Faith Crosses the Border
Giving thanks for America’s religious freedom
By Margarita Mendoza, Editor El Observador
July 6, 2023
Illegal immigration into the United States has many aspects; among these are the political divide, the human reality, the multi-billion-dollar business of crossing people illegally, and — on the Catholic side — the continuation of the faith, especially by Hispanics.
“Since President Biden has been in office, there have been over 4.5 million migrant encounters at the Southwest border, in addition to over 1.2 million known ‘gotaways’ who evaded U.S. Border Patrol agents in the last two years. This is larger than the population of Los Angeles, California, the second largest city in the United States,” the Committee on Homeland Security wrote in a fact sheet published on its website on Jan. 23.
Opening trail
Daily, citizens from different nations arrive in Mexico on their journey to the north. Some pass from South America to Central America and make the journey to the Aztec country before they cross into Anglo territory.
Geographically, the North and South American continents are connected — from Canada to southern Argentina — by the Pan-American Highway. But one pass has not been connected: the Darién Gap. It is located between Central America and South America, on the border of Colombia and Panama. It is a very dangerous and impenetrable jungle. Still, more than half a million people hoping to reach the United States have opened a trail by walking through about 70 miles, a journey that can take around 10 days. 
The United Nations’ Noticias ONU (UN News) published an article on Jan. 17 which stated that according to the Panamanian government, “almost 250,000 people crossed into that country in 2022, compared to about 133,000 in 2021.” In 2022, compared to 2021, “the number of Venezuelans who used that route increased 50 times to reach 150,327. Ecuadorians, Haitians, and Cubans followed [Venezuelans] in number.”
“Some of the biggest increases in encounters have involved people from Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela. For example, there were only four encounters with Colombian nationals at the U.S.-Mexico border in April 2020. By November 2022, that figure had increased to 15,439,” the Pew Research Center recorded in a Jan. 13 article.
People as ‘merchandise’
On many occasions, as with Valeria*, Claudia* and David*, the decisions to migrate are not organic. 
The reality is that there are various illegal businesses motivating, mobilizing, and providing services to those who don’t have visas and want to migrate for a better future and job opportunities. It is like a travel agency’s promotional efforts for a tourist destination. 
“It’s an open secret,” said Valeria. There are “guides” in charge of directing and advising migrants on their trip; sellers of phone calls per minute; and providers of various services, such as food or accommodation.
“Over two-thirds (69%) of all southwest land border encounters were single adults, with 133,256 encounters in March, a 19% increase compared to February,” reported the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on April 17. 
Many individuals benefit financially from the growing illegal industry of moving people. Particularly in Mexico, “there are police checkpoints, migration officers with checkpoints, and even other migrants do checkpoints, asking for money. And if you don’t give them money, you get in trouble,” said Claudia. She flew from her country to Mexico City, then made a road trip to cross the border into the U.S., and finally arrived in the Chicago area.
David said “they had about 70 people” in one old, small and stinky house on the Mexican side. The cost charged by “coyotes,” he said, depends on each person’s nationality and difficulties in crossing the border. He believes the average goes from $7,000 to $15,000. In his case, he paid more than $7,000 for the tour package they used as a screen to enter to Mexico — which, by the way, they never used. 
“Multiply that price by the amount of people, and it could be daily just for one of the several groups of coyotes,” David* said.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported on May 17 that “overall encounters along the southwest border in April 2023 totaled 211,401, up 10% from 191,956 in March 2023.” Based on her experience, Valeria has reflected about what would happen if all the money that is moved by human trafficking to enter the United States was instead invested in the migrants’ countries of origin to create companies that generate jobs that provide a decent income. Instead of becoming migrants, people could stay together with family and loved ones and, most importantly, avoid risking their lives by crossing the border irregularly. “You know you’re entering another country illegally … but the need is great,” she said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it will continue to enforce immigration laws and intensify efforts.
A real case
“You already know what is coming. The guides tell you; you know you are going to be detained and that you can even be deported. It is not easy,” Valeria* said. She added, “You can see all types of people at the border; you can see the evilness in the sight of some, while others come with the intention of legalizing and having a better future.” Some people are shameless, she said, in “wanting to demand and abuse the system.”
Valeria affirmed that she is very grateful to this country. On her difficult journey, she lost her left shoe crossing the Rio Grande and entered the country with one shoe. She recalled that when she was on the U.S. side she saw “passports, clothes, shoes” on the floor, all thrown away by other migrants. She tried several shoes, but none of them fit her. 
Then she had no alternative to walking in the desert of the south U.S. edge with one bare foot. But her blisters and cuts faded into the background as she turned herself to U.S. border authorities to seek asylum. 
During her journey, Valeria prayed with immense faith to the Divine Child Jesus. She carried a small prayer book with her all the time. Now she and her family go to Mass in a Catholic church in Elgin. They have learned that it is important to register in a parish and to keep good track of their taxes. They have seen that people go out to receive Communion in an organized manner, pew by pew; that the Eucharist begins with a procession; and that there may be mariachis at a Mass, something different from what they were used to in their native Colombia.
What the Church does
Clothing, food, and help with finding a job are all aids for migrants. “Many people have arrived. They have very intense stories,” said Father Alexander Suárez, parochial vicar of St. Nicholas Parish, Aurora.
“In the winter, we participated in a campaign to collect coats, gloves, hats and blankets. Some parishioners have helped families through the Legion of Mary and the Knights of Columbus,” he said. 
Father Darwin Flores, parochial administrator at St. Therese of Jesus Parish, Aurora, recalled that in November of 2022, “we went to a hotel near the airport to provide spiritual company to migrants — particularly from Venezuela. We listened to them, we took them to Mass, we also gave them lunch. We collected food and especially coats so they could tolerate the winter. 
“Currently, spiritual help is given, and migration lawyers provide clinics with information,” he said. Father Flores also said that his parish has about “20 new Venezuelan families” since 2022. 
Valeria was concerned about Christmas time. She thought it would be a sad time for her and her family of three — including her husband and eight-year-old daughter — who recently arrived in an unknown place. However, they were surprised by kids from an Elgin parish. Those friends of her daughter provided them with beautiful letters and drawings. Then Valeria’s family felt “loved,” she said, by God and by the new community.
Catholic Charities offers some services — food and clothing, among others — for those in immediate need.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
“Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption.”
Also, “immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens” (CCC 2241). 
*Names have been changed to protect identity. 


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