Reflections from the Border: Part 5

Posted on June 5, 2019 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

“God Is Still Close”

Benedictine Monastery, Tucson, AZ

The Department of Homeland Security is releasing thousands of detainees at the southern border to relieve overcrowding, overwhelming Catholic Charities agencies that serve these immigrants. The increasing stream of asylum seekers is expected to continue throughout the summer.

To show solidarity and provide support, Catholic Charities NY deployed a team of staff volunteers to help one of our sister agencies in Arizona.  The need is both great and varied as the local Catholic Charities agencies are inundated.

Our volunteers are sharing their insights and updates. Today let’s hear from Annie Kibrick.  Normally she helps hungry children, adults and families overcome food insecurity in Catholic Charities northern Westchester office.  But today, she shares her powerful reflections from Arizona.

Reflections from the Border

By Annie Kibrick

On Monday, I stepped outside after dinnertime to explore the monastery grounds which currently serves as a shelter for asylum-seekers in Tucson, AZ. Suddenly, an eight-year-old boy flew into the lot on a rickety red scooter. I had met him earlier when he came into the clothing store with his father, intently looking for size 12 light-up sneakers. He spotted me, waved, then continued his circuit. He proceeded to do this a dozen times with an enormous smile on his face. Whenever his father could secure their tickets, they would embark on a 1-3 days-long bus trip to unite with a family member or friend then continue their petitions for asylum. My heart ached knowing the happy-go-lucky little guy is at the mercy of this nation’s dysfunctional immigration system whose reform is hindered by the vitriolic public discourse regarding his inherent dignity and personhood.

Over the course of my team’s weeklong deployment, the converted Benedictine Monastery received over 500 new individuals released from immigration detention. During their stays, the guests received medical care, safe shelter, regular meals, new clothing and shoes and an opportunity to connect with their sponsors to purchase their Greyhound bus tickets enabling them to reach their final destinations. I spent most days volunteering in the store where families would pick out new clothing and shoes. The days flew by as I assisted the guests with finding the appropriate sizes for them and their family members. The requests were so simple, the gratitude, so effusive.

While folding mounds of clothing donations and organizing bins of shoes, each of the volunteers expressed their pride to be a part of the Tucson community which has staffed the shelter and provided donations to support the travelers since February. My Catholic Charities team members enthusiastically integrated themselves by translating for the medical staff, coordinating the purchase of bus tickets and transporting the guests to the Greyhound station. As inspiring as it was to see the generosity of the volunteers and the manner in which the travelers cared for each other, I couldn’t shake the persistent feeling, “All of this is so wrong.”

Volunteers sort through donated shoes and clothing 

This contrast between providing for the guests most basic needs and acknowledging the complex nature of migration to and seeking asylum in the United States struck me throughout the week. The shelter serves as a temporary respite for the families, many of whom left their countries weeks or months ago. Most of the guests arrived sick, hungry, exhausted and visibly traumatized by their recent experiences. They spoke with a cautious optimism that perhaps the worst lay behind them but seeking asylum in the United States is an arduous and highly-nuanced process. I also wondered how many would receive the treatment they deserve for their physical and emotional needs.

I kept reflecting upon how Veronica must have felt when she saw Jesus carrying His Cross, knowing He didn’t deserve to endure one moment of His Passion. She may have thought, “all of this is so wrong.” She could ponder for eternity the mystery of suffering or she could use the cloth she had to wipe His face.

One evening, two mothers recounted their dangerous journeys to the United States and time spent in immigration detention. Although still quite shaken, one mother declared that God was close to them through it all. Their stories left me breathless, dually impressed by their faith and infuriated by the injustice of their circumstances. Her reflections reminded me of Psalm 42 about clinging to God’s promises amid great trial:

“My tears are my food, by day and by night, and everyone asks, “where is your God?”.

I remember how I went up to your glorious dwelling-place and into the house of God: the memory melts my soul.

The sound of joy and thanksgiving, the crowds at the festival.

Why are you so sad, my soul, and anxious within me?

Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still, my saviour and my God.”

These verses capture the emotional turmoil of many of the guests but most notably, their enduring hope. Despite the hardships and uncertainty, many travelers explained they still believe their decision to seek asylum here would enable them to better provide for their families and that a brighter future awaited them. It was a blessing to see the guests’ hope rekindled as they recharged for the next part of their journeys.

My experience at the shelter compels me to more actively advocate for immigration reform while also challenging me to regard each person I encounter as a “traveler” whose story deserves profound reverence. I return to my daily work at Catholic Charities better equipped to serve my Central American clients after having a glimpse of what part of their journeys may have looked like. I am so grateful for their presence among us and generosity in sharing their stories.

Catholic Charities is responding to the needs of our neighbors during the 
COVID-19 pandemic.

For Help Call 888-744-7900