Sisters volunteer on Texas border

July 27, 2021 by  

Sisters Anna Marie Broxterman and Dian Hall both have been to the southern border numerous times — whether to volunteer at charities or to provide education to others with the sisters’ Border Immersion program. Most of their experiences have been with the social services and charities in El Paso, Texas, Silver City, New Mexico, and surrounding communities.
However, their latest trip to the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, in June proved to be a completely new situation for the two seasoned volunteers.

Sisters Dian Hall (left), and Anna Marie Broxterman (right) meet with Sister Norma Pimentel in McAllen, Texas.

“The sheer amount of people at this location was just overwhelming,” Sister Dian said when asked to compare the McAllen facility with her previous experiences in El Paso.
While volunteering in intake centers in El Paso they would regularly see 50-some people come in, she said. In McAllen there was easily 400 to 500 people to service in the distribution center at any one time.

“It was just a sea of humanity in one giant room,” Sister Anna Marie said. “Walking in, we were both overwhelmed.”

However they quickly found their feet and started learning the background stories of the immigrants.

The facility serves as an intake center for immigrants legally seeking asylum. The majority of people had their asylum paperwork as well as information on a sponsor that the center volunteers could contact in order to help them make bus or airline travel arrangements.

Sister Dian said she was amazed by some of the stories she was told.

“One woman told me the story of how her two sons were murdered in Honduras because they refused to join a local gang. She fled the country with her one remaining son and infant daughter. Her husband had also been murdered,” Sister Dian said. “Another young couple was at the intake center with their two-year-old daughter. They had been retained in Mexico for several months and finally came across the border for asylum. They repeatedly said they now felt safe for the first time in their lives.”

The goal of their trip to McAllen was to explore the potential for an alternative site for a Border Immersion Experience in 2022, as well as to volunteer their services with Catholic Charities.

Both sisters said that it was clear the majority of asylum seekers were here not for a free hand out, but to escape imminent harm to either their family or themselves.

“We arrived Monday, June 21, in the early afternoon. Following a brief lunch, we walked several blocks to the Catholic Charities Respite Center. What we witnessed after being buzzed into the center was totally overwhelming,” Sister Dian said. “The Respite Center, a warehouse with multiple large rooms, was filled to capacity and beyond with immigrants. A security guard generously gave us a tour.”

“The first large room was an intake center which also offered an orientation via video and a vocal presentation. Also in the room was a ‘pharmacy’ which dispensed everything from Tylenol and cough syrup to shampoo, baby formula, toothpaste, feminine products, diapers, coloring books, and crayons, ” Sister Dian said. “The demand never ended. Lined up along one wall were mattresses to accommodate a night of sleep. There also were rest rooms available.”

The next large room the sisters toured had mattresses on the floor to provide nap time for kids, Sister Dian said. On one side of the room there were showers with scheduled times for women and men.

Sister Dian said the volunteers at the intake center were religious sisters, teenagers, and men and women who lovingly helped the immigrants at the center. The volunteers cooked meals, bagged dry milk, handed out toiletries and necessities, and interacted with each immigrant.

Tuesday morning the sisters wasted no time in providing service — Dian in pharmacy and Anna Marie in dispensing clothing.

On Wednesday, the sisters were able to spend a short period of time with Sandra, a coordinator on duty from Catholic Charities who provided them with contact information for other agencies in the area. This would give the team a clearer picture of educational opportunities for a possible future Border Experience.

Sandra asked the two to run some errands which included purchasing bags to be used by the families, bottles and sippy cups.

On Thursday they departed, but spent the morning visiting the local Catholic church and purchasing a few needed items for the center at a local store.

Sister Dian said that as they walked to the center to deliver them, they saw Sister Norma Pimentel, a Missionary of Jesus Sister, who serves as the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. When Sisters Anna Marie and Dian commented that younger volunteers might be more of an asset to the center, Sister Norma reminded them that all are needed, and wisdom and age is so necessary and important to the people being served.

“It was a gift to be in the presence of so many generous and loving men and women as we walked among our brothers and sisters from throughout Central America and Mexico. The need for volunteers at the border is great.”

For more information on volunteering at the Catholic Charities Respite Center visit their website at https://www.catholiccharitiesrgv.org/HumanitarianRespiteCenter.shtml

While we were waiting at the McAllen Airport for our ride to Dallas, we met two families who had been at the Center the previous day. Both families were on the plane with us to Dallas and were taking a connecting flight to Charlotte and to Baltimore to be united with family members. It was good to see them in route to be with their family.
It was a gift to be in the presence of so many generous and loving men and women as we walked among our brothers and sisters from throughout Central America and Mexico. The need for volunteers at the border is great, and something tells us that we will see McAllen again in the very near future. We are still discussing the possibility of planning a Border Experience in McAllen in 2022, but no definite decision has been made.

From Russia With Love — The Story of the Keller Sisters

May 16, 2021 by  

Written by SISTER FRANCESCA KELLER
Compiled by TOM KELLER

Magdaline Keller was born, the first child of Peter and Mary Volk Keller, on Dec. 30, 1898, in the German town of Bezilvoka in southern Russia near the Black Sea port of Odessa. Clementine Keller was born in Russia, Sept. 25, 1906. She was the third girl in the family. Both parents of Magdaline and Clementine were born in Russia, along with their first six children. In 1908, the family came to the United States settling in Collyer, Kansas. Magdaline was 10 years of age and Clementine was 2.

