We had an early morning by waking up at 5:30 AM to get to Jerry and Suzy's farm to help pick onions. When we first got to the farm Jerry showed us around the farm and showed what crops he had. Jerry and Suzy's farm was called jardin de milagre or garden of miracles. Almost all of the produce from the farm goes to the local food pantry and it then distributed to different families. After we picked a row of onions we traveled to the food pantry where we got to see what happened to the produce and how these families got there food. Another part of the pantry was the Fresh Start program which was put in place to help individuals reach a goal in a 9 month period or at least get started on the goal. One of the things the program offers is Zumba classes twice a week and we happened to be there while a Zumba class was taking place and we all had a great time participating. Then we went to lunch and many adventurous people tried cactus the verdict was good but only in small bites. After lunch we went to Bowie Baker which was very good. Full of many many dessert and treats. Some of us saved out desserts and at them at the over look where you could see Mexico and America meet from above. And for our last story of the trip we heard from a women who shared her story and how it ended up with he working at a church and he two oldest kids working in the military and having a great well deserved life.
- Abby Gray '21
As the majority of our trip comes to an end, we spent our day Thursday meeting with Border Patrol (USBP) to really understand their job. We met with Officer Joe in El Paso and he explained that USBP doesn't make the laws, their job is to carry them out. I think we all realized that they aren't the "bad guys". He explained how awful it feels to see a family struggle through the desert and then he has to detain them, but he always carries extra food and water to make sure they are okay. He gave me hope that there is still some good in America.
After we met with USBP, we went to the fence separating us from Anapra, Mexico. We met with two amazing ladies who choose to live in Mexico, never having attempted to cross the border. They are very happy with their lives. I realized that people in Mexico aren't all unhappy. We prayed with them and held hands through the fence. It was truly amazing.
After, we went to lunch in El Paso and did a little shopping in the Segundo Barrio. Although it was very hot, we still enjoyed our day and came back to Holy Cross and played with some of the immigrant children. We shared our own personal stories on how we became/are becoming powerful leaders. We ended the night with a group reflection called ANCHOR and we went to bed to prepare for picking onions at a farm the next morning!
-Emma Blackburn '21
After staying up late playing with the children and a last minute game of UNO in Ms. Carpinelli's room, we all woke up tired and met in the dining room for a pancake breakfast. Around 8:30 Kari explained courtroom etiquette and what the atmosphere will be like as well as answered any questions about the immigrants' preliminary trials.
To get into the courthouse, we all needed ID's and had to go through a metal detector. All court proceedings were held in English even though none of the immigrants speak the language. They are required to wear headphones. A translator sits at a desk off to the side and quietly speaks into a microphone translating all of the English into Spanish for all the people wearing headphones. The translator also speaks louder when translating Spanish into English so the whole courtroom can hear.
We got to the courtroom around 9:45 and quietly found seats among some family members of the immigrants, specifically a wife and her son. They were there with the hope of uniting their family once again. The man, surely a wonderful father and husband, was convicted of a 1324 charge which is knowingly bringing in and harboring certain aliens, also known as the alien transportation clause. The man had entered the United States in 1982, has had legal residency since 1990, and his only conviction (seen as irrelevant and proves him not dangerous) was in 2002. The magistrate judge, trying to be as forgiving as possible, sentenced him to detainment where he will be transported back to the detention facility and will likely deported. As the US Marshal escorted him out of the room, he gave a disappointed half-smile and waved to his family sitting in the back row.
Later, nine immigrants lined up in front of the judge. It was clear that where they came from is essentially a prison. They were wearing jumpsuits and were shackled. They were always in a line whether walking or standing side by side. Their faces were, for the most part, expressionless. Their vulnerable and dull demeanor is understandable considering the treacherous and unfavorable journey they undertook to seek refuge in the U.S. where they are treated as though they were pesky insects. After their preliminary hearings, they were escorted out and five others stepped in front of the judge. All pleaded guilty to their immigration charges, reentry into the U.S. without permission. All immigrants that had a hearing in this courtroom were charged with felonies and are considered criminals with the same connotation as that of a murderer.
At around 10:30 we went into a different court room with the same magistrate judge. The immigrants were charged with entry without inspection which is a misdemeanor charge. All 12 immigrants pleaded guilty. The judge performed the preliminary hearings in groups of six. In the first group there were four women and two men. They came from Honduras, Guatemala, or Mexico. The oldest was born in 1961 and the youngest, a pregnant woman, in 1999. If she was deported, she asked to be transported at the same time as her husband and the judge accepted her request. In the second group of six, there were five men and one woman. One person was from Guatemala and the rest were from Mexico. These immigrants came into the U.S. through New Mexico, but not from a place of entry. With a misdemeanor charge, those guilty can be sentenced to less than a year in prison and regarding immigrants, they risk deportation, denied citizenship, and/or denied entry into U.S. Throughout these trials, the judge stressed that he was trying to give them the lowest sentence possible (he included the amount of time already served) and with fines or fees.
