More change at the border - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Summer 2023 newsletter


Debbie Northern, U.S.-Mexico Border

With Border Patrol agent at the border fence in El Paso

Dear friends and family,

Here in El Paso, it has been a busy few months. As you may have seen in the news, many migrants entered the United States ahead of the end of Title 42, hoping to finally get a chance to ask for asylum.

Sacred Heart Church was at the epicenter, with migrants camping out on the church grounds and surrounding streets, while women and children were prioritized for housing in the shelter in the former gym. I attended church there and witnessed the migrants who had arrived. I was impressed by the sense of community they created and the response of Sacred Heart and the local community, who rushed to supply food and basic necessities to the migrants.

I did not see or experience an “invasion” or any disruptive behavior, except that many people were on the sidewalks.

The end of the Title 42 policy was long overdue, as it was a health order to prevent COVID (which really was not effective as people could still come and go, as long as they were not seeking asylum) and was never meant to be an immigration policy.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has not updated its immigration policies and laws to reflect the current realities of migration, and Congress is unwilling to do so. Therefore, people who are fleeing violence, corruption and poverty suffer even more as they try to navigate our convoluted, inhumane system. I have not read the new proposed bipartisan immigration law, but I hope that it will be a good first step.

In effect, during Title 42 there was no legal way to enter the Southern border! None! Title 42 turned away everyone, including those seeking their legal right to ask for asylum, which can only be done on U.S. territory. People could try as many times as necessary to cross into the U.S. to see if they could seek asylum since they were not processed. Some people were fortunate and were processed and given paperwork to legally come into the U.S., others not. This policy created a bonanza for the cartels, who exploit migrants for smuggling and human trafficking, which will continue until we have humane immigration laws.

The recently enacted new border protocols are not helping to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. The app that was created is difficult to access and use and has a lot of bugs. Also, it is not safe for migrants in Mexico, as the cartels and gangs continue to kidnap, extort and kill migrants.

One of my colleagues told me that a man their organization was trying to help get asylum was able to get an interview on the border, but several hundred miles from Ciudad Juárez, where he and his family were. He took a bus and on the way was kidnapped. I have not heard any more on his fate. These processes still deny migrants their right to request asylum and be granted a safe haven while their claim is being processed.

During the time of the end of Title 42, we had an Encuentro group from Queens University in North Carolina. Due to the concerns over a surge of migrants, several of their activities and presentations were cancelled. However, this gave them more opportunities to volunteer at Sacred Heart and interact with the migrants there.

A few days before Title 42 was to end, Border Patrol passed out flyers telling the migrants that if they turned themselves in, since they had not had encounter with Border Patrol, they would be processed. The flyer had no identification on it to show that it came from a government source so naturally the migrants were leery. But a few migrants did go to the office and were processed, and soon after, all the migrants were gone from around Sacred Heart, except for a few. I couldn’t help thinking: If they could process that many migrants in such a short time, why wasn’t it possible to be doing this all along?

Deterrents to immigration will not work since those who are leaving their countries do so out of fear and necessity. Until conditions change in the countries from which they are fleeing, they will continue to seek safety and opportunities to survive elsewhere.

When I speak with migrants and hear their stories of overcoming so many dangerous situations in coming to the United States, I am humbled by their courage and optimism and want them to be able to find a safe haven here. It is their resilience, hope and faith in God that keeps them going.

Please keep all the migrants in your prayers and all those who are trying to arrange to help them find housing and assistance throughout the country.

Debbie Northern

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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.