Ten years after arriving in the United States, Magdaline entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Concordia, Kansas, at the age of 20 and was given the name Sister Mary Francesca. In 1922, at the age of 15, Clementine also entered the Sisters of St. Joseph and was given the name Sister Renilda. In 1938, at the age of 21, Mary Keller, their younger sister, entered the congregation and was Sister Mary Antoniens Keller and later, Sister Mary Keller.

Sisters Francesca and Renilda shared memories of their time in Russia and their travels to the United States. Recently, Sister Francesca and Renilda’s cousin, Tom Keller, completed the genealogy of the family and sent a copy for the archives of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. In the genealogy, the story of the sisters’ family leaving Russia and traveling to the United States was included. In one of the sister’s files, it is written that “the migration was a response to Catherine the Great’s 1763 offer of free land, freedom of religion and freedom from taxes and military service. But when some of these freedoms were abrogated, many people moved to America.”
Sister Francesca recalled the long tiresome, seven-day voyage on the big steamship, “Kaiser Wilhelm II”. They settled at Collyer, Kansas, in the heart of the rich wheat land of Kansas. Eight more children were born there, bringing the total to 14 children.

She spoke of her life in Russia, her memories and where they lived and then began her story of her father, Peter Keller and family, emigrating to the United States. He was the first one in the Keller family to leave and so was her mother from her side of the family (Volk). Three years later, Francesca and Renilda’s uncles Tony and John, along with their families, migrated to America as well, leaving Russia because of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Sister Francesca wrote, “In the spring of 1908, Dad (Peter Keller) decided to migrate to America. This was a difficult step to take, because America was so far away. It took much preparation. The whole family had to go to Odessa to have our eyes examined. Dad had to go across one corner of the Black Sea to Nikolaiev to get our passports. We had to sell everything we had except the feathers, which we took along, and our clothes of course. Dad said if we dress like Americans we won’t have a hard time.

“Some said we should have an agent to bring us over like many of them did, but Dad said we will find our way without one. We finally sold everything we had to Uncle Valentine including our home place, 12 horses, 10 cows, pigs, poultry, machinery, wagons and our carriage. If I remember right, he paid us $12,600 for everything we owned.

“We decided to go by rail as far as Germany then take the ship, instead of taking a ship in Odessa across the Black and Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. That would have put us on the water all the way. Everything was packed into two big trunks made out of reeds, also a smaller one in which we kept the food. The feathers were packed into two big strong mattress covers that had served as mattresses on our beds. There were well marked in red paint with our names.

“The last day all our relatives, on both sides, including Grandma Volk, went to Razdelnia from which place we took the train. They all had supper together as a farewell meal. I came from Odessa with a friend of ours. When our eyes were examined, I was the only one with white spots on my eyelids called trachoma, so I had an operation to remove them. I was blindfolded for about a week and the good people I stayed with took me to the doctor every day. I came out fine even if my eyes were still a bit red.

“We visited around until midnight when the Flier train came through. Everybody seemed so sad and were crying when we left. They all stood by the train close to the window where we looked at them for the last time. Mom was inside and Grandmother on the outside and both of them wept bitterly. Dad was out on the platform waving his white handkerchief at them until they could no longer see us. As young as I was, this was one of the saddest times of my life and I am sure the folks would have said the same. The next morning, I remember Mom saying, ‘Now we are far from home,’ and she wept again.

“We rode on to Warsaw, Poland, which at that time was still under Russian rule. It was a beautiful city, what we could see of it. There were so many passenger trains and the cars were all different colors which impressed me. We stopped for some time then went on until we reached the German border where we had to get off and take another train. Before they let us on the train, they examined us, especially our eyes. We all passed.

“We rode on until we reached Berlin, what an immense city to see. We finally stopped on the west side of it and changed trains. On the way, we saw so many tall and beautiful buildings, even Kaiser Wilhelm II’s mansion. From Berlin, we went to Bremen. We had to wait around there for a couple days, as we came too soon. We all knew what the ship would look like as it had been advertised in Odessa on several big windows. It was the largest ship that then sailed the Atlantic. It had four big funnels and several stories with two big decks, one in front and the other in the back. The name of it was ‘Kaiser Wilhelm II’ which was written in large letters on the outside. It belonged to the North German Loyd Company.

“We again boarded a train and rode about an hour to get to the harbor where the ship was docked. The harbor was called ‘Bremerhaven.’ While the people got on, the orchestra played. It took quite a while to get the people and the freight on board. We were taken to the hold under the deck with a lot of people as we were traveling third class which we were told was a good way to go. Dad didn’t like the looks of this so he asked one of the lads if we could have something a bit more private. Yes, on the same floor of the deck there were two rooms, a small one for Mrs. Kraft, who was traveling with us, and a large one for us. This was fine as all our meals were served there too, so we had real privacy. It cost Dad 75 marks extra for these rooms.

“Finally, we were on our way, down the English Channel and we stopped at Dover, I believe, and took on more people and freight. Then on to France. We did the same as in England. After we sailed awhile, a small ship brought some more passengers and their baggage. It didn’t take us quite seven days to cross the Atlantic. We had four days of terrible weather, the worst in months, but the rest of the time it was nice. One evening they had a big dance on deck. All of our family except Dad and myself, including Mrs. Kraft, got sea sick. Dad took me to the boiler room where the engines were. That was quite an experience. They also had a map down there which had flags pinned on it showing where we were. Several times we passed ships which were going the other direction to Europe and people would wave at each other from the deck.

“Our last day aboard was beautiful. We sailed into the New York harbor which had many ships in it. We finally got to our dock with the help of several tug boats. This was about 6 p.m. All first and second class passengers unloaded right away. The third class had to wait until next morning because we had to be taken to Ellis Island to be examined again. I forgot to mention when we passed the Statue of Liberty, Dad said, ‘That must be a statue of Christopher Columbus, who discovered America.’

“At Ellis Island, they again looked at our eyes as well as the rest of our being. From there, we went to a big depot, purchased our tickets and some food to head on West. We didn’t know how to pronounce Collyer, so every time we changed trains. Dad pulled out his long ticket from New York to Collyer and the conductor took a piece off the ticket.

“We left New York at midnight and the next morning went through some pretty hilly country and Dad said, ‘If all America is like this I won’t stay long.’ However, when we got into Indiana and Illinois, it looked quite nice and much better. We went through Missouri at night and got into Kansas City in the morning. About 10 a.m., we rode through beautiful Kansas wheat fields for miles and miles. This was on Saturday, the 23rd of May. When we got to Victoria, quite a number of people got off.

“They came from the Volga in Russia. Many of their relatives were there to meet them. This must have been around 6 p.m. We finally got to Collyer, Kansas, around 10 p.m. and nobody was there to meet us. Dad had sent a telegram from Chicago to the Millers, but the agent was new, didn’t know who they were, so he didn’t bother. While we were there talking and wondering what to do, a young lad about 11 years old came to us and asked who we were looking for. We told him Franz Miller. He said, ‘They live just a short way across the railroad track and I’ll be glad to take you there.’

“It was about a quarter of a mile to the Miller house. We settled in a two-room house right next to the Millers, which belonged to them, until we got our own place later on about 5 miles south of Collyer. Dad helped the Millers with their wheat harvest which was very good that year.

We bought 160 acres of land without any improvements on it for $17 an acre. We had to fence in the 30 acres of pasture, make a well, and build a barn and house. We built the barn and lived in it until the house was ready. Our house was built of lumber and was 161’ x 321’ with just two large rooms. We moved in before it was completed because it got too cold in the barn. The barn was not all that tightly built and we woke up one morning with a bit of snow on us.

“In 1911, we got word that Uncle Tony Keller and Uncle John Keller wanted to migrate over here. They arrived in June of that year and what a welcome and rejoicing there was! There were now 30 Keller children in all.
The Keller brothers farmed as much as they could, but we didn’t get much of a crop the first year, and the second wasn’t much better. In 1912, we had so much snow that the roads were all closed but that did produce a better crop. Those were hard times and we even had to buy our seed wheat one year. We just couldn’t make much of a go of the farm, no crops, no feed for the stock. A number of horses died due to lack of feed. “Uncle Tony started to build a home with stone east of us. Time passed and we didn’t get any crops, so he gave it up. One year, the grasshoppers ate everything, so there was always something it seems. No wonder they gave up. Living that close together had its drawbacks, but I always enjoyed it.

“In the fall of 1912, Dad decided to go to Russia. He had asked Grandma Volk if he could come over and sell Mother’s inheritance and she said to come ahead. He left home right after our Barbara was born on Oct. 28, 1912. He had also gotten permission from Aunt Barbara’s children in Hague, North Dakota, to sell their inheritance that Grandfather Keller left them. It took some time to find a buyer and there were further delays, sending paper back and forth that our mother had to sign. He sold the land and sent them the money, and they would have lost it when the Revolution came. Dad got $3,000 for Mother’s property. We had such hard times in those days, so it really came in handy.

Dad visited all of his folks. He stayed with Aunt Mary. He finally came home in April of 1913 and we Kellers were all together south of Collyer in those days.

 

 

Applications now being accepted for 2019 Border Immersion

July 1, 2019 by  

September 9-16, 2019

Join us for a one-week experience that delves into the life and culture on the U.S./Mexico border.

We will see first-hand the struggles of immigrants as we visit shelters, agencies, parish ministries that serve them in El Paso, Texas,  and Juarez, Mexico. Passport required. We will attend Mass in one of the detention centers, which will require filling out individual forms.

This experience is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. In our commitment to Gospel living and nonviolence, we stand in solidarity with undocumented immigrants.

The week-long experience is provided by the Encuentro Project under the direction of Father Rafael Garcia, S.J. We will stay at 1837 Grandview, El Paso, a communal residence and base of the program, home to two Marist Brothers whose community is based at this project. This communal experience requires that participants are in general good health, able to climb stairs, and willing to share a room. We will participate in personal and group reflections and regular community evening prayer.

Participant’s cost: $400/person. Also, participants will be responsible for purchasing their own food as we travel to and from El Paso and will need to purchase their noon meal daily while there. Ground transportation will be provided by Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. It is imperative that applications be received by July 1, 2019.

For more information and/or an application form contact: Sister Anna Marie Broxterman, annacsj@csjkansas.org; 785-554-3829.

To download an application, click the link below.