We then went into the Jury Assembly Room and spoke with a case administrator who helped organize our meeting with a judge. A case administrator works on the district side of cases that have gone to the high jury. They see the end or sentencing part of complex cases such as drugs or laundering. He also explained his previous occupation as a courtroom deputy. A courtroom deputy makes sure cases go through the system. There is one per judge and they typically have a caseload of 180-200 at one time.
Judge Vidmar entered the room around 11:15. He answered our questions about specific circumstances of immigrants and gave us some statistics. Between 2014 and 2017, Vidmar said he rarely had any misdemeanor cases. Compared to October, 2016 - March, 2017, misdemeanors from October, 2017 - March, 2018 increased 4,986%.
- Melissa Dolfi '19
BAck to HCRC for lunch
After lunch we had time to play with the kids. Then we went into our "living room" to have the true colors learning session. We talked about our Keirsey Temperment personality results then got into smaller groups to discuss our strengths and weaknesses. Afterwards, we had time to creatively journal in our sketchbooks.
We went out for dinner at a local Italian restaurant. We all split dishes so no food would go to waste. When we got back to the retreat center, we played with the children once again and talked in Spanish to their fathers. We had to say goodbye to two families because they are off to stay with their own family in Georgia and start a new life.
- Melissa Dolfi '19
We had heard earlier in the week that refugees from various parts of central America were coming to stay at the HCRC (Holy Cross Retreat Center) but we didn't know if we would get to interact. Tonight we got to meet them and bring them up to their rooms and help them get settled. Then we played soccer with some of the older children and played with play dough and crayons with the younger kids. We got to know some of them really well; Nancy is a four year old refugee who was fun and full of energy. We also met an older girl named Dafne and it was her birthday today. After hanging out with these families we made some dinner for them and then we sang "Happy Birthday" and gave Dafne a copy of "Charlotte's Web" in Spanish. Later Dafne's dad stood up to talk to us and thank us. He talked about how he was very, very grateful and how God created the world without borders and that when he came to HCRC he was welcomed and felt at home. When they were in the detention center, Dafne asked her father "Well, what about my birthday?" He said that was crushing to hear her say, but that he was so thankful that we had a celebration. Soon after, Orlando (a volunteer who assists with travel for the refugees) came up to us and said, with teary eyes, that we are the hope and reason he does what he does and he wants us to know what all this means to him. When we were done playing with the kids and our group came back together to close off the night we all talked about how eye-opening it was to see all these refugees who can't speak English and all of us who can't speak Spanish together and becoming friends. All of the girls walked back with teary eyes and full hearts.
- Abby Gray '21
Chairs and Visiting THE COLONIA
First thing this morning, we left Holy Cross Retreat Center and went to a local church. We went to fill up a water jug and pick up chairs to bring to the Colonia home we were visiting today. A colonia is a big piece of farmland that people buy small pieces of. Since the land was sold as farm land not residential land they were not provided with running water. Twice a month they have to pay $55 to get water brought to them. This water is used for showering and dishes, not for drinking. Then they have to go out and buy jugs of water to drink. When we visited Argelia we brought her some clean drinking water, lotion, soap, and toilet paper. She made us some very delicious tamales. Tamales are corn husks with a dough then chicken and red chiles on the inside. After we ate she shared her story of her family's travel to the United States.
Above Melissa shows how tired we are. But, we are all still having a great time!
Immigration lawyer presentation
Today we heard from a lawyer at Catholic Charities Immigration Law Center. We were told about how difficult it is to get a visa. Even if an immigrant was to marry a citizen in a true marriage and get a visa it will take a minimum of 6 years. If they were able to get a family sponsor, it will take about 20 -25 years! There is a lottery they can enter but is not available to China, Vietnam, and Mexico. 34,000 people can be detained at a time in centers that are often run like prisons. To be granted asylum you have educate the judge on the country's history, trauma, and violence, but the judge might not even read the whole petition. Hearing this was really frustrating because the law seems really unfair. People could be left in detention centers for years on end. It is horrible the conditions people live in, but the judge might not always even listen to the whole case before saying no.
~Sophia Farascioni '21
Cocinar las gorditas
Today, we started by eating breakfast at the retreat center. I ate a breakfast burrito with eggs and hash browns. Then we went into the city of El Paso to pick up Carmen. We went to the Boarder Service Corps house and made gorditas with Carmen. We first chopped lettuce, tomatoes, cantaloupe and papaya. Then to make the gorditas, we started by mixing together corn flour, chili paste and water to make the shell. Then, after mixing this together, we made flat pancakes by rolling them into a ball and then slapping them in the palm of our hands back and forth until it made a flat pancake. After this was done, we fried the pancakes in oil until they were crunchy, and added potatoes (and meat in some) with lettuce, and tomatoes. Once they were all prepared, we sat down and all ate together. The meal consisted of rice, refried beans, gorditas, papaya, cantaloupe and salsa that Carmen had made earlier.
