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Helping Immigrant Families at the Border

April 30, 2019

Introduction

Sr. Rosa Cristina Sanchez Chigne recently returned from volunteering at the Texas/Mexico border with other Catholic sisters. She wrote about the experience of helping immigrant families who would arrive at the border after walking for up to three months – many of them with only the clothes they were wearing. Sr. Rosa says the ministry of our Catholic Church was alive and well through these difficult moments.

Volunteer Work in El Paso | Sister Rosa Cristina Sanchez Chigne

I was fortunate to be chosen as one of the volunteers to help the immigrant families in El Paso, Texas.  These families traveled in caravans and included people from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and Brazil.

In my conversations with these families, I found that many of them come to the border walking. Many walk for 20 days or more. Some help them by offering rides for short distances so they don’t have to walk so much.  These are families that travel with small children and teenagers.  They flee their countries due to the violence and killings, as well as a way to provide a better future for their families.

I was there to support the Quinta Inn area.  Every day, I worked with three Mercy Health Sisters.  After greeting families and welcoming them, we would feed them and register their information into the system. Families provided us with names and phone numbers of their friends and or family members in the States for us to call.  Once we communicated with them, they arranged to buy plane or bus tickets to have the immigrant families join them.

The sisters and I would help a lot of people on a daily basis.  An average of 800 or so would come in.  These people were sent to different areas where the volunteers were.  In the area where I was, the sisters and I would see around 115 people.  We were in charge of giving these families keys to rooms where they could stay, provide them with clothing since most of them only had the clothes they had on because immigration officers took all their clothes.  A majority of them were very sick with the flu, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, etc.  I was grateful to have medications for these families and us.  There was a doctor onsite as well to assist people that were sick.  The work was non-stop, working 7 days a week because the immigrant families would come in every day.  The average of immigrants coming into the US on a weekly basis was 3,000 people.

My heart ached for the small children who are separated from their mothers.  They not only suffer but undergo a traumatic experience and something they will carry for the rest of their lives.  It was comforting to see how these families became so happy to arrive to our areas and find welcoming hands and hearts that wanted to help them by providing food, clothing and a place to lay down and rest.  The words “whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto me”; resonated within me when I was taking care of these families.  The ministry of our Catholic Church was alive and well through these difficult moments.

There were living arrangements in the local convent for all volunteers during our 2-week stay.  It was great to see Franciscan and Dominican sisters from Mercy and Notre Dame.  The sisters from Loreto were in charge of the following areas: Nazaret, Centro Juan Diego, La Quinta Inn, Casa Vida, St. Ignacio, San Alvino Catholic Church, Calvary-Methodist Church and Seminary Roger Bacon.  These were the places where volunteers were able to stay.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to join my fellow Sisters in this most amazing experience.  It was a chance to live our mission and “be good help to those in need.”