Writes Maurice Skinner in this article based on The Guardian ‘Long Read’ of August 20
In the year ended September 2014, the number of refugees crossing the Texan border illegally rose sharply to 130,000. Almost half were under 18.
They were fleeing not from bordering Mexico but from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, all beset with the extreme lethal violence of armed gangs at war with each other.
By US law no illegal immigrant can be deported without a hearing by a judge. This positive policy was overwhelmed by sheer numbers in the border town of McAllen, accessible to refugees across rivers partly dried up seasonally.
Compassion and wisdom
The refugees were accommodated in a partly-used bus depot and then in an unused part of the civic airport. The prospect of appearing before the Judge seemed infinitely remote.
In steps Sister Norma Pimental, 62, a Franciscan nun. She 'borrowed' a church hall with facilities for washing and re-clothing, with the help of local volunteers and local donations.
Compassion was then aided by Wisdom. Sister Norma's volunteers located the intended destinations of all the refugees, invariably in the form of relatives and friends already in the US. She then organised the essential legal appearance before a judge at those intended destinations.
Thus she tapped into the judicial system in a large number of locations, none of which were subject to immobilisation or the acute pressure in McAIlem.
Once this appearance before a judge had been established in writing, the refugee could travel legally within the US. Volunteers then provided them with travel directions on a series of cards starting with the words T do not speak English', and then 'please direct me to the Greyhound bus for...' and so on, stage by stage, towards relatives and friends at the end of the journey