Deirdre Griffin, SSJ
Year Joined MKLM: 2021
Country: U.S.-Mexico border
City: El Paso, Texas
Ministry: Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center (LAIAC) and Casa Vides/Annunciation House Shelter
Ministry Area: Justice and Peace
Goal of Ministry: To assure our vulnerable sisters and brothers that they are welcome and safe following their harrowing journeys to the U.S. and in immigration custody, and to empower them with the legal information they need to take next steps in their lives.
Intervention and reconciliation/restoration.
The focus on nonviolence arises daily in the ministry of hospitality at the border. This is a daily entering into the work of reconciliation and restoration. People need to be reassured of their human dignity and need a cordial welcome after surviving horrific trauma along their journeys and during their experiences of detention in U.S. prisons upon arrival.
Our legal advocacy is often a practice of intervention, in hope of avoiding or at least minimizing the violence people experience attempting to navigate the legal and administrative aspects of pursuing their requests for asylum in the United States. From release from detention through applying for permission to work in the United States, language, literacy and financial barriers can compound the suffering people have already experienced. The accompaniment of an attorney helps to alleviate anxiety and resolve roadblocks that arise along the way to safety and healing.
Many courageous and vulnerable people are suffering at the southern border of the United States because of the country’s failure to create humane policy solutions to address the massive numbers of displaced people in the world. The extreme political divisiveness in the United States at this time invites us to begin instead in the work of hospitality, of God’s radical love for each and every creature. From this foundation, better solutions will grow, but it will take time and people are suffering now. The United States has a great deal to learn from the people seeking refuge at our borders, about community, dignity, and holy endurance.
Each day I strive to offer my presence, including my legal and pastoral training, in the service of people seeking safety and recognition of the dignity of their lives at the border between Mexico and the United States.
At Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center I provide immigration legal services for people who are in federal prison custody while they are awaiting assessment of their asylum requests, and post-release support for those recently freed to join their loved ones. This may include advocating for a person’s medical needs to be met while in prison, assisting someone who has been released to complete their application for asylum, sharing prayer for courage and perseverance at the close of a client visit, and encouraging my colleagues as we all bear witness to the suffering and injustice endured by our brothers and sisters.
As a community volunteer at Casa Vides/Annunciation House, I help to welcome people recently released from immigration custody, providing shelter, food, clothing, and assistance while they are making travel arrangements to join their loved ones. Following their detention after a harrowing journey to the United States, I help them to understand that they are welcome and safe in our company, and share the good news with family members that someone has been released and is able to travel to join their loved ones. For each one, the journey has been and will continue to be arduous. Thus, it is my honor — and a sacramental encounter with Christ — to assure, orient and encourage each person along their journey.
It is impossible to define “success/achievement” in this context. Amidst such trauma and continuous movement, I claim the sacrament of the present moment. When I reflect on my experiences of ministry, I wonder about things like, “Did that person feel heard, respected, and accompanied with compassion during our time together?” “How can we, as a legal services staff or shelter volunteer community, better care for one another so we can continue to be present to our clients and guests in these terrible circumstances?” Until policymakers come up with better solutions, I am learning to nourish my spirit so that it is enough to personally bear witness to injustice in detention center court proceedings and to prepare humble bags of peanut butter sandwiches, apples, and water for travelers following in the footsteps of Christ.
As a Sister of Saint Joseph and the eldest child of Irish immigrant parents, I am called to offer back to God all that has been entrusted to me in the forms of legal training and awareness of the immigrant experience. It has been my privilege to be of service to our immigrant sisters and brothers throughout my professional life and ministry, from private practice of immigration law to language access in the courts, and refugee resettlement work.
I learned about the Maryknoll Lay Missioners community at the border during a time of discernment with my religious congregation, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Springfield, Massachusetts, and through God’s grace have now made a three and a half year commitment to ministry in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
Prior to joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners, I most recently worked as the director of international programs at the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee, Massachusetts. I have also worked with interpreters in the courts, enhanced access to emergency food resources, and directed the refugee resettlement program at Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Western Massachusetts. At JFS, our team of culturally diverse staff members sought to offer something of the radical hospitality of God through welcoming people seeking safety from Somalia, Iraq, Bhutan, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.