Unaccompanied child immigrants

On Christmas Eve, 1991, I was preparing to celebrate Mass. I was at Casa Romero, a hospitality center for refugees set up by the Diocese of Brownsville in response to a massive number of Central Americans fleeing violence by heading north to the USA.

Because I had some time before we were supposed to start services, I wandered around the 300 or so folks who shivered in the cold and gathered in the space around the altar (Mass was obligatory—Casa Romero was run by a generous, but iron-fisted Spanish nun).

On the outer edges of the group, I came upon a young, thin girl surrounded by five or six older men. We spoke for a bit; she told me that she was heading out that night with these men, looking to cross through the Wild Horse Desert, a desolate place just north of Brownsville, in an effort to avoid the Border Patrol.

The men, hands stuffed into their pockets, scuffed the ground. They would not meet my eyes, and ignored my handshake.

I found the nun and told her that I was worried about the girl. The nun said to me, “You should be. Please take her to the rectory with you tonight. She is not safe here.”

The girl agreed to come and spend Christmas Eve with our religious community that night. She was sixteen years old, and she was from El Salvador. Her arms were covered with scars, about which she would only say, “They burned me with cigarettes.”

I gave her my room, for that night, and I took to the couch in the living room. The next morning, as I passed by my bedroom, I saw her kneeling on the floor, her scarred arms held straight out from her sides, her eyes closed, and her head upturned toward the heavens. She was back-lit by the sunlight streaming through the window.

It was Christmas Day, and I felt that God had sent me an angel disguised as skinny, scarred teenaged girl.

She stayed with our community for about two weeks, until some good immigration attorneys managed to get her a special travel permission, and then, into a center that worked with the victims of torture (The Center for Victims of Torture). Continue reading

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