Thursday, January 19, 2017

Felipe Stole My Heart

During my short stay of two weeks in El Paso, literally hundreds of migrants came to Casa Nazareth for hospitality. Nazareth is one of four sites in the area where Immigration and Border Patrol personnel drop off migrants for 24 to 48 hours while arrangements are made for them to travel to their family or friends who have agreed to receive them. Only adults with children are released there. They come tired, hungry, timid and fearful with babes in arms or toddlers clinging to a mother or father. They usually have their belongings stuffed in a flimsy garbage bag or a worn-out tote bag. They left their homeland weeks ago fleeing danger, drugs, and dire poverty. They desperately hope for a better future here.
Migrant mothers and children pray at the nativity
 scene at the Casa Nazareth shelter in El Paso

Casa Nazareth is scheduled to receive migrants on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but both weeks I was there they came on Thursday as well, numbering anywhere from 80 to 120 persons. When the migrants arrive, we gather them in a common area and give them a warm welcome. We assure them we are not connected with immigration, and they are safe with us and will be treated with respect and dignity as our guests. We provide them with a bed, clean sheets and blankets, a set of clean, although used, clothing, toiletries, a shower and nutritious meals. We phone their families and help them arrange for their travel in the states. We get them to the airport or bus station with a care package that contains food for the journey, which sometimes lasts two or three days on the Greyhound. In times of abundant donations, we might have a fleece travel blanket to give them and perhaps a stuffed animal for the child.

Families fleeing violence and poverty pray that they
 will find safety and welcome in the United States
It is unlikely we can remember their names after we send them on their way since there are so many of them and their stay is so short. However, I got to know Mauricio and his 7-year old son, Felipe, quite well since they were with us from Wednesday until Monday morning. During those days, Felipe, smiling all the while, trailed me wherever I went in the building, asking me if he could help and delighting in any little bit of attention. At times he was a nuisance and when he noticed I was preoccupied, he would dart away with an impish grin and slide gleefully down the long corridor. Felipe stole my heart those days.

I left El Paso for home on Monday and who did I see in the airport security line across from me but Mauricio and Felipe, all cleaned up and ready for their reunion with a relative in Chicago. Even with Mauricio’s ankle bracelet monitoring his every location and their complicated immigration papers, they got through security before I did. Felipe had noticed me two lanes over and kept waving and giving me that impish grin. After the final wave and grin, off they went to a different gate while I still waited in line for security to check my back pack. I wonder what will happen to them. I know that Mauricio is due in Immigration Court in Chicago in a few weeks. I understand that a high percentage of those we serve at the shelters in El Paso will eventually be deported. I am grateful for having encountered Mauricio and Felipe. I want their memory to stay alive for a long time and remind me of all migrants as children of God seeking a safe place to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment