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Two Adrian Dominican Sisters Reflect on Volunteer Ministry with Migrants at Border

July 17, 2019, Laredo, Texas – Two Adrian Dominican Sisters have spent weeks on the border of the United States and Mexico this summer, volunteering their services to migrant families who come to La Frontera Migrant Shelter in Laredo, Texas. 

Sister Sharon Spanbauer, OP, standing in the center, with other volunteers.

Sisters Patricia Erickson, OP, and Sharon Spanbauer, OP – along with other Adrian Dominican Sisters – have been serving at the shelter at the invitation and encouragement of the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, as well as the invitation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Sister Sharon served at La Frontera from May 31, 2019, through June 22, 2019. Sister Pat arrived at the shelter on June 23, 2019, and will serve through July 20, 2019. Sisters have also volunteered their time at similar hospitality houses in El Paso and McAllen, Texas.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Laredo recently opened La Frontera when the Border Patrol announced that it would be releasing immigrants from detention centers to the streets. Twice a day, Border Patrol buses drop off migrant families who have been in detention centers to La Frontera. Up to 250 migrants come to the shelter each day.

Sister Sharon explained that the migrants who are released to La Frontera all have host families in the United States. New arrivals at La Frontera go through an intake and assessment process and then receive clean clothes, a shower, a meal, and help in getting to their host families. 

“Mostly they were young families and some came in with vacant eyes, they were so exhausted,” Sister Sharon said. “Once people have had a shower, clean clothes, and a meal, they’re looking a lot better.”

Border Patrol vans drop off immigrants at La Frontera Migrant Shelter in Laredo, Texas.

Typically, the migrants arrive at La Frontera after traveling for weeks from their homes in Central America to the border and after spending time being processed in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. “The resilience of the people coming to the shelter is amazing,” Sister Pat said. She recalled a young father who had traveled for three months with an 8-month-old infant. There were many similar stories and Sister Pat the “sheer determination” needed for families to make that journey.

“Walking into the shelter, some of the people are smiling and some are apprehensive about what they will experience in yet another facility,” Sister Pat wrote in a reflection on her experience. “We greet them with smiles and say ‘Welcome,’ hoping to alleviate their fears and say that this is a safe place.” 

Volunteers at La Frontera serve in a variety of ways: preparing mattresses for the guests who will spend the night in the bedrooms on the second floor of the shelter; monitoring the men’s and women’s showers; organizing donations; preparing meals; making bag lunches for migrants to take when they leave; and helping guests select new clothes from a room full of donated clothing. Spanish-speaking volunteers can also help the migrants make arrangements to get to their host families – either arranging for a time for the host families to pick them up or for transportation of the migrants to their new homes.

A guest room at the shelter.

Both Sister Pat and Sister Sharon – a nurse practitioner – used their skills to provide some medical care for the migrants. Sister Pat handed out over-the-counter medicine for minor aches and pains and colds. Sister Sharon served for part of the time in the health clinic at the shelter. “I could see patients and assess them and give them over-the-counter medicines,” Sister Sharon said. “I was able to be a resource and use some of my skills.” 

Sister Sharon also spent much of her time changing sheets after one group of migrants left, preparing for the arrival of the next group. “It felt so appropriate that I was making their beds,” she said, adding that many immigrants make the beds in hotels and motels in the United States. “It touched me that I was cleaning for them, but that’s the way it should be.”

Both Sisters Pat and Sharon were impressed and inspired by the migrant families who came to La Frontera. “The people in the shelter are so grateful for everything they receive, saying ‘Gracias’ after being given a bottle of water, after each meal, after getting clean clothes, a shower, even when told that we don’t have a certain item,” Sister Pat wrote. “As people leave to go to the bus station, there are smiles on their faces and again ‘gracias por todo’ – thank you for everything. There are hugs and even tears as they leave to continue their journey.”

Sister Sharon described her experience in June as three weeks of payback. “I’ve been given so many things in my life,” she said. “This has just been an opportunity to pay it forward, not expecting anything in return.” She said her experience at La Frontera “put a face” on the issue of immigration. “Personally, I’ve always felt that each immigrant who comes improves the United States – anyone who has the gumption to get up and leave their home and get here brings a blessing.”

A volunteer watches over migrant children at play in the shelter.

Both Sister Sharon and Sister Pat encouraged people to volunteer at La Frontera or other shelters or hospitality houses for immigrants – especially if they speak Spanish. “You can do anything there – whatever the gift is, and whenever you see that something needs to be done, you just do it,” Sister Sharon said. “You have to be willing to pitch in wherever you’re needed.”

Sister Pat, after a previous experience at McAllen Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, gave similar advice. “It’s a great experience,” she said. “Go without any expectations and be open to whatever comes your way. … You’re just there to be with people and to do whatever you can to help.”

While not everybody can travel to Texas to serve as volunteers at the hospitality centers and shelters, Sister Sharon noted that La Frontera is looking for donations of children’s, women’s, and men’s slacks, shirts, socks, and undergarments in sizes small and medium; practical shoes but no heels; and socks and belts for men. Donations can be sent to La Frontera Migrant Shelter, 1616 Callaghan Street, Laredo, Texas 78040. For information or to volunteer, contact Benjamin De la Garza at 956-220-3785.

 

Feature photo (top): Bishop James A. Tamayo of the Diocese of Laredo blesses plaques, made by a volunteer. The plaques hang in the guest rooms of La Frontera Migrant Shelter in Laredo, Texas.



Sister Patricia Erickson, OP, fourth from left, enjoys dinner at Rochas, a Mexican restaurant in Laredo, with other volunteers, Sparkill Dominican Sisters, and the coordinator of La Frontera Migrant Shelter.


Statement of Adrian Dominican Sisters on Cruel Treatment of Children at US-Mexico Border

June 25, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – The General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters issued the following statement concerning the treatment of immigrant children at the border between the United States and Mexico.

We denounce in the strongest possible terms the unconscionable mistreatment of children on the U.S.-Mexico border by the Trump Administration, and call on our elected leaders to take all measures necessary to provide them with adequate food, shelter, and healthcare – and, most importantly, to reunite them with their families.

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19:14).

That children “such as these” – infants, toddlers, youngsters – reportedly have been subject to horrific overcrowding, hunger, lice infestations, sleeping on concrete floors, and other unhygienic and inhumane conditions is an assault on our human decency and fundamental moral values. It should have all Americans, as the prophets of old, rending our garments and weeping in anguish at the depravity. 

It is not enough that children at the facility in Clint, Texas, are being moved to other facilities after the spotlight of public attention has exposed the scandalous way this Administration is treating these migrant children. What other facilities are holding children under similarly harsh conditions? These and other children must be reunited with their parents or with relatives residing in the United States who must be able to claim them safely.

This is not the first time we have learned about the inhumanity visited upon children at the border. In 2018, the international community was aghast at stories about this Administration’s treatment of migrant children, separating them from their families and placing them in cages for days on end in clear violation of the Flores Agreement, which provides that children may not be confined for more than 20 days. 

As Members of Congress take steps to address the urgent humanitarian crisis on the border created by this Administration’s venomous approach to immigration, the top priority must be to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of God’s beloved – children such as these – now and into the future.   

Members of the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters are Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress; Sister Mary Margaret Pachucki, OP, Vicaress and General Councilor; Sister Frances Nadolny, OP, Administrator and General Councilor; and Sister Patricia Harvat, OP, and Elise García, OP, General Councilors.


Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, Director of Immigration Assistance at the Adrian Dominican Sisters was recently featured in a news story by NBC 24 News (Toledo, Ohio). Click here to view the story.


 

 

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