2019 BorderImmersion

News from Sister Judy Stephens volunteering on the border

January 3, 2019 by  

ICE has asked volunteer agencies on the border for more volunteers to help with the current situation. Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, issued the original desperate call for volunteers. As are shelters in other cities. LCWR (Leadership Conference for Women Religious) sent out a call to all religious congregations with information about volunteering in major cities with shelters there. Our leadership team at Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia sent all of our sisters an invitation to volunteer if they could. Sister Judy Stephens and several lay people have responded. We will be sharing her experiences in El Paso.

“Day 2: Greetings! Want to tell you a little about today. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) brought 2 buses of released refugees. Unannounced. The first arrived right before dinner with 43 people. The pizza we expected didn’t arrive for dinner but came tonight!! The refrigerator is full of sandwiches so no problem.
Then began the serious work: some volunteers took down their names & and where they were going in the U.S. for their appointment with an immigration judge. And with which relative were they going to stay. Then the volunteer would call the relative and explain how they could buy a bus ticket or plane fare so they could travel there. Ana and Maria did that work endlessly. Last eve Ana took the four phones used for these calls to her room and still had to answer some. We were short of a site leader today and enough volunteers. After dinner the second bus arrived with another 20 some folk. But thank God, more good volunteers came in. So with those already here we probably have 100 and all available rooms filled.
I was trained in taking folks to bus station and two trips to airport. It’s tricky b/c most folks have to transfer. So You have to make sure they understand. My last trip was a 23 yr old woman carrying a nursing baby and a small son and her duffle bag. Going to Houston, changing planes. She was so brave.
On top of all this we woke up to several inches of snow. Mountains gorgeous but too cold for arriving folks and us!
One last story. A young man and his small son entered by crossing the Rio Grande walking across the river where it’s shallow. They arrived here still wet to their knees after two days. Most children are coughing and some adults as well.
All in all it is a powerful experience.
Enough for now.
Hope all of you are well.”
Sister Judy

Jan. 3, 2019

Several of you have asked how Sister Judy Stephens and the laypeople volunteers who went with her are doing at the border. As you may recall, ICE requested that the volunteer agencies in El Paso increase their volunteers, and Sister Judy and her friends responded to the call. She has been very busy, but took time to write very late last night to let us know about her status. I will be breaking this into several sections today.
Now …. in Sister Judy’s words:

Jaime from Chaparral. Brings in meals for the families on certain days. Beans, rice and chili — delicious!

Days have passed since I wrote. Both the weekend and the New Year were slim with staff and volunteers. And every day ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) brought a bus load. The smallest was 29. So, it has been busy and a bit intense.

In addition, most small children have colds, coughs and sometimes fever. Sister Mary Kay Meagher is the nurse on duty on first shift. All she has are OTC medications, but she evaluates well what needs to be done. Yesterday she sent a two-year-old child with her parents to Providence Hospital ER. She was examined thoroughly and eventually able to go home. And doing fine today.

She and her parents came from Nicaragua. They said that the situation in Nicaragua is serious. The Ortega family has a strict hold on the country and if you register resistance or non-agreement, you are labeled a terrorist and imprisoned — or found dead in the ditch somewhere. They spent at least five days in detention — men in one facility, women and children in another. The men slept side-by-side on the floor in a small room. Some had to sit and wait their turn for space. The bathroom was in a corner of the same room. Can you imagine?

More from Jan. 3, 2019

Sisters Kathy and Margie, School Sisters of St Francis from Milwaukee. Come at 7 a.m. every morning and fix breakfast.

One night we took Cindy and her one-year-old daughter to the airport to leave on a 5 a.m. flight. En route she told us she and her daughter left Honduras with her 9-year-old old brother on Nov. 8 with the Caravan. At some point they separated out and came to the border at El Paso. At that point, Immigration separated her from her brother and she has not heard from him since.

Our group of volunteers is really good. There are least six sisters of different congregations. There are two older Franciscans Sisters who have the breakfast routine down to perfection! Neither can hear very well, so they are fun to be around. A Maryknoll Sister was sick yesterday and will probably need to go stay with her sisters here in town for awhile.

I help wherever needed, but mostly driving folks to Greyhound bus station and the airport. I always accompany them to get their tickets, pass through Immigration and security. And TRY to tell them how to transfer to another flight or bus the best I can. I can tell some of them have probably never (or rarely) even ridden in a car! Much less flown in an airplane!! 

I’ve been having a recurring reflection I would like to try to describe. It’s about the life we are able to live here in the United States and those who are forced to live at the survival level. This has been most visible at the airport — to see the clothing, the styles, the luggage people have including flying with their pets in lap. I can tell you the folks we travel with are a striking contrast!

In addition there’s been a cloud hanging over us that the administration is planning to make some big decision that’s going to affect everyone. We’ll keep watching.
Thanks for your prayerful support. We surely feel it.

Sister Mary Kay Meagher, Notre Dame from Omaha (left) — my faithful daily guide! Except she leaves tomorrow! Sister Judy Stephens (right)

Jan. 5, 2019

 

Greetings. A short email update that includes my family!  

On Thursday, we received 27 people. That evening on the news there was a large section on Annunciation House.  Ruben explained that they were at capacity in the 11 (or 14?) shelters he oversees, and that if he doesn’t receive more volunteers he will need to close some of them. 

Also absolutely remarkable is the generosity of the local El Pasoans —they supply all the meals three times a day. Churches, groups, even restaurants!  We’ve certainly been well fed.

