteousness sells rights to the highest bidder.
Power without conscience is a force of hateful cruelty.
Power without courage hides its sins out of sight in cages.
Power without tolerance is a stone cold floor of fear.
Power without mercy has the face of a traumatized child,
wrapped in Mylar, in a cage, on a stone cold floor of fear.
–Sister Ann Hayden, MM
Report on Family Separation and Asylum Crisis
Even before the president’s “zero tolerance" policy, and before the arrival of the news media and Congresswomen and men into the lower Rio Grande Valley to expose to the nation the situation of the children, we were aware of growing issues related to what appeared to be deliberate, planned delays at U.S.-Mexico border crossings in both Brownsville/Matamoras and McAllen/Reynoso in the processing of immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
Parents with children, and young adults, were waiting for days, even weeks, on the bridges, sleeping on their belongings or cardboard cartons spread out on the sidewalks. Various respite groups from both the U.S and Mexico have been bringing water and food to the people there during their unusually long waits to be processed.
As you know, many of those seeking asylum are fleeing violence in the northern triangle of Central America due to gangs that threaten their lives and livelihoods, and due to domestic abuse. The often corrupt governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, long supported by the United States, ignore the alarming growth of violence against poor families, and especially women, in their countries.
With dwindling resources, and growing fearing that they would not make it into the U.S., some have left the bridges in search of other ways to enter the United States, even as undocumented immigrants. Organizations who are aware of and involved with immigrant issues were already organizing protests over lack of protections for the legal right to seek asylum at these border entry points. Then, in the wake of the announcement of the "zero tolerance" policy and it's immediate enforcement, resulting in the rapidly growing number of children detained separately from their parents, along with the silence regarding the children's whereabouts, protest demonstrations were mounted to bring attention to this abuse of basic human rights of children and families.
As more and more families were separated, and the children were hidden in hastily constructed detention centers in Texas and then secretly sent around the country, the Catholic Bishops in the area like, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville Diocese and Danial Cardinal DiNardo of Galvaston/Houston issued statements and representatives of various churches all over the area began to speak out about this situation of abuse. We heard about families that had spent all their resources on traveling for months from their home countries to the border, who came seeking asylum without knowing that their children would be taken from them. We heard about others so desperate to flee violence that they cling to the hope that they can cross successfully, only to be arrested and charged as "criminals."
The arrival of the media in McAllen and elsewhere in the Rio Grande Valley, the growing number of photos, audio recordings and video footage have revealed the tremendous suffering of the children and parents in this terrible situation. The chorus of protest has grown beyond the Rio Grand Valley to all around the country.
While Pat and I have been visiting and bringing others to visit and volunteer at the McAllen Respite Center run by Catholic Charities since our arrival in Peñitas in September 2016, our main ministry continues to be pastoral care in a large parish with many undocumented members. As we gather parishioners for formation classes, Basic Christian Community meetings, and youth retreats, there is a clear "don’t ask, don't tell" approach to immigration status.
We try not to gather all the parishioners together in one place but in the mission church nearest to them or we visit them in their homes. We try to share in personal conversations and small gatherings the advice of immigration lawyers regarding immigrant rights in the U.S. and encourage families to make plans with their children and extended family members or neighbors regarding all the “What if” situations they face, given the uncertainties of life for undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients, the large presence of Border Patrol on the roads throughout our area; and the 2017 law in Texas that allows, but does not demand, that local police check for immigration documentation when making traffic stops.
Interfaith Vigil and Walk for Migrant Families
We are also members of an interfaith group which organized a Catholic-led prayer vigil and a solidarity-with-immigrants walk to the nearby Federal Court House in McAllen on the evening of June 20. We began with more than 300 people gathered under a light rain in downtown Archer Park. The news media (including local and national news channels like MSNBC) interviewed various people there, including Bishop Flores and Sr. Norma Pimentel (Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley).
Faith leaders, including Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and other Christian Church leaders and Sr. Norma addressed the crowd and spoke about the need for an immediate plan and actual reunification of the separated families, openness regarding the care of the immigrant children, and an end to the secrecy that shrouds this whole process even today. After an opening prayer and speeches, we walked prayerfully, two by two, with candles to the Federal Court House in McAllen, where immigration cases are heard.
Watch a six-minute video of the Interfaith Prayer Vigil and Walk for Migrant Families.
“God hears our prayers. We’re gathered here tonight. We may come from different countries. We may come from different faith tradition. We may even come from a different place in a political or ideological spectrum. But we are here because something very special brings us together and that is Love of God and Love of neighbor.”
– Opening remarks of Miguel Santos, organizer for the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville
"We thank God for this gathering, this moment of prayer. We put our trust in God’s promise as we recognize that God puts us on the road that other people travel so that we might help them. That is the spirit of this walk. That God puts us really today on the road that helps us to be servants of those who walk. We thank God for the grace and the continued hope we have for a better way of life for all people, especially those who are most vulnerable."
– Prayer shared by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville during the walk
Photo 1: Sr. Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
Photo 2: Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownesville.
Photo 3: Signs at the prayer vigil. The blue sign reads "San Antonio Unidos Por Los Ninos"
All photos courtesy of Sr. Ann Hayden, MM
We hope this act of solidarity demonstrates our support for the migrant community here and for all those who seek refuge and asylum, who are being treated with disdain and disregard for their human rights and dignity. The suffering is immense.
Yes, there are those, even in the Rio Grande Valley, who feel we must keep our borders 'safe' no matter the human cost. But we pray that grace may touch the hearts of all those involved to right this wrong and restore the heart of our immigrant nation to compassion and justice for the 'stranger' in need of refuge and welcome in our midst.
Thank you for all you do to champion the cause of refugees and migrants around the world.
In grateful peace,