by Kayla Sue Jacobs
“The Catholic Church is beautiful, it is a beautiful religion.” I was sitting in my rental car in the middle of the southern California desert with a man from Honduras and his young son. He was thanking me for all of the assistance he and his son received from Catholic Charities of San Bernardino as they were seeking asylum in the U.S. Their short stay with us at the Catholic Charities respite center for asylum seekers was their last stop before reuniting with their loved ones in the U.S. We were waiting for his Greyhound bus to take them to their family in Texas. He was one of the 501 asylum seekers I came in contact with during my two weeks with Catholic Charities at Our Lady of Soledad Catholic Church in Coachella, California.
The Central American Project of Catholic Charities of the San Bernardino Diocese is a partnership between Catholic Charities and Our Lady of Soledad Parish. Asylum seekers come to them after being released from border patrol. At that point they are free to travel to their U.S. sponsor, usually a family member already in the U.S. The problem, however, is that they do not have the means to get to them. Many of them arrive with little to no money. The main objective of the Central American Project is to get their guests to their families as quickly as possible by coordinating their travel plans, getting them travel money, and giving them a ride to the bus station or airport.
It was always a bitter sweet experience dropping people off at the bus station. It was exciting because they were on their last leg of travel before seeing their family members. It was their last leg of many weeks of horrible travel, in horrible conditions. Truly their time with us was the most hopeful time during their journey. It was kind of a light at the end of the tunnel of sorts. But it was also bitter because we all knew that the journey didn’t end there. Once they make it to their destination, there is still a chance that they won’t be granted asylum and eventually they might be sent back to their country of origin.
At the respite center there was a large crucifix hanging in one of the hallways. I would frequently see people praying in front of it. I can’t imagine what those prayers were like at a time of such uncertainty for them.
Since I left the center I’ve heard reports that not as many people have been arriving due to changing U.S. policy and debate around the issue. People are stuck with border patrol or in Mexico without getting a chance to seek asylum, which is leading to dangerous situations such as the horrible instance of the young father and his daughter drowning in the Rio Grande on June 23rd, 2019. There is even more uncertainty for asylum seekers now than ever before.
That uncertainty calls for certain action amongst us all. My time at the border motivated me in my work here, locally, to lobby for a change in policy that would help all immigrants and asylum seekers and to resist unjust treatment towards people at the border but also in our local community. The people who came through our doors were traveling to communities all over the U.S., so quite literally it is a local issue. They are our actual neighbors, who we are supposed to welcome, love, and protect.
In the yard of the respite center there was a huge shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Let us pray through her intercession for the protection of asylum seekers and everyone on a journey of uncertainty. Let us also pray for the conversion of hearts towards a dedication to welcoming our neighbors. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.
About the author:
Kayla Sue Jacobs is the Relief and Development Coordinator for the Joliet Diocese Office for Human Dignity and a member of the Nativity House – Catholic Worker Community in Lockport, Illinois.