Wichita nun shares her experiences dealing with the flood of asylum seekers at the U.S. borderPosted: Updated:
"They're coming not because they want a better life. It's because they want a life," said Sister Mary Catherine Sack of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Wichita.
Last year, the U.S. saw a 27% increase in asylum seekers coming up from Central America in Texas alone.
As the numbers of asylum seekers on the southern border overwhelm the facilities set up to help them, a Wichita nun answered the call for help.
Helping those seeking a better life gave Sister Mary Catherine a different perspective on the crisis.
"They kept coming, Every day, 80 people. So the volume was overwhelming to me," she said.
Some 900 a day in the city of El Paso alone, coming into the 10 facilities run by Annunciation House. It's mission, to make sure no immigrant has to sleep on the streets.
"Some had been traveling, journeying for months, three to four months," she said.
Sister Mary Catherine responded when a desperate call for help went out. For three weeks she joined dozens of other volunteers providing a safe place to sleep and food to asylum seekers legally admitted to the United States.
She says the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement units in El Paso would send busloads of 40 to 80 refugees multiple times a day.
"When these people came and they got off the bus," she said, "They had a piece of paper and their child."
On that paper, the name of an individual or group that had agreed to sponsor their entry into the country. The sponsor could be from anywhere in the United States.
Taken as a whole, she calls the crisis at the border overwhelming, tens of thousands of people fleeing violence - mostly in Central America - seeking, in her words, not a better life, just a life.
"They've seen so many of their family members disappeared, killed. They want to have a life and not be afraid of dying every other day," Sister Mary Catherine said.
Once at an Annunciation House facility, she says most refugees spend only a day or two, until their sponsor can organize a bus or plane ride to their new home elsewhere in the country. While they wait, they help take care of the facilities.
"We put together a cooking crew and those people that came, they cooked. Those people did the dishes. Those people did the laundry. Those people swept the floors. Then, they would know that they were leaving tomorrow, so out of the next group that came they'd find replacement workers," she said.
Volunteers like Sister Mary Catherine would take care of organization, preparing sandwiches for those leaving, and rides to the bus station or the airport.
"I have this image in my mind of a dad, probably about 22, and his little boy of about 4," she said. "They're walking into the airport. Most people going into the airport have luggage. These two had a Ziploc bag with their peanut butter sandwich."
She says her time there opened her eyes to how hard it can be for the country to absorb the flood of asylum seekers as a group.
"The numbers are overwhelming. So I really understand why Trump doesn't know how to deal with this," she said.
But, she added, meeting the individuals who make up that flood, shaped her perspective in a different way, making her determined to help the ones she can.
"I think it even made it deeper in my heart, we're all God's children. We are all human beings of this race. And I don't think God sees any borders."
The Sisters of St. Joseph Convent paid for Sister Mary Catherine's trip this last month. She says, if she can find the funding, she'd love to go back.
"You're going to think I'm not too holy, but El Paso is kind of hot in the summer," she joked. "So I'm thinking October would be a good time to go back. Not August!"
Despite the jokes, she still remembers how hard it was to leave when others still needed her help.
"It was really hard to leave at three when a bus is just pulling in," she said about the volunteer shifts she worked. "There's a lot of people coming. And there are more coming."