'A kink in the hose' - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
Home » U.S.-Mexico Border » ‘A kink in the hose’

Summer 2022 newsletter


Debbie Northern, U.S.-Mexico Border

‘Free at last’: Debbie Northern holding the wristbands she cut off migrants after their release from detention.

The news is full of panic-filled headlines about the crisis of immigration at the border. As someone here in El Paso, let me share my observations. The last administration put a virtual stop to legal immigration with the policy of Title 42, based on CDC recommendations of health concerns about people from outside the country entering the U.S. Now the CDC says that the ban is no longer needed for health reasons, but a single judge keeps it in place.

U.S. law permits a person who steps foot on U.S. territory, no matter how they arrived, the legal right to ask for asylum. Title 42 does not allow this, and people are removed without processing their claim — and so they try again and again until they can at least have a hearing on their case.

Picture a kink in a hose. Title 42 is that kink: thousands of people are stuck in Mexico who want to come into the U.S. legally but are being told they cannot even step on U.S. soil, which is the ONLY way they can ask for asylum.

Dishing out soup

Also, the Remain in Mexico policy of the past administration makes thousands of others who have asylum cases pending wait for their court dates in Mexico, instead of with family or friends in the U.S. Many have been waiting for years in shelters — if they are lucky enough to find safety in one. If not, they are prey to the cartels and others who will rob or kidnap them or otherwise take advantage of them. Those in the shelters cannot leave for fear of the above or being deported back to the countries from which they were fleeing because of threats of violence, extortion or death.

Now that so many people are at the border, it is like that kink in the hose — and when the kink is removed, there will be a gush, but after that the flow will return to normal. Once Title 42 and the Remain in Mexico programs are ended, people can be legally allowed into the U.S. until their cases are heard and a decision has been made. They will stay with friends and family throughout the U.S.; very few of them remain at the border.

So why are these policies still in place? Immigration has become a political hot potato, and instead of a humanitarian and coordinated response, we refuse to admit that our immigration laws are broken and need reform. It is a complex issue because the reasons for people leaving their countries are also complex and have no easy answer: violence, poverty, climate change and lack of opportunities.

Doing intake at Casa del Refugiado

As Christians, we are called to treat all people as brothers and sisters and respond to their basic needs. In his encyclical Frattelli Tutti, Pope Francis wrote, “Complex challenges arise when our neighbor happens to be an immigrant. Ideally, unnecessary migration ought to be avoided; this entails creating in countries of origin the conditions needed for a dignified life and integral development. Yet until [then] … , we are obliged to respect the right of all individuals to find a place that meets their basic needs and those of their families, and where they can find personal fulfilment. Our response to the arrival of migrating persons can be summarized by four words: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.”

I continue to periodically volunteer at the shelters helping to meet immediate needs of food, shelter and clothing. Our main role is to welcome and provide a safe space to the migrants who have been treated inhumanely in the detention centers. One way I do this is to cut off the wristbands that were put on them while in detention. The migrants are so happy to have them cut off because that small act signals freedom.

Recently many of the participants in the Encuentro immersion trips have been first- or second-generation immigrants, so the reality of migration here on the border affects them emotionally. They realize how fortunate they are that they haven’t had to go through what migrants go through today. Many of them are in limbo themselves, as they are part of the DACA program and are still hoping and waiting that their status will soon be stabilized.

Maryknoll Lay Missioners is working on migration on the border and elsewhere in a variety of ways. Please continue to pray for migrants throughout the world so that they may find a safe haven.

Debbie Northern

Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!

Debbie Northern
Based in El Paso, Texas, Debbie Northern leads border immersion experiences with the Encuentro Project and assists migrants at shelters in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.