July 23, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates joined people throughout the United States who attended Lights for Liberty – local candlelight rallies in support of the rights of immigrants coming across the U.S. southern border.
“It was important for me to be there because I am so angered, saddened, and repulsed by what is going on with children – for all the immigrants who are seeking a better life,” said Sister Aneesah McNamee, OP. “I can sit home and think about why I don’t agree with it, but if I do not go out and do something, then it is pretty pointless for me to even have an opinion.” An immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, Sister Aneesah was one of several Adrian Dominican Sisters who attended the rally in front of the Lenawee County Courthouse in Adrian, Michigan.
Also attending in Adrian was Sister Maria Goretti Browne, OP, who said she was “appalled at the treatment of the immigrants at the border. Though it is difficult, I feel that I need to do something. Rallying with a group seemed to be at least doing something. It also put me in touch with others in this county who felt the same as I.”
Associate Sherry Goff attended the Lights for Liberty rally in Adrian “because I want to be visible and vocal about the inhumane treatment of people and to protest ICE,” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Sister Virginia “Ginny” King, OP, attended the first part of a three-and-a-half-hour rally in Detroit, joining others who were standing in front of the ICE building. “I was amazed at the variety of people who came – about 600,” she said, adding that all faith groups were represented. The crowd received support from drivers passing by, who honked their horns to affirm the rally’s message, Sister Ginny said.
Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, attended a rally in Houston with local Dominican Friars and Dominican Sisters of Houston. The rally was at the site where last year the groups had rallied against the attempt by SW Key to rent their facility to house unaccompanied minors.
“I am personally appalled by the current climate in this country regarding immigration and the total lack of care for children and families,” Sister Maureen said. “If we stand idle there is no end to the possible inhumane treatment people will receive.”
Sister Rosemary Finnegan, OP, attended the rally in Orlando, Florida, for many reasons. “It was the right thing to do, given the desperate plight of our migrant refugees, the squalid conditions in which they are forced to live, and the urgent need to address a solution immediately,” she said. Sister Rosemary also felt compelled by the Gospel message and the Enactments of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ 2016 General Chapter “to be in solidarity with those on the margins, with the least of them, with our sisters and brothers in need.”
Finally, Sister Rosemary was encouraged to attend because of her own comfort and freedom, compared to the suffering and oppression of the immigrants. “The least I can do is get in my car on a Friday night and join with others who seek compassion and justice for those who are denied their due,” she said.
Participants had similar hopes for the outcome of their activism on behalf of immigrants.
“The outcome I hope for is that the collective voice of the people all over the country who got out and rallied in their towns and cities will truly make a difference,” Sister Aneesah said. “We are better than this.”
Sister Maria hoped that if people at least try to do something, “perhaps the cruelty at the border will be alleviated."
Read a report on the Lights of Liberty rallies in the National Catholic Reporter.
From left: Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, front row, right, and other members of the Dominican family in the Houston area attended a local rally. Sister Patricia Erickson, OP, attended a rally in Laredo, Texas. Sister Pat is spending a month in Laredo as a volunteer, serving migrant families who come from detention centers to La Frontera Migrant Center.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.