El recipiente del galardón Voz de Los Sin Voz 2018 es Padre Ismael “Melo” Moreno, S.J. Mas informacion en español sigue abajo.
[Editor’s note: this essay was written by a former volunteer, Mary Fontana, for Annunciation House’s newsletter in the winter of 2004. It remains relevant today.]
It’s late—late in the day, in the year—and Olga is sweeping out her bedroom. She is thirty years old with big eyes and big brown freckles, an undocumented chilanga, a native of Mexico City. She wears soft, forgiving clothes from the clothing bank downstairs: baggy dark-blue sweatpants and a sweater I picked out, green with flowers embroidered down the button line. She has been a guest at Annunciation House for nearly two weeks, ever since delivering her firstborn child, Mariana, at Thomason General Hospital in El Paso. Olga is still recovering from the labor. She can’t walk upstairs, to where the women’s dormitory is. Instead she and the baby sleep in the white-walled clinic just off our office.
Mariana is tiny and perfect. She has fine black hair and cheeks like apricots. I hold her, wrapped in a fuzzy donated blanket, as Olga sweeps and sweeps. I have never seen Olga cleaning before: the new mother is exempt from the chores we assign to other guests. But today is a special day. Today, on the last day of October, Olga is waiting for her husband.
They’ve been married for three years, but Oscar has a work permit and a seasonal job in North Carolina and she hasn’t seen him in months. He called this morning. “I’m in Dallas,” he told Olga on the office phone. “I’m coming.”
Now we wait in a tight flutter of excitement. Olga continues to sweep. She is preparing, with the small gestures that are all she can make, to greet her husband. After the floor has been cleared of its few mummified cockroaches, Olga showers and combs out her long black hair. She has washed all of Mariana’s tiny clothes in the bathroom sink. They hang like pink and yellow flags on the bare wall of the clinic. And I’m buzzing around from the phone to the door to the window, outwardly more anxious than Olga. She is practiced in the art of waiting. Only Mariana seems completely unconcerned with the occasion, as she sighs and wraps slim fingers around my pinky. “Vas a conocerle a tu papi hoy,” I tell her.
It’s nearly ten o’clock at night when Oscar calls again and my heart curls up, thinking he’ll say he can’t make it tonight. “Where are you?” I ask, with Olga fast at my side. There’s a pause. Then: “Virginia and…let me see…Magoffin?” he replies. I practically squeal. One block away! I tell him how to get to Annunciation House and hang up the phone. Olga and I beam at each other like two lighthouses.
Five minutes later I’ve been distracted by some other urgency—a guest needing aspirin maybe, a phone call, I don’t remember—and I turn away from that demand to see Olga standing in the office door, her sleepy pink baby in her arms, and with them a man who could only be Oscar, so happy and right do the three of them look together. All around them the chaos of Annunciation House wells up: kids’ drawings of ghosts and pumpkins taped and flapping on the door frame above their heads, a heap of dirty dishtowels at their feet, the TV commenting loudly from the sala. But you could miss all that and see only Mariana, like a little sun, lighting up her parents’ faces as they bend over her.
And though Christmas is two months away, I think of its birth, its joy, and for the first time, its great tragedy—the wrenching instability of the stable. Olga brought her newborn child home to a refuge for the poor and indigent, a building by which the trucks and buses roar at all hours of the day and night, an old, leaky house held together by masking tape and prayer. Mary and Olga alike must have wondered, as they studied the freshly minted faces of their babies, what kind of futures they could possibly hope to shape for them. Futures begun in borrowed rooms where cold air crept under the doors. Futures hemmed in by the fences of poverty and itinerancy. I remember that when Olga brought Mariana home from the hospital she asked us, “They’ll let me stay here now, won’t they? They’ll let me stay with my baby?” I heard in her voice the incredulousness Mary must have felt when she hobbled into the stable, when she first saw that shabby, dirty cave where she was to give birth to the son of God. I want to plant my fists on my hips and talk up at the sky. This is your child! Are you going to watch her be shunted into a dark corner of the earth the moment she is born?
