By Joanna Thurmann
Migration is a human problem that needs a human response. “Migrants and refugees need our prayers, but they also need real solutions, so they can have more opportunities for work and for living with dignity,” said Father Pat Murphy, C.S., Director of Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, Mexico. He spoke about the work of the Casa, as well as the changing realities of those whom they serve, during a Community Conversation about “Life on the Border” at Santa Teresa Church on September 26.
The event was organized by Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, Grupo Solidaridad, and Santa Teresa Parish Social Action Ministry. Lynda DeManti, pastoral associate at Santa Teresa, said, “Many pastoral leaders like me were scandalized not only by the cruelty on the border but by the deafening silence from the pulpits. We were hoping for an expression of moral outrage denouncing the policies. So we decided to find a way to respond to these injustices in our country.”
That response began with education. Hence, they invited Father Pat to share the stories and realities of those who arrive at the border. Casa del Migrante has operated in Tijuana since 1987, founded by the Congregation of the Missionaries of Saint Charles Scalabrini. They assist the most vulnerable, whether they are deportees, displaced persons, migrants in transit, or refugees. They offer shelter, food and clothing, as well as a wide range of free services to aid in the social reintegration, including legal and health services, addiction recovery, and job assistance.
In its 32 years, the Casa has welcomed over 260,000 people from over 30 nations; 30,000 in just the past 6 years. “The demographics have changed over the years,” said Father Pat, who was appointed as shelter Director for the second time in 2013. At first, Casa assisted migrants preparing to enter the US, but as the US government began securing the border, fewer people attempted to cross. Instead, 90% of shelter residents became Mexican deportees, many of whom came to the U.S. as children and didn’t speak Spanish. In 2016, the Casa saw an influx of people seeking asylum. Over 20,000 came from Haiti alone; those who went to Brazil to build stadiums for the Rio Olympics. They then traveled north through 10 countries. In 2018, it was the caravans of families, many from Central America, who arrived all along the border. Five months ago, the Casa began accepting women and children. They now comprise a quarter of the guests.
U.S. immigration policy is harsh. So is the reality of life at the border. Not everyone knows the language or has the right skills. Few workers over age 45 are hired. And then there is the crime and violence – 3,000 homicides in Tijuana last year. Add to that the corruption of the Mexican police, who are known to harass and exploit migrants.
The founder of the Scalabrini order coined a phrase that still bears relevance today. “People have the right to not have to migrate.” That requires confronting the realities that cause migration in the first place; violent conflicts, drugs and gang violence, environmental degradation, natural disasters, and poverty.
Pastoral leaders are planning a follow up to the event with more informational gatherings and an observation and investigative trip to the Southern Border in the spring. Those who want to support these efforts or participate in the trip should contact Lynda DeManti at Santa Teresa, Father Jon Pedigo at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, or Dr. Judi Sanchez at Group Solidaridad. More information about Casa del Migrante can be found at www.casadelmigrantetijuana.com.