~ by Peter Tran and Lisa Elmaleh, Global Sisters Report
AGUA PRIETA, MEXICO – At 1 a.m. on a later October day, Sr. Judy Bourg’s alarm goes off in the School Sisters of Notre Dame house in Douglas, Arizona. She marshals her three guests, who want to know about her ministry, to get ready for the 10-minute drive through the U.S. Border checkpoint and on to Agua Prieta, Mexico.
They arrive at the Centro de Recursos para Migrantes, or Migrant Resource Center, a two-story building just outside the gate of the border wall there, and set to work to ready sandwiches, hot coffee and warm clothes. She shows her guests volunteers the ropes.
Why do she and others perform this daily ritual in the dark of night? Because the center needs to be ready for the fresh group of deportees who will arrive in the acute hours of the day, classified as “returned or expelled.” In the middle of the night, the U.S. Border officials picked them up from holding centers, put them on a bus, transported them and subsequently left them off at the border gate outside Agua Prieta. All had been refused asylum and sent back. Back to the hunger, poverty, threats and violence they fled.
As Sr. Bourg walks out to the border gate at 2:30 a.m., a U.S. Border Patrol bus drops off some 30 returnees on the U.S. side. They step over into Mexico and Bourg moves in to welcome them.
She invites them to the center for food and a warm place to rest. The migrants, all men in their 20s and 30s, shiver in the declining temperatures. A volunteer doles out socks, a blanket or clothing to the men, who wait patiently in line for coffee and food. Later in the day, other groups of expelled migrants, some of whom are women, arrive. The center receives 100 – 200 expelled migrants each day.
Sr. Bourg says she is deeply moved as she greets the migrants at the gate and offers comfort. “It is dark and cold, and they have no idea where they are. To be able to look them in the yes and tell them that they are welcome into a safe place where they can rest, fills my heart,” she says.
Several hours later, as the sun rises, the migrants shed their blankets. Two Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist walk in smiling. Sr. Maribel Lara Hernandez cleans and can offer first aid. Sr. Emma Rias Flores heads to the kitchen.
Sr. Hernandez sets up a makeshift clinic. One man hobbles over to take a seat, presenting his wounded foot to Hernandez. She washes the blisters, applies medication and wraps it with gauze pad. Another migrant takes his turn and then another.
As the day progresses, the center becomes busy with activities. Volunteers work in the vegetable garden on the center’s grounds. Some deportees rush to help till the soil. As a migrant center is a short-term shelter, expelled migrants will leave it soon. A small number will return to their home country, while others will attempt to cross the border again.
Under the Trump and Biden administrations, more than 1.7 million expulsions have been carried out since the pandemic began, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
The Migration Protection Protocols, known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, were suspended in January 2019, but were reinstated in December 2021 by order of a federal judge in Texas They remain in effect despite human rights activists’ warnings about the high risk of violence to those forced to wait in dangerous border areas. To read the entire article please click here