It’s almost too easy to invoke the Christmas story here, with Olga, where the parallels are so obvious: two families far from home, wanted by the law of the land, refugees with uncertain prospects and new babies to worry about. It’s also too easy to paint myself into the scene at the stable; after all, my house, Annunciation House, welcomed Olga and made a place for her. But there’s a more difficult truth at hand: Olga has orders from La Migra to present herself for deportation at the bridge as soon as she’s released from the hospital. She’s currently in violation of those orders. My country does not want her here. The United States is not the stable; it is an inn with no room.
Of course, Mariana is hardly the baby Jesus. The torrents of migrants knocking on our country’s doors are not the newborn children of God. No indeed—they are Christ crucified. They are the starving, the tortured, the uprooted, the slaves of poverty and corruption and violence. They are not saints: some of them steal and lie to us and shoot up on the roof of Annunciation House. But they have suffered, and where human beings suffer, there the Christ is.
Yes, it is Christ that enters our country illegally. It’s Christ who pays a coyote to smuggle him past immigration checkpoints. Christ hopping a train in the iron-cold dark. Christ who shrinks away from the window in quiet fear when the word is passed around the house: la Migra is outside. Christ picks the apples in my hometown of Yakima, Washington. Christ sends money to his wife in Guatemala. Christ misses her three kids, far away in Oaxaca with their grandmother.
Christ cannot vote in our country. He can hardly complain if his employer cheats him of wages, or insist on safe working conditions or health care. If the government takes any notice of him at all, it will be to deport him. So he keeps to the shadows, nameless and voiceless. So many men and women, relegated to the obscure corners of our country—a people walking in darkness, dwelling in the land of gloom.
In Spanish, Olga has told me, the expression for delivering a baby is dar a luz: to give to the light. As we shift into November and the days shorten, mornings and evenings smudging closer together, I wonder: how will we give birth to justice in this fine, wounded country? When will we give our shadow people to the light? Who will call them by name out of the shame and obscurity of ‘illegality’? When the next Olga and Oscar knock on our door, will we persist in telling them that we, the richest country in the world, have no room at the inn?
Advent is coming. It is the season of waiting, and of darkness—lit first by one candle, then two, three, four. And Annunciation House itself exists in perpetual advent. Its inhabitants wait: for a cousin in Denver to send money, for the patrón to call back with work, for papers to go through. We as a community wait as well for freedom to come down like a desert rainstorm, for the load of the poor to be lightened. We are an Advent people. All we can do is what Olga did as she waited in hushed expectancy for her husband: sweep out our rooms, make ready for our liberation to arrive.
For the word advent also means a beginning, an onset. So in the dark of November, I wait for the beginning of spring. I wait for a thawing of the fear and exclusivity that call people aliens in the land of their brothers and sisters. I wait for the day when Christ can come out of the shadows and feel the warmth of the sun on his dust-etched face.
In the meantime, it’s bone-cold in the office of Annunciation House. Olga wraps her baby more snugly in the fuzzy cotton-candy-colored blanket. She sets Mariana carefully in my arms for one last cuddle before bed. As I carry my bundle through the sala, a few of the guests ask jokingly if she’s my baby. I laugh with them, but then I think: yes. Yes, of course she is my baby. I did not give birth to tiny, perfect Mariana, but by God I will help give her to the light. For unto all of us this child is born, homeless and precious; unto us this little girl is given. May the government be upon her shoulders—and get off her back.
[We are currently raising funds to renovate our 100+-year old building so that it can continue to be a place of refuge for people like Olga and her child. In this season of giving, would you consider supporting our mission? Read more and/or make a donation here.]
Here is an update from Linda Rivas, Executive Director and Managing Attorney of Las Americas:
Yesterday at around 9:15am, ICE informed me that they planned to immediately deport my client, Mexican Journalist, Emilio Gutierrez and his son. I asked ICE to allow a Motion to Reopen that is before the Immigration Judge to be adjudicated before such a decision was made. ICE could not confirm whether or not they would accept the filing of a Stay of Removal from me on behalf of my client but they stated I was allowed try.
