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Miércoles, 21 Agosto 2019 13:50

Vicki Simon at the Border

Written by Marie Wren
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Marie Wren – North Bay Chapter

On May 23, the North Bay Chapter hosted Vicki Simon, returned Maryknoll Lay Missioner to Kenya, to speak about her recent experience at the US – Mexico border.

Vicki spent two weeks volunteering in El Paso, Texas, at an Annunciation shelter in a La Quinta Inn. She told how she prepared for that experience by taking a Jesuit-sponsored five-day border immersion trip called The Encuentro Project. In addition, she took a Just Matters study module on migration, which brought home to her that migration is very extensive around the world even though we experience it mainly on the US - Mexico border.

We were captivated by her description of how the shelters are completely run and staffed by volunteers, how those two weeks were physically and emotionally demanding. She explained that between 50 and 120 asylum seekers would be referred to the shelter each day by ICE after having been processed as they came across the border. Generally, they were one parent and one or more children. When they arrived hungry, dirty, and often sick, they would be offered clean clothes, showers, meals , beds, and medical help. They would stay just long enough to have the volunteers contact their sponsor, who would buy a plane, bus or train ticket for them, and then the volunteers would accompany them to the airport or bus/train station. They were given provisions for the journey and a placard that said they didn’t speak English and asked for help finding their connections.

One had to be ready for a “fluid reality,” as Vicki described it, and try to hold onto paying personal attention and listening to each migrant while attending to their immediate needs, so they felt safe and experienced compassion and care. She was impressed by the gratitude expressed by each migrant. Vicki said she would hold onto “the goodness and generosity and witness of God’s love through so many volunteers, refugees (one to another), and the local people of El Paso.”

We were inspired by the fact that Vicki will go back again several times, as long as the need exists, and we were challenged to think about volunteering ourselves.

The handouts—Immigration 101*, Actions to Consider, Vicki’s own reflections on her experience*, and the history of Ruben Garcia’s founding of the Annunciation House in El Paso in 1978—were all very helpful.

Our chapter members have been educating ourselves on immigration and refugee issues over a couple of years.  Catholic Charities has spoken to us and to the parish about local initiatives to help migrants,  what legal help is available, opportunities for tutoring children, and help for at-risk youth. Some of us were trained in observing and responding to ICE raids. One of our member couples, Bob and Nancy McFarland, opened their home to a homeless Haitian family–mother, father, toddler and infant—for several weeks.

Our chapter has as our companions Sisters Patricia Edmiston and Ann Hayden, who do ministry at the border in Penitas, Texas, and we look forward to having them share their ministries with us.

To close our meeting, member Jacqueline Hayes gave us pictures of the Statue of Liberty and read the inscription to us:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!


*Handouts Available for Download

In Reflections of a Border Volunteer,” Vicki Simon responded to four questions:

What touched your heart?
What surprised you?
What challenged you? and
What do you want to hold on to?

Heidi Cerneka’s “Immigration 101” contains definitions of terms around migration; two pages.



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