On Friday, we received 45 more, so things were really busy. In the middle of it THE MAYOR’S WIFE showed up with a cameraman. She was here for a long time playing with the children and visiting. And being filmed. Of course we had to call Ruben to see if that was okay. He said yes, but that the children’s faces had to be blurred. Apparently she came in order to give support and to seek help. 

Another busload came again today. There’s another child in the hospital now with dehydration and malnutrition. They have bus tickets to Colorado this evening. Hope they are able to go. 

I’m still thinking about the survival level folks come on and how that has to shift our priorities if we are going to get anywhere.
Blessings to all of you … Judy

Jan. 9, 2019

What’s happening?? ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) hasn’t brought a single bus load of folks since Sunday! Maybe it’s because of Trump’s address last night? Or maybe because he’s visiting the border at McAllen today and they want to keep things quiet and hidden? Who knows?
Last night Annunciation House closed one of the motel shelters and brought three families here. So we probably have 25 to 30 folks now.
 
Well, things change quickly. While writing this, a phone call from Annunciation House told us ICE was bringing 35 refugees today sometime.
 
There are fine volunteers here. Besides the four of us, there are six or seven IHM Sisters and Associates here from Monroe, Michigan. We are divided between the two shifts. Later I’ll post pictures of them.
 
So many precious children here! They are amazingly friendly. And how they love to play. I’d sure like to take their pictures! (Not allowed, of course!)
 
Jan. 11, 2019
 
It’s hard to believe that this is our last day of being here. You quickly begin to feel a part of the flow of things. As unpredictable and fluid as they are!
In Ruben Garcia’s last press conference from Annunciation House a couple days ago, he announced that ‘the surge was over,’ and that he was closing two shelters and next week the shelter where we are would be closed.
 
BUT … last eve we got word that we and the other shelters still open would receive 100 people today! So we are getting ready it will be an exciting day.
 
Several children have arrived with suspected chicken pox and we had to quarantine them until a volunteer pediatrician came to check them out. Both children were okay and able to travel.
 
With Trump’s televised address and visit to the border yesterday, it’s hard to sort out what is happening on the ground. How does Ruben know the ‘surge’ is over? Is ICE (Immigration) holding folks longer in detention? Or is Border Patrol going to again refuse folks to enter and request asylum? It’s hard to know. We volunteers continue to wonder and discuss.
 
My gratitude for being here is huge. I am so grateful for the invitation, the call to come here. I am so grateful to my congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas, for their prayer and support. I’m most grateful for Maria Fernanda, Ana and Jason for coming with me and serving by my side.
 
My deep gratitude for the prayer and support of my friends and my family!
 
Blessings on your day.
Sister Judy

How to help

For those of you asking how to make a donation or volunteer, please contact Ruben Garcia at Annunciation House. He has three or four permanent shelters and another 11 temporary shelters like the one I live and work in. He has done this work for over 40 years now. Here is the information:

Annunciation House
815 Myrtle Avenue
El Paso, TX 79901
Phone:  915-533-4675/ 915-545/4509
www.annunciationhouse.org

While on the website you can see press conferences previously held.

 

Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia oppose separation of immigrant families

June 6, 2018 by  

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kansas, are in strong agreement with the following statement issued by LCWR, (Leadership Conference of Women Religious):

“As women of faith, as Catholic sisters, we strongly oppose the Trump administration’s decision to forcibly separate parents from their children in an effort to punish families seeking safety in the United States. Mothers and fathers are taking tremendous risks to bring their children to safety. These are families fleeing violence and death in their home countries. They have every right to ask for protection in the United States and the Trump administration is legally and morally obligated to give them a fair chance to seek asylum,” Teresa Maya, CCVI, (Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word and President of LCWR), stated. “It is impossible to imagine the fear of a child being ripped from the arms of her mother or the pain of a father watching a stranger take his son. It is cruel and inhumane and it must stop. Our faith demands it and our national values require it. We are better than this.”

The Sisters of St. Joseph have a long history of being in solidarity with immigrant families. We are spurred on by Catholic Social teachings, which are based on the Gospel of Christ Jesus. We stand with the Bishops of the Catholic Church to work toward the development of just immigration laws that support the sanctity of human life and the unity of families.

June 5, 2018

El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz issues pastoral letter on immigration

July 26, 2017 by  

A view outside a clinic and school for special needs children in Anapra, Mexico … not far across the border from El Paso, Texas. Recent Border Experience participants crossed the border to visit this facility.

Bishop Mark J. Seitz, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, recently wrote a pastoral letter entitled, “Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away: Pastoral Letter on Migration to the People of God in the Diocese of El Paso,” which was officially signed July 18 during an event in front of religious and civic leaders in El Paso.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia have a house and Sisters in El Paso, and regularly schedule Border Experience trips there to help Sisters and laypersons fully experience the reality of the current immigration policy in the United States and see firsthand the human suffering that is a result.

The Immigration Committee of the Sisters of  St. Joseph of Concordia encourages everyone to view the following link to a pdf of the Pastoral letter.

English version

Spanish version

 

 

Border Experience participants learn about life, culture and poverty at U.S./Mexico border

May 30, 2017 by  

While dawn was breaking early on Friday, May 26, a group of Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and their guests at the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia, Kansas, had already been up and stirring, preparing to make what they expected be a life-changing run for the border. Nine women left that morning to take part in what’s called “A Border Experience” — a one-week expedition that fully immerses one into the life and culture on the U.S./Mexico border.