Las Americas immediately began to compile the Stay of Removal. Through the day phones calls with ICE led to inconsistent messaging. At one point they indicated that the Stay could be adjudicated immediately and Emilio and his son could be deported. I shared the need to call ICE via email to potentially influence them in allowing me to the file the Stay to a small group that has been helping us with Emilio led by Julie Schoo at the National Press Club.
ICE accepted the filing of our Stay and placed Emilio and his son on an ankle monitor. I immediately emailed the group letting them know the stay had been accepted. We updated people in an effort to not spread panic. It is my understanding that our latest updates may not have shared widely and this morning a mass email went out that alarmed people, people who support Emilio and have been following him closely.
Emilio is still at risk of deportation. There are remedies that exist for him in court and we are asking ICE to allow him to exhaust those remedies and to consider the imminent harm Emilio is in. Due to this harm we are not willing to go to media at this time.
Currently Las Americas represents Emilio before ICE. Eduardo Beckett, private attorney in El Paso, Texas represents Emilio before the Immigration Judge. We are doing everything we can to ensure Emilio and his son are able to safely remain in the United States.
We thank all those who are concerned for Emilio and his son. I do not believe calls to ICE are necessary at this time. Please stay tuned for official statements by Las Americas as ICE could render a negative a decision any moment.
At about 8:40 a.m. on February 22, 2003, Juan Patricio Peraza Quijada, a guest at Annunciation House, was shot and killed by a Border Patrol agent. He was 19 years old. We will commemorate his life and death with a procession and mass at Annunciation House this coming Wednesday, February 22.
Annunciation House is currently receiving over 1000 migrants each week, most of them Central American migrants who have just been processed and released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Without the hospitality centers we and other community organizations have set up, they would be released to the streets. At our centers, they find a place to stay, clean changes of clothes, meals and showers, and assistance in contacting family and planning to travel onward.
We are urgently seeking short term volunteers, whether local or from out of town (housing provided), who can commit to helping at one of our centers of hospitality for a period of time.
Interested parties should contact our director, Ruben Garcia.
One week after the election that put an anti-immigrant demagogue into power, we at Annunciation House are searching for ways to move from grief and outrage toward action–or, perhaps more accurately, to channel our outrage into action. For us, the action is concrete, and we return to it daily: instead of a wall along our southern border, we are building centers of welcome and hospitality for the many, many migrants and refugees that continue to arrive in El Paso.
Many of them are Central Americans and Mexicans fleeing violence and extortion in their home countries, often after having lost loved ones at the hands of gangs. Others are here to work, to support their families–acting as the silent engines that power so many of our country’s industries, from agriculture to construction to home health care. They are not terrorists. (Foreign terrorists usually have the resources to get a visa.) They are not rapists or criminals. (Immigrants commit fewer crimes than US citizens.) Here they must exist in the shadows, doing dirty and difficult work, facing discrimination, alienation, and the constant fear of deportation, which in many cases breaks up families. Yet they have come to the US, at great risk, great expense, and with great effort, in most cases because the conditions they are leaving are worse and more desperate than the ones they will encounter here.
In 2014, a so-called “surge” of Central American migrants arriving at our southern border prompted a frenzy of media attention. That has largely subsided today, yet crowds of people continue to arrive, many of them families with children. Annunciation House is still receiving hundreds of people each week, most of them coming straight from the detention centers where they have been “processed” and released. Most come with little but the clothes on their backs–not even shoelaces, which are confiscated in detention.
Are you feeling hopeless after the election? Do you want to do something, but you don’t know what? If you believe in a more just immigration system, if you want to show your support for immigrants and refugees, consider getting involved with the work of Annunciation House and other similar organizations that directly serve migrants–both through hospitality and advocacy.
How? Here are some ideas:
- VOLUNTEER. If you have some Spanish ability, and especially if you have any volunteer experience and/or live in the El Paso area, consider volunteering: we can use full-time volunteers who are willing to come for a week or more, or local volunteers who can donate a few hours a week on an ongoing basis.
