The choice to cross the U.S./Mexico border is not made lightly. In Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, gangs and drug cartels often hold more authority than police. Women in particular are subjected to rape and abuse. Children are at risk of being recruited into gangs or exploited by traffickers. Those who resist or report crimes are often killed.
Our nation is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis as the growing influx of migrants attempting to cross the border overwhelms the systems in place and incites people from across the political spectrum to call for reform.
Mothers who cannot afford to feed their children, who see them being forced into gangs or prostitution, who witness murders in the streets and fear they will be next, are desperate enough to leave their homes and entrust themselves and their children to “coyotes” who promise to take them to the U.S.
They do not make the decision to come lightly. They know the dangers posed by human traffickers, gangs, drug cartels, and even the police and government officials — and still they come.
The following stories and reflections are examples of how the Felician Sisters are experiencing and responding to this crisis. You will also read a few personal stories from neighbors of the Mooncrest Neighborhood Programs (MNP) in Moon Township, PA. They generously shared their immigration stories, reliving traumatic memories, in the hope of shedding light on why they came here.
“Give aid to all, without exception… for everyone is our neighbor. Love and compassion should have no borders.”-Felician Foundress Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska
Sr. Mary Christopher Moore, provincial minister, said, “Our first mission in the U.S. was to minister to immigrant families, and we will continue to do what we can to serve the vulnerable, the persecuted, and all of our ‘neighbors’ in need.”
Repurposing with Compassion
Four years ago, at the age of eight, Delia and her family witnessed an execution near her home in El Salvador. Knowing the fate of others in her community who had “seen too much,” they fled to stay with relatives in a rural area. Her father then made the journey to the United States, hoping to find asylum. After months of travel, he arrived in the U.S. and found work so he could send funds for the rest of his family to make the journey.
A year later, Delia, her mother and her baby brother were ready to make the trip. Despite spending days at the consulate, her mother was unable to secure travel paperwork, so they could not fly as they had intended. Instead, they spent the next three months riding buses, hitching rides, and walking toward the border. They walked at night to avoid detection, barely sleeping or eating, and terrified of their fate if they were found.
Sadly, Delia’s family is not alone. Data shows that the majority of migrants, especially those coming from countries in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), are fleeing for their lives. In these countries, gangs and drug cartels often hold more authority than police. Women are especially vulnerable to repeated rape and abuse. Those who report these crimes are often killed. Children are at risk of being recruited into gangs or exploited.
When the choice is to comply or die, many choose to run.
Since unaccompanied minors are currently accepted into the country, some mothers make the heart-wrenching choice to send their children across the border alone, hoping they will be reunited with family in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Customs and Border Protection, 18,890 unaccompanied children crossed the southwest border in March 2021.
If they are fortunate, these children are quickly placed into facilities where they are cared for, educated, and assisted with the legal aspects of their status in the U.S. The Sisters of Nazareth of Holy Family Institute( HFI) operate one such program in the Pittsburgh area called Journey of Hope. In 2014, they were funded by the federal government to house unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. When the border crisis escalated, they were asked to expand their services and began to search for space to accommodate more children. They found it with the Felician Sisters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Convent.
Sharing Resources with Neighbors in Need
“As we were discerning the best use of the unused space in our convent in Coraopolis, PA, God’s providence sent us Holy Family Institute’s Journey of Hope,” said Sr. Mary Christopher Moore, provincial minister for the Felician Sisters of North America. To accommodate the children and staff of HFI, the sisters consolidated their offices and living space to free up the first two floors of the convent.
“We are honored to have been able to help as many children as we have,” said Sr. Linda Yankoski, CSFN, President and CEO of HFI. “Leasing this new space from the Felician Sisters allows us to help even more children on their journeys to be reunited with their loved ones.”
In March, HFI received an urgent call informing them that more than 80 children could be headed their way within 48 hours — they had been expecting 12. While they had the space to accommodate the children, they were in great need of volunteers to help. The Felician Sisters were eager to help again. After her experience as a volunteer, Sr. Mary Faith Balawejder, who resides at the Coraopolis convent, said, “I was able to see the beautiful image of God in all of the children I met and to serve them. I was blessed in many ways.”
In 2018, Delia’s family was reunited in the U.S. She is now in the 7th grade and a participant in the after-school program at the Mooncrest Neighborhood Programs (MNP), a Felician-sponsored ministry in Moon Township, PA. She is a promising student, having been named Student of the Month twice in her three years at the school.
Delia’s family has begun the process of securing asylum. Despite their situation and efforts, their initial request was denied. They have filed an appeal, but the pandemic put hearings on hold. She and her family live with the pervasive fear of being sent back to El Salvador to a situation that would almost certainly be a death sentence.
“Our foundress called us to meet the needs of the times and to seek out God’s most vulnerable children — the lost, the forgotten, the persecuted — and to serve our neighbors without exception or bias. We are grateful to be in a position to have resources to share and the opportunity to use them in service of God’s will.”-Sr. Christopher