A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Unusual Kindness on the Mexican-US Border

By Fr Anthony O'Connor SM

In January this year, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity had "Unusual Kindness" as its theme. Here are some stories from Fr Tony O'Connor SM, working with people on the Mexican-USA border, people who have great need of being shown "Unusual Kindness".

Modern-day torture?

Juan from Salvador, 16 going on 17, a tall stocky lad, well-spoken and decent-hearted, arrived two weeks ago. He crossed the river and was picked up by the border patrol a couple of hours from here. He is now in a centre for migrant minors. As they do to everyone, the authorities took him first to the processing compound called the ‘hielera’ (icebox), because the temperature is kept at 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12.7 C) to avoid the spread of bacteria!!!

Border fence and razor wire

Juan was asleep at 11.00 p.m., when ‘una gringa’, a white north American I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) official, woke him and took him to an office where he was grilled all night. According to Juan, "She took me into a small office and began to grill me. Her tack was that I was over 18, and her attack was that I was there with all these minors under 18 as a sexual predator. She was relentless and the questioning, counter-questioning, accusations went on all night. I was tired after 9 days of tiring and frightening travel in jam-packed cars and crowded trucks from Salvador. And it was cold, she was relentless talking about a reality that just was not true. She cowered me into silence and brought me to tears. After she left I was returned to the cage with the other kids and thanks be to God I was released within 24 hours. Memory of the ‘hielera’ and that ‘gringa’ is ingrained in my nightmare memories, and haunts me still". 19/12/19

The horse and the fruit truck

I met Meche over two years ago. She came to the parish seeking help. She and her husband travelled around Cameron County selling seasonal fruit. Late one night they were on the main highway homeward bound when a ute in front collided with a bolting horse. Jose, her husband, braked and collided with the ute, got cut badly and his right eye popped out of its socket. Meche was ok. Both undocumented and in shock, they abandoned their badly damaged vehicle and fled.

The next day they came seeking support. I was able to assure them that at emergency E. R. they would not be arrested, when passing through the police control. Trusting me, Jose got seen to and did not lose his eye. We were able to set them up with furniture for their room down the road from us and then they disappeared. Last week, I saw Meche in our food bank line. She told me she had returned to Nicaragua, but government repression by Ortega made her decide to seek asylum in the U.S.A., and to bring back her two young daughters, 8 and 11, who had been with her mother, as well as her son, recently born to her and Jose.

She crossed the Rio Grande River from Mexico in a launch near Rio Grande City, where she planned to wait under the bridge for the border patrol to take her in where she would claim asylum. The border patrol never appeared. Her plan did not work. So, she and her children are not asylum seekers. They join the ranks of the 13 million or more who are undocumented.

There is no way ahead other than keeping her head down, waiting maybe a year or two. The orange season has just begun and the horse is long dead and buried. At least there will be food on the table. 16/12/19

Warm clothes for when you live in tents

Yesterday warm clothes collected here in the parish were handed out in Matamoros. It was cold and rained all day. The clothes did not journey directly by the high roads so as not to be confiscated by Mexican customs.

Matamoros tent city

Rather they took the route of the low roads and distant bridges by valiant ‘coyotas’ as I call them (smugglers). There are over 3,000 migrants in Matamoros in tents and maybe some 600 children, not to mention the cities that stretch along the southern border to the Pacific. 20/12/19

Empty cities

The centres for Central American minors have been big business for the private contractors who care for these kids who cross the border or present themselves at the bridges and by law must be received and processed, or come with their parents and still seem to be separated. But the well seems to have dried up. The centres are slowly emptying out. One that has 1,800 beds now has only 60 children.

The contractors express no concern. In fact, they are building larger centres like empty cities, cabins all in a row, hundreds of them in more than one place. Similar to cargo cults in the Pacific which wait for the ships to come with the goods? They await the return of the migrant minors. Do they know something? This is anyone's guess, and why they are not coming raises suspicions that for the meantime there is maybe some sort of arrangement on the southern Mexican border. Watch this space. 18/12/19

Food for the hungry


The quiet one

as told to James Pac.

I come from a town of three thousand inhabitants, Llano Grande, Oaxaca, Mexico. My name is Moises Gonzalez, a 23 year old university graduate with a major in computers. My wife, Jasmin Bernal, is a 22 year old university graduate with a major in reading. We have a daughter, Evangelina, age 1.

We were threatened with death by a pandilla (gang); they had killed my brother. They tried to beat me up, but I defended myself successfully. I went to the police, but as usual they took no action, for they were on the gang's payroll.

On October 29, 2019, we took a bus from Oaxaca without the help of a smuggler. Arriving in Matamoros, MX on November 5, we immediately went to the tent city near the bridge to Brownsville, TX. While at the tent city, we received the wonderful help from the volunteers of Team Brownsville twice daily.

Young refugees

Fr Tony and volunteer workers

Upon crossing the bridge, we were detained by the migra (US Border Patrol) for two days and then released for processing at the Brownsville bus station, and on to Good Neighbour Settlement House on December 5th. We will be leaving Brownsville today, December 6th, for Salt Lake City where we will be living with the pastor of a Christian Evangelical Church. Hopefully, I will find a job in computers.

P.S. This interview is titled ‘The Quiet One’, for my Christian brother spoke very softly, barely moving his lips and scarcely opening them., So we leaned towards each other so I could hear him.  

This article is adapted from the Marist JPIC Blog
–used with permission.

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