- DONATE. We are in need of new (please, only new) underwear for all ages and genders; shoelaces; travel-sized toiletries (shampoo, soap, etc); and quart and gallon-sized Ziploc bags. Financial donations are also much appreciated (info here).
- SPREAD THE WORD. Not just about our work and our needs–though we fully appreciate that–but about the humanity of immigrants, documented or not; the injustice of our current immigration system; and about our opposition to the racist, anti-immigrant climate that has swept up so many in our nation.
The political campaigns are over. The campaign for justice continues. To our country’s immigrants, people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, Muslims, and all who fear what this election’s results mean for their own safety and well-being: #EstamosConUstedes.
Today Annunciation House and companions are gathering at the Mexican consulate in El Paso to protest the violence and threats of violence that have been perpetrated on two colleagues of Padre Alejandro Solalinde, our 2015 Voice of the Voiceless Honoree.
Read the press release:
El Paso, Texas, 06 de Junio de 2016
Consulado General de México
Enrique Peña Nieto
Presidente de México
En México, el paso de las y los migrantes, provenientes de Centroamérica se ha convertido en la “Ruta de la muerte”. En los últimos 10 años, se han registrado cientos de agresiones violentas: robo a mano armada, secuestros, extorsiones, abusos físicos, sexuales y homicidios calificados, en contra de las personas que vienen huyendo de la situación de violencia y pobreza que hay en sus países de origen, por parte de mafias que controlan el paso de las rutas migratorias y muy frecuentemente están involucrados las corporaciones de seguridad pública estatal y federal, que en su fundamento principal, deberían de garantizar el libre tránsito, de acuerdo a Convenios Internacionales que México ha firmado para proteger el paso de las y los migrantes.
Éstos actos, violentos y sistemáticos, han llegado a las y los defensores de Derechos humanos y migrantes. En las últimas semanas se denunciaron dos amenazas con armas de fuego en contra de defensores de derechos de las personas migrantes: en Oaxaca, El Albergue para Migrantes “Hermanos en el Camino” y en Querétaro, la Estancia del Migrante González y Martínez.
El 23 de mayo fue agredido Alberto Donis y Leyssa Palomino, una voluntaria del Albergue para migrantes Hermanos en el Camino, dirigido por el Padre Alejandro Solalinde.
“Es importante mencionar que debido a que Alberto ha sido objeto de amenazas en otros momentos, cuenta ya con medidas cautelares decretadas tanto por la Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH), así como por la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), situación que nos alarma aún más, sobre todo porque en los últimos días se han registrado una serie de amenazas dirigidas al padre Solalinde, con quien Alberto colabora y tememos que este evento tengan relación con las mismas y que ni el Estado de Oaxaca, ni la CNDH, estén dando un seguimiento adecuado a la seguridad de ambos”
Nosotras y nosotros, ciudadanos y organizaciones sociales, radicados en la frontera de El Paso, Texas y Ciudad Juárez, hacemos un llamado al Gobierno de México, para que realice, por medio de las instancias correspondientes, una investigación ética, objetiva y exhaustiva de los hechos ocurridos en contra de los integrantes del Albergue Hermanos en el Camino. Así como hacemos un llamado urgente para que cese de inmediato las agresiones contra las y los migrantes y se lleven a cabo investigaciones serias de las demandas penales interpuestas por los agredidos.
Por lo anterior:
-Exigimos el cumplimiento de acuerdos internacionales de protección a las y los migrantes en tránsito, firmados por México.
-Exigimos la protección de las y los defensores de los derechos de l@s migrantes.
For 38 years, the triangular red-brick building of Annunciation House has been both a symbol and a center for hospitality to the migrant and the refugee. Now over a hundred years old, the building is in desperate need of repairs: new mortar, a renovated kitchen, new duct work, reroofing, improved compliance with modern building standards, and more.
This May, for the first time in its history, Annunciation House is launching a capital campaign to raise the $1 million dollars that our contractor estimates we need to keep the building habitable for our guests. We ask for your support, whether through financial contributions, volunteering your time, or helping us spread the word.
View our crowdfunding page here to make a one-time contribution. This initial effort to raise $50,000 will provide seed money for us to seek larger grants from foundations.