Home » U.S.-Mexico Border » Keeping migrants, justice and life at the center

Migrants outside the gym of Sacred Heart Parish in El Paso, Texas, one of Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ partner ministries (Photo by Fr. Rafael Garcia, SJ)


This week, as border communities are preparing for the end of Title 42 and the Biden administration is enacting new restrictive border policies, Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ border team (four missioners serving in El Paso, Texas; one in Mexicali, Mexico; and our interim executive director in El Paso) is actively engaged in supporting migrants through a variety of services. Here are statements from some of them:

Elvira Ramirez

Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ interim executive director, El Paso, Texas

The anxiety is palpable here in El Paso, and I am sure, across the other U.S.-Mexico border sites this week. The stakes keep getting higher for migrants and would-be refugees who already have risked everything to get to “the Border.”

In El Paso, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have conducted a “targeted enforcement operation” against migrants who have not been processed in the U.S. Migrants were directed to turn themselves in for the processing or risk arrest after the deadline. This new development in particular targeted the estimated 2,000 migrants huddled around Sacred Heart Parish, one of the ministries where our lay missioners work. While hundreds of migrants complied with the directive, others expressed skepticism. Why should they trust and not fear the worst?

In spite of the tribulations and uncertainty of their journeys, it is anticipated that tens of thousands of migrants are expected to attempt to cross the border when Title 42 ends on May 11.

We keep asking the wrong questions. As advocates and people of faith have been suggesting, we should ask: What would I do in their situation? How would I protect my family, and what would I choose if my life depended on a journey such as they have undertaken?

We can be the difference in this world that is in need of compassion and just structures. As individuals and as a nation we can seek for real solutions, even if it is the long way. Migrants have not been given the option to take shortcuts either.

The presence of five Maryknoll Lay Missioners at the U.S.-Mexico border is our statement of solidarity and hope for social justice and nonviolence for migrants.

Maryknoll lay missioner Heidi Cerneka

Immigration attorney with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, El Paso

President Biden promised to end Title 42 and to protect asylum while he was campaigning for the presidency. The current administration now consistently defends keeping asylum seekers out, blocking people’s entrance to the United States and denying those who enter a fair chance at asylum. The new policies barely give people a chance to draw their breath and say, “I am afraid to return to my country and am asking for asylum.” It is impossible for them to access legal counsel, to have any legal orientation about the asylum process, and to prepare to defend their petition for protection.

The recent proposed asylum policy by the administration seeks only to reduce the numbers at our border. It does not address people who have fled persecution in their country of origin nor does it consider our obligation to protect them.

While it seems obvious to state that immigration policy has simply become a political flashpoint and not at all about the migrants and asylum seekers, it also seems necessary to repeat: We are a nation that committed to protection and asylum for those who qualify. We are a nation that has always thrived on the creative contribution (and the hard work) of migrants. We signed the UN Refugee Convention and then wrote our own immigration law that guarantees the right to ask for asylum and guarantees that no one shall be sent back to a country where her or his life is at risk.

As citizens of the United States, as global citizens, and as people of faith who defend human dignity and the sacredness of each person, we must ask critical questions and keep migrants, justice and life at the center of all we do.

Maryknoll lay missioner Deirdre Griffin, SSJ

Immigration attorney with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and migrant services worker with Annunciation House

The lifting of Title 42 is long overdue.  Rather than creating new forms of institutional violence that deny the suffering of our sisters and brothers (transit ban, heavy-handed use of the expedited removal process, etc.), it is time to be honest about the humanitarian crises knocking on the doors of our southern border and to respond with the compassion of Christ.

Instead of continuing to sink billions of taxpayer dollars into ineffective criminalization and militarization of the suffering of the poor, we should be welcoming those seeking safety with open arms and washing their mottled feet, all the while asking forgiveness for our gross negligence of our shared humanity.

Maryknoll lay missioner Rick Dixon

Immigrant services in the Diocese of Mexicali, Mexico

Tuesday, May 9, the streets around Casa Betania, the Diocesan Migrant Center, are empty. Municipal police are constantly patrolling the area, misery lights whirling, clearing people off the streets — migrants, homeless, day laborers.

Last week, Monday, 20 migrants, most from Central America, came to the center. But one man was from the Dominican Republic. He asked how to apply for political asylum; he reported a crime in his country and was threatened by a criminal organization, warned to withdraw his denunciation. If he didn’t, he’d be killed. We put him in contact with a local office from the UN and encouraged him to get legal advice. He got very nervous. “Ahorita, tengo que irme ahora. Voy a cruzar, entregarme (Now, I have to go now, turn myself in).” Fear was in his eyes. We didn’t see him again.

Maryknoll Lay Missioners
Compelled by faith to engage with people across cultures and ethnicities, Maryknoll lay missioners live, love and work with communities on the margins to promote active nonviolence and healing.