Sister Sandra Straub, CSJ is an experienced teacher, administrator, missionary, community diocesan organizer, who has served in health care missions and religious community service. She is now retired and volunteers serving various and different organizations. Recently, she was able to travel to El Paso, Texas to volunteer with Annunciation House and serve recent migrants at the U.S./Mexico border. She shares some reflections below.
Two stories of the resolve of migrant families
by Sandra Straub, CSJ
Fitting the asylum seekers or migrants with fresh clothes gave us time to listen to their stories. Imagine walking 1,700 miles, crossing the border into the United States, receiving papers and being turned back to Mexico to wait another 11 months to two years to reenter the U.S.! These folks are labeled MPP (the “wait in Mexico” policy).
One of the MPP Honduran families had a mom and dad, two older teenage sons and two teenage daughters, who were traveling from Central America through Mexico to the U.S. border. Somewhere in the middle of Mexico, the cartel abducted the 16-year-old girl. For three days, she was abused by the cartel. The father told me this story in a whispered voice for he feared someone might overhear him. He also was protecting his daughter, who was still very traumatized several months after the abduction. In addition to the cost of travel, the family had to pay a ransom of $5,000. The father was very aware that the arm of the cartel had their reach wherever he settled in the United States and that he would have to pay back whatever he owed to those who lent him money. While waiting two days to receive their travel papers, I was able to physically see and experience the changes in this weary family. Their love of family and faith in God seemed to be the glue that gave them the resolve to continue this very lonely journey.
Another group of people we met wore gray fleece pants and blue t-shirts. This meant that they had been in the immigrant detention center. One of this group was a Honduran family: a mother who was nine months pregnant and had five children (the oldest girl was 11). They were going to travel by bus to the Northeast. They all appeared in the clothing area in the dreaded grey fleece bottoms and blue t-shirts and ill-fitting, filthy shoes. We had the luxury of outfitting our families from the inside out! The oldest girl was like the second mother. She was confident with her brothers and sisters. Each item they chose was first shown to her for approval. Then she would go to the mother for final approval. As we accompanied this family throughout their “shopping,” we marveled at the cooperation and love that was displayed among them. This family of six, traveling from El Paso to the Northeast by bus without any money, would present quite a challenge. With the nod from my two partners who acted as lookouts, I was able to slip money to the eldest daughter with the advice to give the dollars to the mom when she thought it was safe to do so. The smiles and hugs we received for the small gifts we gave still bring joy to my memories.
In line with our commitment to defend the rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, our new blog series “Our Border Brothers and Sisters,” we present the stories that our sisters and associates who have had border experiences would like to share. We are grateful to them for their generosity. It is our hope that these stories will open us to seeing and understanding our brothers and sisters in greater depth because, as Colum McCann once said: “You can’t hate someone when you know their story.”