Representatives of the Franciscan Network for Migrants–USA team visited the US southern border once again between November 2nd and 6th.

We went to gain greater understanding and compassion for our migrant brothers and sisters who have crossed into the United States, and those who are waiting in Mexico. We extended a hand of friendship and solidarity to migrant people and those helping them at various shelters and organizations, and we attended the annual the binational border mass, a cooperative effort of the dioceses of El Paso (Texas), Las Cruces (New Mexico), and Juárez (Mexico).

Solidarity Visits

Border Service Corps
provides direct support to migrant people. We met them at the El Paso airport to learn about how they help migrant people navigate their departure from El Paso.

At Casa Papa Francisco, a project of Annunciation House, we met with Executive Director Ruben Garcia and learned, among many different aspects of their work, how this particular shelter houses persons with high levels of vulnerability, including those who were victims of the fire in the Juarez detention center. 

I particularly appreciated being able to be on both sides of the border. That being said, the Mass with the Bishops united the sides and had me in tears -seeing the migrants on the Juarez side reaching out at the Sign of Peace was to me also a gesture that said, “You see us. Gracias.”  I was never more proud to be a Franciscan Catholic.

–Chris Auer   Read her entire testimony here.

The Opportunity Center navigates the need presented by the local homeless population while at the same time serving migrant. They focus on people with mental health and substance abuse struggles. 

Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees in West Texas and New Mexico. Las Americas helped us understand the diverse legal avenues that migrants have to stay legally in the United States.

Sacred Heart Shelter (Casa del Sagrado Corazon). At Sagrado Corazon, Michael Debruhl, Shelter Director and retired U.S. Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent, discussed the work of this large shelter for migrants, and also gave us an overview of the current immigration situation, dispelling many myths and countering false information in the process.

Building an immersion experience around the annual Bi-National Border mass creates great synergy throughout the Juarez/El Paso community.  Although the annual mass goes back 25 years, it still exudes the good energy of fraternity, charity, welcome, and hospitality that those serving the needs of the migrants work toward.  And this work is challenging as it takes place in a more hostile environment, where now dastardly built barrels wrapped in concertina wire entangle folks in the river.

Three full days, well planned, allowed us to see first hand the good work on both sides of the border and we met with some of the most knowledgeable people, some who have worked decades along the border and have wisdom and dedication.  It takes a few days to realize how impacted we are from the experience.  There was a strong Franciscan presence in our group consisting of friars, sisters, Secular Franciscans and Friends of St. Francis.  The organizing of the Franciscan Network for Migrants helped us coalesce spiritually and fraternally in our days together.

–Brother David Buer ofm

Holy Family Shelter is supported by Annunciation House and is run out of a local parish by Friar Jarek, a Polish OFM Conventual friar, and his team of many volunteers. At Holy Family Shelter, we had a chance to volunteer and have dinner with the guests there, and we also heard from Sr. Mary Soh FMM who explained her work to confront human trafficking and help victims.

In Juarez, we visited Casa Eudes Shelter. Sr. Christa Parra discussed compassionate care they provide to the women and children who stay there as they wait for their CBPOne appointments.

Centro Integrador para el Migrante “Leona Vicario” is a federally-run shelter in Juarez which accepts up to 700 people. We took a tour of this massive shelter and learned about the holistic care they provide.

In Colonia Anapra, we visited the border wall. And finally, before leaving Juarez, we visited the Campamento Municipal del Corredor Bertha Chiu, a provisional and temporary shelter set up by the local municipality and Grupo Beta, the arm of the National Migration Institute which provides humanitarian assistance to migrants.

What left the most tremendous impression on me is the vast network of people, especially within our group, who are devoted to humanitarian causes, who work tirelessly for others, who give up time and money, and so much more to help those in need.

I am in awe of every single person whom I met this past weekend! This makes me want to aspire to do so much more, to be a better version of myself and to continue to volunteer and support those in need. In addition I was pleasantly surprised to find a strong commonality of interests in this diverse group.,

My knowledge of the Franciscans has exponentially increased as well as my admiration for the good work that they do. I also learned a lot about myself. The group that you assembled were all so kind, welcoming and nonjudgmental. It was an awesome, uplifting weekend.

–Pnina Levine

Lastly, we are deeply grateful to all of those who helped us organize this Franciscan Border Encounter, including Brothers Iggy Harding, David Buer, and Jim McIntosh.

We are especially thankful to Omar Rios, who served as our guide and driver in Juarez. We were thrilled to find out that Omar, an architect who was born and raised in the borderlands of El Paso / Juarez and works now with Border Servant Corps, served as the materials designer for the famous see-saw project.

Lori Winther, National Coordinator
Franciscan Network for Migrants–USA