This is a place to welcome people pursuing the American dream – a dream that often becomes a nightmare.
Xavier smiles as he looks out over the Rio Grande. On the other side, he sees the land he so often imagined and dreamt about: the United States. Only yesterday, he arrived in Nuevo Laredo where the houses face the bank of the Rio Grande, opposite the United States city of Laredo, in Texas. Nuevo Laredo is connected to Laredo by four bridges spanning the river.
Three months ago, together with Hernandes, Xavier left their small village in Honduras. Both left behind a wife and children to start their journey. The journey was tough but now, at last, they are at the border.
For now, they are guests of the Nazareth Migrant House and are making friends with many others who, like themselves, want to reach the “promised land.”
The House is in the diocese of Nuevo Laredo. It welcomes migrants who come to the city in the hope of crossing the border. It is run by Fr. Jesu Manuel, a Scalabrinian missionary.
“When we speak of migrants – he explains – we have three groups in mind: the Central Americans who come here in search of the ‘American dream’; the Mexicans who also try to cross the border; the deported and repatriated. This third group includes people who have lived for some time in the United States but have been expelled due to a lack of documents.”
Last year, Migrant House accomodated 8,750 people. Six out of ten had been expelled from the United States. Eight out of ten were from Central America, mostly Hondurans.
“We are powerless and frustrated – says Fr. Jesu Manuel – because we cannot help everybody. It is distressing to see men and women with broken dreams. Often the Central Americans risk their lives to come here. They sold all they had. They left their families. During the journey they were robbed. They were exploited and then chased back. They are forced to return empty-handed to their homes. Many of them began this journey to help their families. Among those deported are many who have left wives and small children in the United States. They are desperate and want to return to the other side at any cost.” According to Fr Jesu Manuel, a further problem is that Nuevo Laredo is a violent city. “Immigrants are kidnapped, forced to pay money, robbed, and killed.”
Four lay people assist Fr Jesu Manuel. Like them, he sees the Migrant House as the response of the local Church to the challenge of immigration. “We lend a helping hand to the people passing through. We want to show solidarity, to give them a little hope, and share their dreams. We too have to learn. We need to understand the meaning of the journey and the daily creation of a new people. In the United States, the migrants form their own groups and, in this way, new Christian communities are born, making a notable contribution to North American society.”
Fr Jesu Manuel often uses the analogy of the bridge. “These people feel rejected, excluded, and discriminated against simply because they do not possess a document, because of their way of doing things, or because they have a tattoo. Our work is to be a bridge, to welcome people, to restore their lost self-confidence. Despite all they have suffered, there are many who feel no hatred. One day a migrant who had been through the mill said to me: ‘Thanks be to God I am still alive. This is a sign that I must carry on.”
Migrant House recently received many entire families. “I am reminded – says Fr Jesu Manuel – of the Gospel account of the Holy Family of Nazareth where it tells of Mary, Joseph, and the child Jesus having to flee their country. We want Migrant House to be like a new family, dreaming of a human family where we are all brothers and sisters. We cannot have a just society where others are excluded; we need to see the world through the eyes of the immigrant and the deported.”
Those who come to Migrant House are given food and a bar of soap. They are also seen by a doctor. Fr Jesu Manuel tries to ensure legal aid for those who have been mistreated. The migrants are also helped to contact their dear ones and, in some cases, they are given the money to buy a ticket to get back home.
“Here we have Christ who is in need, Christ who is a migrant”, says Fr Jesu Manuel. “This is why we try to be a credible presence for our brothers and sisters of Central America, including the non-Catholics, and treat all with respect. It is not important whether a person is a believer or not. What concerns us is the human being and their needs.”
Jorge B. Decelis