Assisting migrants just south of the border - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Fall 2023 newsletter


Debbie Northern, U.S.-Mexico Border

Debbie Northern at Albergue San Oscar Romero

Debbie talking with a Haitian migrant at Albergue San Óscar Romero, a shelter in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

I recently had the opportunity to accompany fellow missioner Heidi Cerneka and two Mexican employees of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center on visits to shelters in Ciudad Juárez. The purpose of the visits was to explain the asylum process to migrants on the Mexican side of the border and to help them understand how the phone app CBP One works.

This app, issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, allows for mobile applications to get one of a limited number of appointments to enter the U.S. at a point of entry — and get a so-called credible fear interview to make their case in court to remain in the U.S.

Outside Albergue San Óscar Romero (from left): Debbie Northern, Heidi Cerneka, Mireya Sierra, Edna Maldonado and Fr. Carl Quebedeaux, CMF

After months of traveling, usually walking, thousands of miles to reach the U.S. border, having to wait months to get an appointment is difficult for migrants, especially being within such a short distance to their goal. However, the migrants in the shelters we visited are fortunate because they are in a safe environment and have their basic needs met. Many other migrants in Juárez are on the streets, which is extremely dangerous and makes them easy prey to the cartels and others who want to take advantage of them.

I also assisted Las Americas all morning one day helping migrants with their CBP One application. The application is very detailed, so migrants have problems knowing what information is wanted and needed. Another problem is that some of their phones are not equipped to open the app.

In July a group from the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers came to participate in the Encuentro Project immersion program to learn more about migrants and immigration. They had the opportunity to help out in a shelter here in El Paso and to go to Juárez to visit one of the shelters.

After spending time with the migrants and listening to their stories, it becomes clear that they are not fleeing their countries on a whim. The journey is long and treacherous. Many of them are running for their lives, either because of threats from gangs and cartels, or else from crushing poverty. Either way, they believe it is best to leave almost certain death to find a place where they will be safe. They have so much hope and faith in God to guide them on their journey. They have so much resilience to have made it so far after being robbed, kidnapped, extorted and violated. They just want a better life for their families.

In addition, I had the opportunity to go to Odessa, Texas to speak at two parishes about my ministry and raise funds for Maryknoll Lay Missioners. My hosts, the Navidads, were so welcoming, inviting me into their home and their family celebration of Virginia Navidad’s sister’s 70th birthday. As one of 10 living siblings, there were a lot of family at the celebration! And lots of good Mexican food.

In order to meet our mission goals, Maryknoll Lay Missioners needs to raise funds for the support of our missioners in nine countries and our many ministries. I hope that you will be able to help us with a donation — or perhaps even become a monthly donor.

Also, if you would like to have one of us missioners come speak at your parish or to a group of friends or family, please let me know and we will be happy to arrange that. We love to share our ministries with others. We invite you to become partners with us in mission to create a more compassionate and just world.

Debbie Northern

Please consider supporting my mission work at the U.S.-Mexico border with a donation through the link below.

I invite you to walk with me as a “COMPANION IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, visit Become a Companion in MissionThank 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.