This group, which includes women from Iowa, Nebraska, Lawrence and Concordia, will see first-hand the struggles of immigrants as they visit shelters, missions, agencies and the cooperatives that serve them, Sister Anna Marie Broxterman said. They expect to return to Kansas on June 3.

The experience is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia as a part of their commitment to Gospel living and nonviolence, which includes standing in solidarity with undocumented immigrants.

Participants will be staying at the Sisters’ Grandview Convent in El Paso, Texas. Sisters Missy Ljungdahl and Donna Otter live there and will help organize the experience while in El Paso. Sisters Christina Brodie and Judy Stephens, of Concordia, will be staffing the experience as well.

Sister Judy said this is her fifth time participating in the Border Experience.

“Our purpose is more learning and consciousness raising,” she said. “We’ll spend time in the area that is about 15-20 miles into Mexico and the U.S. It’s a land all unto itself.”

The trip offers a wide variety of experiences, depending on each visit. On this current expedition, participants spent time with Father Peter Hindes, 93, a Carmelite, and Sister Betty Campbell RSM in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Sister Christina Brodie said. Both have ministered extensively south of the border and were able to share their insights on immigration, poverty and injustice in the area. Another stop included the Centro Santa Catalina Women’s Cooperative.

The cooperative is a sewing co-op created to help poor women in Juarez to be able to support their children. It was started by two Adrian Dominican nuns in 1996, Sister Judy said. Their hand-sewn products are sold in the U.S. with the money raised being shared equally among all the women in the co-op. Most live in handmade shacks, mostly made out of cinder blocks, on the city’s former garbage dump. The cooperative is the only source of funds for these women.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have been offering some sort of Border Experience since 1996, said Sister Anna Marie Broxterman.

“The trip is for experience and education,” Sister Anna Marie said. “Not for service. The trip is a truly communal experience with participants joining in cooking for the group, prayer and nightly sharing and reflection on the events of the day.

A second Border Experience is planned for June 30 through July 8. Space is limited. Applicants will be honored on a first come, first served basis.

The cost to participants is $300 per person. Sisters of St. Joseph cover the additional expense. Also, participants will be responsible for purchasing their own food as they travel to and from El Paso.

The Border Experience is organized by members of the Sisters of St. Joseph Immigration Committee: Sisters Anna Marie Broxterman, Dian Hall, Judy Stephens, Christina Brodie, Marilyn Wall and Janet LeDuc.

For more information on applying for the upcoming Border Experience on June 30, visit www.csjkansas.org, or contact Sister Judy Stephens for more information: (785) 243-2149 or jstephens@csjkansas.org.

Photos taken in Texas courtesy of Sister Christina Brodie (with more to come)

Immigration update: What’s happening in Kansas as Legislature opens?

January 24, 2013 by  

Topeka attorney Allie Devine

By Sister Esther Pineda

Immigration is one of the top issues mentioned by President Obama in his inaugural address Monday. And as Congress and the Kansas Legislature begin their new terms, attention returns to the fractured debate over immigration.

On Wednesday, the Sisters of Joseph from Concordia and Wichita held a forum at the CSJ Center in Wichita to discuss “Immigration: What’s Happening in Kansas.”

Sister Therese Bangert, a Sister of Charity from Leavenworth and a longtime lobbyist, and Allie Devine, an attorney from Topeka, were the presenters. Devine began by showing the history of “Immigration: State and National Debate,” from the Industrial Revolution to President Obama.

Sister Therese Bangert

President Ronald Reagan was the most pro-immigration. In 1984, he said, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though some time back they may have entered illegally.”

Two years later Reagan signed into law the bipartisan Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which included a provision for amnesty for some immigrants who had entered the U.S. illegally but had lived in the country for a number of years.

One of the constant reminders that was reiterated many times is the fact that coming to the United States without a visa is a civil violation and not a criminal offense; it is a misdemeanor, not a felony.

Devine made reference to the presentation Grover Norquist, a conservative libertarian and founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, gave to the Kansas Legislators earlier this month. It is an interesting and enlightening presentation, currently found on YouTube.

He spoke about the economic wisdom of welcoming immigrants and the potential Kansas has of being a “model” process for immigration reform. He was referring to the Business Immigration Coalition that proposed last year legislation in Kansas, giving undocumented immigrants the right to work legally in Kansas.  This bill will be introduced again next week in the state legislature.

Sister Esther Pineda

Sister Therese spoke of the different anti-immigrant proposals already being introduced in the Kansas legislature.  She encouraged the participants to be attentive to immigration alerts, to legislative hearings on the issue of immigration, other forums and advocacy activities.

She also challenged the participants to call and/or write to their legislators often.

The Forum ended with a strategy session where the participants committed themselves to promote and advocate strongly for comprehensive immigration reform, with very specific ways to do so.

Immigration ‘Reports’ look at myths, reality

April 15, 2012 by  

Iliana Holguin and Allie Devine have distinctly different backgrounds and live in two very different worlds, yet on Saturday afternoon it was clear they share a passion for immigration reform. And it was clear that both women see such needed changes in national and state law as both humane and pragmatic.

Holguin and Devine were the main speakers at a presentation titled “Immigration Reform & What it Means to Rural Kansas,” held at the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia and organized by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Iliana Holguin of El Paso, Texas

Holguin is an attorney and executive director of Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, the largest provider of free and low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees and their families in El Paso, West Texas and Southern New Mexico. She remembers growing up in El Paso when it and Ciudad Juarez, its much larger neighbor just across the U.S.-Mexico border, seemed like one big city.

