Rev. Stephen Lundrigan Describes Recent Trip to Mexico Border

Fr. Lundrigan

During a recent three-day trip to the U.S.-Mexican border, Rev. Stephen Lundrigan saw up close the humanitarian crisis many Americans are by now well aware of. But he also found a glimmer of hope: a surprisingly well-coordinated effort by the local Catholic churches on either side of the border near the McAllen, Texas-Reynosa, Tamaulipas region that was helping the hundreds of migrants stopped or stranded at the crossing. The question he returned with, and asked attendees at a presentation he gave at Anna Maria College on Thursday afternoon, was what could other people of faith do to help solve the problem? And what solution could they possibly come up with on a large enough scale, he asked, to solve the “chaotic situation” at the border? “There are no simple solutions,” said Rev. Lundrigan, a pastor at Annunciation Parish in Gardner and lecturer at Anna Maria, and the answers either side of the U.S. political spectrum have proposed “don’t really capture the reality of the situation.” That reality, he pointed out, is that the entirety of the migrants flowing into the border each day can’t be easily summed up; they are not all criminals, nor are they all well-intentioned people. For the latter population, however, Rev. Lundrigan said there isn’t much help from a U.S. border enforcement system that isn’t really designed to help them transition to life in America. The immigration detention centers set up along the border “are built and set up as a prison,” he said.

Some migrants don’t even get that far; when he and his four fellow priests on the trip traveled south of the border to Reynosa, for example, they encountered a “big crunch” made up of thousands of Mexicans, Central Americans and other nationalities who were held up at the border, or deposited on that side by American authorities for violating immigration laws. One boy they met, just 16, had made his way up all the way from Honduras, where his local bishop had given him a note to show immigration officials saying he would be killed if he went back. But for whatever reason, he was not even allowed to cross at the U.S. checkpoint, said Rev. Lundrigan, who showed the audience a picture of the boy crying in the arms of one of his fellow priests, Rev. Peter Joyce of Milford. “He can’t go home, he can’t go up (to America) – he’s stuck. He’s a 16-year-old kid,” he said. There were several similar tales at Thursday’s talk – the 17-year-old girl who walked for 28 days from Guatemala to the border, the boy who had walked up in flip flops and “had ulcers between his toes” – and Rev. Lundrigan said for many of those people, there isn’t yet a good solution. But the Diocese is helping in small but growing ways. In Mexico, the Church has set up a refugee center to provide basic needs to migrants and, just as important, give them temporary safety. The facility was surrounded by razor wire, Rev. Lundrigan said, “not to keep them in, but to keep others out” who prey on the vulnerable refugees.  On the U.S. side, meanwhile, the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Brownsville have built an even more intricate network of support for migrants who manage to cross over and go through the U.S. detention system. The Church has worked out a deal with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to take in migrants, whom the government won’t release unless they have a transportation or lodging plan, he said. In the McAllen area that Rev. Lundrigan toured, there was a nursing home converted into a migrant center, which he described as feeling like a “triage center – there were people everywhere, bodies everywhere ... it seemed chaotic, but it’s really very organized.” For migrants who have to stay longer at the border – those without an established family member in the U.S. to stay with, for example – there was also a long-term shelter facility that could accommodate 15 to 20 people. The idea that garnered the most interest from audience members on Thursday, however, was what Rev. Lundigran described as a makeshift village taking root near McAllen – a community of small shacks surrounding a central facility providing classrooms, a medical and dental center, and computers. Living there were immigrants who had found jobs, and simply needed a place to make their home. While that concept seemed to be flourishing, he said, “it’s a long way off for most people” who cross the border. “Only a small percentage get to them, because there are not many of those (communities) ... we just don’t have the infrastructure to do all that.” Some U.S. towns and cities also likely wouldn’t want to host such a village, Rev. Lundrigan said. “How do you replicate a model like that is the question,” he said at the conclusion of his presentation, which challenged attendees to think about how the U.S. – and people of faith – could answer it. Article written by Scott O'Connell fromt he Telegram and Gazette

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