JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — As snowflakes fell on their backs, a large group of people in line outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Juarez made jokes and carried on lively conversations. Inside, families and single adults from Venezuela, Honduras, Ecuador and other countries shared a seat around folding tables where they would eat perhaps their only meal of the day.
But first came the prayer led by the Rev. William Morton, a Columban missionary helping migrants survive in Juarez.
“So we start our welcoming and feeding of people at about 11 a.m. and each session we can feed almost 100 people. Some days we have as many as six sessions. We had 650 one day,” said Morton, who goes by Padre Guillermo in Juarez.
The Columbans and representatives from various international organizations also help the migrants get their bearings in this Mexican border city by providing referrals to shelters and helping those that qualify to apply for asylum in the United States. That is the goal of almost every migrant seated at the tables or standing in line outside.
¨We are not here for the American dream. We don´t want to buy new houses or new cars. We are here to work, give our children better opportunities and to send money home to our parents,” said Yericeli, a former elementary school teacher from Caracas, Venezuela who saw hyperinflation reduce her purchasing power to $6 a month last year.
She is also seeking help for her young son, who survived meningitis as a baby but suffers hearing, concentration and developmental problems as a result.
The missionaries helping the migrants say they are motivated by the heart-wrenching stories they hear every day. Yericeli has plenty of those stories to share.
“In the jungle, my children ate one can of soup with two spoons and water. That´s all they ate. They got skinny, they vomited, they had diarrhea, they got sick. They had to drink water from places where people drowned. They were drinking all that contamination.”
She and her husband, son and daughter have been on the road since October.
“We feel blessed because we survived. Many people don´t survive. Their families never find out that they died. We also feel blessed to have found help here,” she said.
The food consists of rice and pork, with a side of macaroni. Children get oatmeal and milk; everyone gets a cup of instant flavored drink.
Most of the migrants appear to be single adults, but there are plenty of families and a few elderly people, like Miriam.
She arrived in Juarez just three days ago and is hoping to join her family in Houston, Texas. Thursday’s cold, wind and snow caught her by surprise.
“I’m using this sweater as a scarf. I am staying at a hotel because the shelters are full. If you go to a shelter, you won’t find a spot,” she said.
Miriam says the church is paying for a hotel room for her, but she must share that space with other migrants because even the church does not have unlimited resources.
Morton said people from El Paso or elsewhere in the United States are welcome to help the Columbans on their mission. But he says they can best help migrants by urging the Biden administration to change immigration policies.
The most urgent change needed is to ensure the safety of asylum-seekers.
“Here they are exposed to being taken advantage of by smugglers. Maybe they won’t be kidnapped but they might be extorted or offered to be smuggled across for money,” he said. “If you are going to make a deal with another country (like Mexico), make sure that country has the resources to take care of those people you are not letting in.”
The Columban missionaries rely on donations to feed hundreds of migrants in Juarez every day. To help, visit www columban.org or write to firstname.lastname@example.org