“As a child I traveled with my mother to Juarez every morning and it never seemed like I was crossing an international border,” she recalled as she began her “Report from the Border.”

But that was before 9/11 and increased national security — and before violent drug cartels turned Juarez into what is now called the “Murder Capital of the World.”

“The laws have changed dramatically in the last 50 years,” she said, while American attitudes toward immigrants have changed as well.

She began her presentation by citing six common myths about immigration today:

  • Having a child born in the U.S. allows parents to stay. (These so-called “anchor babies” are U.S. citizens, but their parents are not and are subject to deportation.)
  • Marrying a U.S. citizen automatically allows the spouse to come to the U.S. or to stay here. (This is one pathway to citizenship, but it is not automatic.)
  • Immigrants come to the U.S. to get welfare. (Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for any kind of welfare and even documented immigrants are not eligible for the first five years they are in the country.)
  • Immigrants pay no taxes. (Both documented and undocumented immigrants pay sales and income taxes just like anyone else. For Social Security taxes and most income taxes, she noted, undocumented immigrants provide a “windfall” because they pay those taxes through payroll deductions but have no way to get it back.)
  • Most immigrants entered the U.S. illegally. (Although estimates vary, most studies agree that about 75 percent of the immigrants in the U.S. entered legally.)
  • Immigrants can come to the U.S. legally if they want to.

“Immigration laws today are very, very complicated,” Holguin said.

Most visas issued to enter the U.S. legally are based on either family connections or employment, she explained. But for 2012, there will be just 226,000 “family-based” visas issued for immigrants from anywhere in the world, which means there is a lengthy backlog for people who want to join family members here.

As an example, this year there are 23,400 visas available for the unmarried adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens — but according to an April 2012 federal bulletin, those adult children would have had to apply for one of those visas in May 1993 to now have moved to the front of the line. And if their relative is a “lawful permanent resident” instead of a citizen — commonly called a Green Card holder — the backlog is larger and the wait will be longer.

The challenge for workers who are trying to come into the U.S. legally can be even greater, Holguin said.

While “priority workers” and those with advanced degrees have a good chance of receiving visas, “other workers” — typically the kind of employees needed for agriculture and meat processing plants such as those in Southwest Kansas — are only allotted 10,000 visas a year. And, Holguin noted, the April 2012 bulletin lists an eligibility date of September 2002 for that class of visa.

“So how many people think an employer will be willing to wait 10 years for their employee?” she asked the 50 or so people in the audience at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

Another dramatic shift in immigration law, Holguin said, has been the focus on border enforcement. “Cost have increased exponentially in the last 10 years,” she said, “and that’s not just on the border but throughout the United States.”

A huge portion of that goes to the 350 or so detention facilities that have been established in the U.S. In 2009 (the most recent year for which details are available), about 380,000 immigrants were held in these detention centers, at a cost of $1.7 billion.

“Immigration violations are civil,” Holguin pointed out. “Half of the immigrants in detention have no criminal record.”

In El Paso, there are two detention facilities that together house 1,900 adults. (There are also four facilities for children, with a total capacity of 200.)

The cost to detain each adult is $86 per day, so the total cost for the two adult facilities in El Paso is $63 million per year, Holguin said — $86 times 365 days times 1,900 detainees.

She said various studies have shown that less expensive alternatives to detention would work just as well, but neither the government nor the private companies that run detention centers are willing to consider those.

“Immigration detention has become such a lucrative business that there’s a lot of resistance to alternatives,” she added.

 

Allie Devine of Topeka

Meanwhile, in Kansas — like in many other states — alternatives to federal immigration policy have been at the forefront for a number of years.

Former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Allie Devine explained the history of immigration discussions in Kansas and how a current proposal came about.

“As Iliana was on the border fighting those issues and as Congress every year lost its nerve to address immigration,” Kansas business interests began changing the way they thought about the issue.

“The first thing everybody says is, ‘This is a federal issue; there’s no role for the states,’” she said. “For five years, the Kansas business community said that — and we said it because we believed it. But we also understand the political environment that we’re in.”

So, beginning in 2008, “while we understand it’s a federal issue and there still needs to be federal reform, we realized that we need to do something (in Kansas) and do something different.”

That “something” has grown into a coalition of 27 groups “representing virtually every aspect of the economic base of Kansas,” Devine said, that has come together to oppose measures put forward by Secretary of State Kris Kobach and at the same time propose an unusual bill to help provide workers for Kansas businesses.

State Rep. Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia, listens to the presentation at the Nazareth Motherhouse Saturday.

Devine said the most unusual aspect of House Bill 2712 and its Senate companion, SB 399, is that it brought together business lobbyists and advocacy groups on a single issue, so that they were working side by side for what may have been the first time ever.

“What happened us probably one of the greatest things I’ve seen in all aspects of 25 years in state government,” she said. “We changed the hearts of lobbyists that were focused only on business interests. They now see this as a human rights issue and a community protection issue.”

Instead of the punitive “Arizona-style” laws that have been put forward by Secretary of State Kobach, HB 2712 creates a method for undocumented workers to remain in Kansas. If it becomes law, under 2712 a worker would have to:

  • Prove he or she has been in Kansas for five years
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Agree to study toward English proficiency
  • Agree to work in an industry that needs labor

If the worker meets those criteria, the state of Kansas would support his or her application to remain in the U.S. with legal work authorization. The costs of the new program would be covered by businesses that would pay a $1,000 registration fee and an additional fee of $200 for each employee hired as part of the new program.

