“Not all Americans are evil”


I lived through 14 years of terrorism in Peru, and witnessed the flying bullets and massacred youth lying in pools of blood on the sidewalks in my barrios in Venezuela.

However, living here in Brownsville, it fails comprehension that the most powerful country in the world which promotes itself as the watchdog for human rights and democracy, has a government ripping toddlers from their Central American parents as they cross the borders.

These people cross the border seeking asylum from gang and domestic violence, poverty and certain death.

The government announced in April 2018 that they would do this as deterrence to illegal migration from the troubled countries of Guatemala, Honduras and Salvador.

I remember in the last years of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

He had a project to separate children from their parents at a tender age and have the state assume responsibility.

Thanks be to God, that never happened.

But for the USA to do this, makes a great number of Americans angry.

A woman from Wyoming, a stranger to me wrote yesterday saying that her grandparents came for Ireland and Germany and would be turning their graves.

She asked me to tell the children how ashamed she feels and that not all Americans are evil.

But the government and followers have a different rhetoric of explanation and justification.

Marist mission in Brownsville

I came to Brownsville in 2013, to work in the parish.

It’s a very mixed parish.

Some are citizens, others have visas, others have expired visas; so are illegal, and still others plain illegals who have crossed the river.

Many are here seeking asylum.

I move around visiting, assisting, ‘accompanying the unaccompanied’ central American youth in refuge centers.

Their goal, was to have their cases processed so that they could move north to be with families who would care for them and accompanying them in their process of getting asylum or visas.

These youth are the “cream of the cream,” brave, faith filled and with a deep desire to commit themselves to life and to God in this new country, and also be finally able to help their families.

Since the new government has taken power, these people all fear for their families, the illegal live more in the shadows from the state troopers, the border patrol and ICE.

On the other hand the people of the Rio Grand Valley and especially Brownsville are generally gentle caring family people who welcome the stranger and the alien and in no way reflect the punitive attitude recently on display for the world to see.

So here I am, a Marist among them, connected with the local network, doing my best to help and to listen and to walk with these people.

I’m not able to solve the problem, just offer ‘my grain of sand in this desert land’.

For example, the parish has between 100-150 young people coming from 3 refugee centres to the parish Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

We pray with them and feed them (treats they don’t get in the refugee center).

When the toddlers separated from their mothers pray, their prayer is very revealing.

“God I want to be back with my mum and dad.”

“God thank you for this roof over my head and the people who care for me and the food I eat each day.”

You see it’s the Rio Grande, local people, youths, mums and dads with their own kids, even grandparents all care for these children.

Media interest piqued

Here in Brownsville, on an ongoing basis, we live and breathe refugees, illegals, youth, vibrancy.

At the moment the media is everywhere and I have been interviewed by the Washington Post, was on TV with MSNBC.

The hope is that with media attention focusing on the current abhorrent agony, that in some way we can help find a solution and children in America, in this way, will never again be separated from their parents.

  • Tony O’Connor is a New Zealand Marist priest working in the Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville, on the border the USA with Mexico. He is a third generation kiwi; his first ancestor families traveled from Ireland and 1867 arrived in New Zealand. Like most poor migrants they came looking for a better life.
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