A Letter Written by Sister Norma Pimentel to the President

Friday, February 7, 2020

Please read this moving opinion by our Spring Celebration Honoree Sister Norma Pimentel, one of our panelists at our upcoming Speaker Series, "This is My Community: From the Border to Boston — Making Sense of Immigration Today." To register for the event, click here.

 

President Trump, don’t ignore the suffering at the border caused by your policies

By Sister Norma Pimentel 

Feb. 5, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. EST

Norma Pimentel, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

President Trump, I was thankful to be able to attend the State of the Union address Tuesday night, where I hoped to hear you mention your policies at our southern border in a human-focused way. But while you covered a number of topics, I did not hear about the human suffering we are witnessing at the border as a result of the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP).

I realize your attention is needed in multiple areas, Mr. President. However, I invite you to take a closer look at what is happening along the border due to the MPP, which requires migrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico while their applications are considered.

If you visit my community in Brownsville, Tex., the first thing you will see as you cross the Rio Grande into Matamoros, Mexico, is what has become a “tent city” along the riverbank. Some 2,500people, many of them women and children waiting in harsh open air, are finding shelter in donated tents.

As you walk through the makeshift camp, you might want to wear rubber boots, because when it rains the entire area becomes a mud pit. People carry out their daily routines caked in mud up to their ankles. Some children have slipped and broken a leg or an arm, but they run around playing, being children. Most likely they are dirty as they have not had an opportunity to get clean or shower, due to limited facilities. Some families risk the polluted river waters and go there to wash themselves.

If you stop to meet the families and talk to the mothers, you will learn many of them are there because they fear for their children’s lives in their own country. If you had come last week, you would have heard the story of a 14-year-old girl who was raped in her home country and is now five months pregnant. Her mother knows that the man who raped her child is looking for her. You might have also heard about a man who heroically saved a young girl from being kidnapped — and who now fears that the men he thwarted will come back and hurt him. And finally, you also would have seen another mother who had just returned from her asylum hearing after having been told her asylum request was denied.

I would hope that you could also spare a moment to hear from the lawyers who are tirelessly working to help these people pursue their asylum cases. The lawyers are dedicating hours and hours of work with crushing caseloads to prepare families as best as they can, but under the MPP, whether you win or lose an asylum case mostly depends on the judge you happen to draw.

Under the MPP, each day brings a new challenge. It is a challenge for our times — how do we, in the words of Pope Francis, counter the “globalization of indifference” that leaves so many uncared for and neglected? What these families must endure is a slap in the face to the sacredness of human life, which should be cherished in every form. It is also an amazing testament to the perseverance for love of family.

And finally it is an opportunity — an opportunity to help restore the human dignity that many of these vulnerable families have had taken away from them or have given up on.

Even though you touched on none of this in your speech, Mr. President, please don’t look away from the human suffering that is occurring because your MPP policy is keeping people out of our country. Remember that they are human beings. They are desperate to protect their loved ones from harm. Listen to their stories and be present. Don’t turn away from what is happening.

Mr. President, you still have an opportunity to come and see. Hopefully it will help you determine that the impact of a policy such as the MPP is not defined only by reducing the numbers of immigrant/refugees entering our country; it is just as important to consider how the policy contributes to human suffering. The suffering it is causing clearly indicates this policy is detrimental and therefore should be stopped.

I urge you to consider other options. In September, we are hosting a CARE Summit in McAllen, Tex., for opinion leaders and people of action from around the country where together we will look at best practices from around the world and seek viable solutions to the reality of human displacement. I invite you and others to come see for yourselves that reality on the border.