She said HB 2712 “would basically put people in a holding pattern, with lawful status, until they can come into the system” of entry visas, as Holguin described.

After designing HB 2712, Devine said, “We were waiting for the immigrant community to tell us they could never support it — but they said, ‘Yes, we’ll support it, because we have nothing else.’”

HB 2712 remains in the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs, where the last action on it was a set of hearings in mid-February.

If it doesn’t pass, Devine said her coalition will continue to work with the federal government on the same idea but through other channels.

Arturo Ponce from Liberal, Kan., talked about his own experience as an immigrant 24 years ago. He attended the presentation with his wife, Dora.

Also speaking at Saturday’s presentation were Arturo Ponce, who works with the United Methodist Mexican American Ministries in Liberal, Kan., and Sisters Anna Marie Broxterman, Judy Stephens and Esther Pineda. Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, welcomed those attending the presentation and explained the congregation’s focus on immigration reform. Cheryl Lyn Higgins, coordinator for the sisters’ Neighborhood Initiatives offices, was the emcee for the event.

• • • • • • •

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia gave unanimous support to an Enactment Statement on Immigration in November 2011. For a copy,  CLICK HERE.

 

Advocates gather in Dodge City to discuss immigration

March 2, 2012 by  

     “We are a nation of immigrants. I think we forget that. Mine were German immigrants in the 1880s. If we told those stories more, if we remembered that, we might become more welcoming. “

— Kathy Denhardt,
mobility manager for Dodge City and Ford County

DODGE CITY — Nearly three dozen people from throughout southwest Kansas packed a meeting room in the Catholic cathedral in Dodge City Thursday afternoon, all with the same question: How can we better ensure that immigrants are treated fairly and humanely?

• • • • • • • •

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia had organized the meeting to bring together representatives from social service agencies, religious congregations, city governments, political entities and the community college as well as individuals who advocate for immigrant rights.

But, as organizer Cheryl Lyn Higgins pointed out at the beginning of the meeting, the Concordia-based congregation of Catholic women doesn’t presume to have all the answers.

“Our goal is to become better informed advocates for our brothers and sisters, whether documented or undocumented,” she said. “I believe, collectively, we can generate the outcome we all want to see.”

Higgins, who is coordinator of the sisters’ Neighborhood Initiatives office in Concordia, had organized a similar meeting in Salina in January.

Both meetings come on the heels of the congregation’s unanimous support last November for a “statement on immigration” that calls for a comprehensive national immigration policy, including:

  • A pathway to lawful permanent residency and citizenship for the undocumented persons currently living in the United States;
  • A process to reduce the backlog of family visas in order to ensure family unity and reunification;
  • A guest worker program that ensures labor protections and equitable wages;
  • A border security and enforcement policy that is humane; and
  • A process whereby undocumented students living in the United States can earn a college degree and become gainfully employed.

Higgins and the other members of the congregation’s immigration committee — Sisters Esther Pineda, Anna Marie Broxterman and Judy Stephens — handed out copies of the statement during Thursday’s Dodge City meeting.

Many participants had ideas on what needs to happen, particularly in southwest Kansas where the Hispanic population is continuing to grow.

Garden City Mayor John Doll said that a pressing need is a local immigration office.

“People now have to go to Wichita or Kansas City,” Doll said. “Having services available here is a key.”

For Maria Musick of Dodge City, another key is learning about the immigration issue “so we can tell the difference between fact and myth.”

Johnny Dunlap, chairman of the Ford County Democratic Party and a representative of the League of United Latin American Citizens, agreed — but he added that action is also needed.

“We need to raise awareness on the hearings (legislative) in Topeka and in D.C.,” he said. “We need to inform our communities and immigrants so that they may speak against  (proposed anti-immigrant legislation).”

Sister Esther Pineda, who was in Topeka during February for hearings at the Capitol, reported to the group on the status of several bills being considered by the state Legislature.

She urged the group to pay particular attention to House Bill 2576, the so-called “Anti-Harboring Bill,” as well as House Bill 2712, a measure that would require the Kansas Department of Labor to identify labor shortages and then create something of a “guest worker” program to help eliminate those shortages. The bill, which was drafted by a coalition that includes agriculture groups and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, has drawn strong support from immigrant rights advocates across the state and equally strong opposition from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and others.

Arturo Ponce, who works with the United Methodist Mexican American Ministries in Liberal, said that three elements are needed to advocate for immigrant rights: collaboration, cooperation and communication.

“This meeting, bringing us all together, is an example of all three,” Ponce said.

But Robert Vinton, ESL/migrant director for USD 443, expressed concern that more needs to be done.     “There hasn’t been an adequate response from this country that allows immigrants to stay,” he said. “In 20 or 30 years from now, these people are going to become people we’re going to need to depend on. They can become lawyers or doctors. We as a country have been fighting it, but at some point we have to see that it’s reality.”

At the end of the two-hour session Higgins said the sisters’ Immigration Committee is compiling all the information and ideas from both this meeting and the earlier one in Salina, as a first step in an action plan. “What I’m hearing today is that we need to be more vocal,” she said.

 

 

 

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