Concordia group returns from seeing border crisis first-hand

July 14, 2014 by

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By Sister Judy Stephens

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia organized a trip to El Paso in early July to learn firsthand the reality of the situation at the border now.  The group included seven women:  four sisters and one candidate from the Concordia congregation, a Sister of St. Joseph from Wichita and a laywoman from Wichita.

Detention Center for children in east El Paso.  We spent the afternoon there with 35 children, ages 5-15

Detention Center for children in east El Paso. We spent the afternoon there with 35 children, ages 5-15

The week spent in El Paso was a powerful one.  Our visits to Annunciation House, Opportunity Center, the Farmworkers Center, the Columban Fathers and Pius X Parish brought us into the midst of the crisis of unaccompanied children from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  We were able to spend time with children in the detention centers through a program organized by Pius X Parish and immigration officials.  It was a heart-breaking but meaningful experience that we will not forget.

The situation at the El Paso/Juarez border is very fluid.  When U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement — ICE — has processed children who have been picked up by the Border Patrol and needs assistance providing for the children, ICE contacts agencies willing to care for them until family members claim them or they are moved to Detention Centers.  That’s when the process begins to deport the children, unless they can prove before an immigration judge that they are refugees in need of asylum — and it may take years for them to ever go before a judge.

For a while, El Paso was overwhelmed with planeloads of children and was in dire need of volunteers.  But when we left El Paso July 8, the situation was improving.  Ruben Garcia from Annunciation House has been the contact person for ICE in this process.

(We’ve heard from Ruben since we returned to Kansas. He said the folks at Annunciation house don’t know when the groups will be arriving. Sometimes they only have a few hours to get ready. Ruben has organized the volunteer groups so that some offer their facilities for bathing/clean clothes/ food/ etc. etc.  Each group has a specific task.)

Because of an unexpected convergence of creative thinking, availability and need, we were able to offer our convent in El Paso as temporary housing for volunteers there. The visiting crew from Concordia were able to thoroughly clean the house, and Sister Ida Berensheim (a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis) generously offered to be there and coordinate activities.  She is currently on the board for Annunciation House and works closely with Ruben Garcia.

If you have interest in volunteering in El Paso, please contact Sister Ida at 314-630-0210.  The phone number at the convent is 915-532-7452.  Please note: Sister Ida said it is “vital” that volunteers know some Spanish.

From left, Carolyn Zimmerman, Sister Dorothy LeBlanc, Sister Esther Pineda, S. Loretta Jasper, Ray Tullius, candidate Amanda Wahlmeier, S. Dian Hall, S. Judy Stephens at Opportunity Center, homeless shelter in El Paso.

From left, Carolyn Zimmerman, Sister Dorothy LeBlanc, Sister Esther Pineda, Sister Loretta Jasper, Ray Tullius, candidate Amanda Wahlmeier, Sister Dian Hall and Sister Judy Stephens at Opportunity Center, a homeless shelter in El Paso.

Comments

2 Responses to “Concordia group returns from seeing border crisis first-hand”

  1. diane heard on August 19th, 2014 7:09 pm

    bless ya’ll! — i have had a burden for these children and am glad they had you with them – however brief your time was, i know the LORD will bless them and bless you!!

  2. Anne M. Reinert on July 18th, 2014 8:33 pm

    Thanks to all who have reached out to help, your generous heart has been a gift to many. S.Anne

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