No home for refugees on the border
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
This is the last in a series of columns from the border.
McALLEN, Texas — Herminia Forshage has lived in the Rio Grande Valley bordering Mexico most of her life. Concerns about drug dealers, killers and terrorists entering the U.S. illegally hit close to home.
“We need to secure our border,” Forshage, 55, told me.
She also has compassion for those who flee violence or persecution and turn to the U.S. out of despair.
“We’re not going to turn our backs on these people,” said Forshage, referring to thousands of migrants she and other volunteers have assisted at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. “They need help.”
Last summer an unprecedented number of migrants, mostly from Central America, turned themselves in to Border Patrol to seek asylum in the U.S. The numbers far exceeded what processing facilities and detention centers could hold. Many migrant families were issued summons to appear in immigration court and released at the bus station here, where local residents began bringing food and clothing.
“Residents identified them as women and children in need,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Rio Grande Valley who asked clergy at Sacred Heart for access to the parish hall to offer assistance “for a couple of days.”
Soon volunteers showed up from all over North America as dozens and sometimes hundreds of migrants were dropped off daily. News media as well as celebrities and politicians looking for photo opportunities descended on the church.
Eventually the news media departed, but the migrants keep coming. The government opened more detention facilities, but the church still takes in some families and houses them in a large tent in the parking lot.
Those who make it here are lucky. In news accounts, conditions have been described as deplorable in some detention facilities.
Migrants usually stay at the church for a night. They shower and change clothes for the first time in weeks and get a few meals before leaving with their court summons in hand to unite with relatives already in the U.S.
When I visited, two new mothers were staying with their newborns in a cramped parish office that had been converted to temporary housing.
“It takes a desperate mother to do that,” Pimentel said of the month-long trip they had endured from Central America through Mexico.
“I left with fear,” Glendis Ramirez, 19, said while holding her six-day-old daughter. “But it was for her own good.”
Ramirez said she fled El Salvador after a gang member warned that he was awaiting the arrival of her baby to kidnap the child for ransom.
Pimentel hears similar stories. One pregnant woman with a three-year-old had a disfigured hand that had been sliced by a machete as she protected her daughter from a kidnapping, Pimentel said.
Both babies I met were born within hours of the mothers turning themselves in to Border Patrol. Agents delivered one before the mother could reach the hospital.
Their babies are U.S. citizens, but that probably won’t help the mothers in their bid to settle in the U.S. They likely will be deported, same as thousands of other parents with U.S.-born children.
Despite the violence consuming their countries, most Central American migrants are not viewed as refugees and are fast-tracked for deportation.
Cracking down on border security means leaving no room for them.