After we are gorditas with Carmen, we all sat in the living room and she told us her story. She spoke in Spanish, and someone translated. I could understand a few phrases of what she was saying since I took Spanish at school, but struggled to understand everything since she was talking at a faster pace than I was used to hearing and because I am only at a Spanish III level. Those of us who took Spanish, did try to communicate with her in Spanish. Her story was about how she came to the United States and the struggles that she faced. She first came when her youngest daughter(whom she had adopted), needed medical care, not provided in Mexico. She had epilepsy and needed a new kidney and underwent many surgeries. Carmen was struggling to pay for not only the medical bills but her living expenses. She ended up living at the Ronald McDonald house for a year, and eventually getting her own apartment. Her two sons came to the US to live with her, but sadly got deported. She filed and received a visa for permanent residency through the Catholic Charities law assistance. Her daughter died at a young age in her 20's. Carmen now lives in the US with her husband, but the rest of her family lives in Mexico. She can go visit them, but they are not allowed to come visit her because they got deported, they can not get legal permission to visit the United States.
Farm Worker's Association
After storytelling with Carmen, we dropped her off and went to downtown El Paso. We walked around in an area with many shoppes for about 15 min. and then headed to the Farm Workers Association. When we were there, they showed us a file cabinet of workers from the Bracero Program enacted in WWII. They revealed to us some of the horrific treatment that farm workers for this program faced. They were sprayed with DDT before entering the US. One of the wealthy farmers said that "we only want them to work but not as neighbors". We then went on to talk about working conditions today. During the red chili season, workers pick a large bucket or chiles in exchange for a coin worth 77 cents. During the onion season, workers bring an average of $28/day. They typically work a 15 hour work day, starting at midnight. They must pay for their transportation to and from the farm as well as lunch, bringing in an average net earning of about $20/day. Many of the women workers face sexual harassment. At the center, farm workers are able to shower, eat, and see a doctor once a week. They gave us a bucket of red chiles to try. I thought they would be spicy, but they were actually sweet and tasted like dried fruit. We were also educated to think about where our food is coming from. Consider eating oppression free food in which the workers are not oppressed and the environment is not harmed. We were reminded that "food is your direct connection to nature" and it is sacred.
-Katie Centofanti '19
After dinner, went to get ice cream at La Reyna Mitchuacana. Ms. Carpinelli and I got a popsicle covered in chocolate and chocolate sprinkles. I got pistachio and Ms. Carpinelli got chocolate chip. Melissa and Michelle got a Mexican Twinkie ice cream (gansito). The other people got other fun flavors.
-Katie Centofanti -19
We set off bright and early from Richmond, excited and ready to embrace this journey together. I am excited and honored to be accompanying these amazing young women on our immersion experience to El Paso, TX to study and better understand immigration. We will be staying in the US but will go to the border itself in addition to exploring the culture of the community. In an attempt to humanize all sides of this important issue we will meet with Border Patrol and federal officials as well as families and communities impacted by this crisis in our country. We have read books and talked a lot to get ourselves ready but but I'm not sure if we are emotionally prepared for the reality of this experience. Thankfully, we are in excellent hands with Michelle S, our fearless facilitator from World Leadership School!
Our day started off well, although with a significant delay getting into Chicago, we literally had to run to make our flight to El Paso! These girls were troopers! Carry-ons were flying as we sprinted to another terminal and to one of the very last gates...we arrived just as boarding began! It was pretty smooth sailing though and we were blessed to have had easy fights once in the air.
Once on the ground in El Paso, we were met by the awesome Michelle as well as Sophia, an employee at Border Servant Corps. Border Servant Corps is the organization with boots on the ground here who will guide us through our experiences. With support of WLS, they do the legwork to vet everything from food to program speakers. Kari, the executive director of BSC will be with us everyday to help navigate all of our experiences and answer our questions. Sophia got us authentic tortillas and burritos for lunch and we headed off to find our home for the week,
We are so fortunate to get to stay at the beautiful Holy Cross Retreat Center in Las Cruces, NM. We are very comfortable here with Fr. Tom's Franciscan Hospitality!
The grounds are peaceful and will provide a sanctuary for us each day after we visit El Paso and a safe place for us to talk and unpack the issues we see.
On the Retreat Center grounds there is a rosary walk, a labyrinth and a chapel - complete with the Blessed Sacrament - all open to us as we process our day.
So far it has been hot but not unbearable, tomorrow we venture into El Paso and begin the in-depth parts of the program. Stay tuned...the girls will begin updating the blog tomorrow and will share their own perspectives, experiences and "hellos" to family and friends. Thank you all for your love, support and prayers!