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At Casa Juan Diego Finding Lost Migrants

by Angel Valdez

When people tell us that their families were separated at the border, they hope against hope that we will be able to help them find their loved ones. What a challenge as we receive many families and individuals from ICE.

We all rejoiced a few months ago when we were able to find a 19-year-old daughter who had been separated from her family at the border and sent to a separate detention center. The possibility that she could have been deported alone to an African country where there were death threats against her family had given us nightmares.

More migrants have arrived who are desperate to be reunited with their family members. The effort to locate them is different from that of reuniting unaccompanied minors with their families, but still very urgent for those who are lost. Among the many who are brought to us by ICE are those who have no idea of how to find their loved ones.

Francine was very frail when she arrived through the ICE transportation. She spoke French. The first thing she communicated was that she did not know how to find her adult son. He had brought her on the journey, even carried her for some of it. She could do nothing without him. They were separated by authorities at the border. Since she gave us his name and birth date, our CW’s searched on the Internet and finally located him in detention, including the very necessary A number. This process took weeks and Francine was desperate. Her blood pressure soared. Even after we located him and he was able to communicate with his mother, her son told her that in order to leave detention he would have to pay a bond of thousands of dollars. We asked the help of RAICES and they were able to pay the bond for her son.  After months of waiting, when he arrived at the bus station in Houston, it was a more than joyful reunion.

We received Rosie from Haiti from ICE even though we knew she only spoke Creole. She was almost incommunicative even in her language, appeared either to be in shock after the journey or to have beginning dementia. Other Haitian guests helped to care for her and translated for us. She had been separated from her adult son by ICE at the border. She could tell us her son’s name, but not the correct spelling or his birthdate. We were at a loss on how to find him, wondering what we could do with this poor woman. Another Haitian guest searched and searched on the Internet and Facebook and found her son. It was unbelievable. A family friend called to say he would come to accompany Rosie on the plane to her son, who was out of detention and in another state. There was no way she could have traveled alone.

Miracles? They were, because the Lord works through human persons who participate in the Works of Mercy. The Catholic Workers commented that this is the Body of Christ in action -working and praying together to give hospitality and reunite families.  Not to mention those who by their donations support our work and so participate in all these efforts.

As Mark Zwick used to say, when migrants arrived with a little piece of paper that had a phone number on it, we rejoiced because perhaps they could find their family (no Internet then). We often have to use other methods now, but the hope is the same that families can be reunited.

Finding Children

We do not receive unaccompanied minors, but we get many calls from families looking for their children who came alone. We are glad to be able to provide to them the national number for locating the children: 800 203-7001.

Finding Those in Far Scattered Detention Centers

We have been hearing for some years about the cruelty of detention centers being built in remote locations where even lawyers cannot visit because of distance. As we have been asked by ICE to receive refugees, the ones in Louisiana detention centers have been especially difficult. It often requires $200 for a taxi ride to a bus station or airport and all the logistics of arranging such transportation.

We were very encouraged when we received a call from a friend who has been reading our paper for years. Living in Louisiana, her contribution to the plight of immigrants and refugees there has been to join a group that seeks to locate places that might receive them, and then drive to the detention center and transport those who are being released to where they might access other transportation. Each detention center is at least one and half hours from any place where they can connect with transportation. We were pleased to say that we could accept the man for whom she asked shelter and touched when she told us that she gives our paper to those she is transporting. The recently released immigrants appreciate reading the paper in Spanish. More have been arriving from Louisiana with this connection.

Houston Catholic Worker, October-December 2021, Vol. XL, No. 4.