SABINAS, Mexico (Border Report) – When the Rev. Jose Guadalupe Valdez noticed a distraught young woman keeping to herself in the kitchen and common areas of a migrant shelter in Coahuila, he asked her what was wrong.
The woman hesitated but told him she had changed her mind about crossing the border to join her husband in the United States. She said she felt guilty about something that happened along the way and could not bear to face him.
Used to counseling vulnerable people taken advantage of by others, the Catholic priest encouraged her to tell her story. What he heard a couple of years ago in that shelter shocks him still.
“She got atop a train (to the border). She said she held her baby to her chest and secured him with her shawl. She went to sleep, and when she woke up the baby was gone,” Valdez recalled. “The train had not stopped. Her baby fell while the train was in motion.”
After comforting the woman and taking her to a psychologist, Valdez realized she was afraid her husband would not forgive her for the loss and turn his back on her. Valdez offered to help.
That is something not just priests but also volunteers at shelters all over the U.S.-Mexico border have consistently done since irregular migration shot up in the fall of 2018. They have learned to spot signs of illness, injuries from assaults and emotional trauma, and to urge them to turn to God and the support of their loved ones after the unthinkable happens to them.
In the case of the Central American woman who lost her baby, Valdez suggested they both call her husband.
“I told her, ‘If you don’t go to your husband, things will be worse. He will surely think you found another man, and that is not the case. Let’s face this situation together,’” the priest said.
The young father’s heart was broken when he heard the news. Valdez helped him grieve, and then they talked about the young mother.
“He told me, ‘Father, tell her to come because I am waiting for her. More so now that we don’t have our little one,’” the priest said. “It was a very difficult situation, but with God’s help, it was made better.”
Valdez, whom everyone in the church calls Monsignor, a title granted by the pope, has been spearheading the church’s migrant support efforts for the past two decades. He is currently on special assignment taking over Our Lady of Guadalupe parish for an ill priest in the town of Sabinas.
He said the drivers of migration have remained consistent over the past 20 years: Poverty and crime. His faith motivates him to help and also provides restraint. He calls the buoys, razor wire and soldiers Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has placed at the Coahuila-Texas border “inhumane.”
In Reynosa, Tamaulipas, another man of God also tries to make better a long journey that often leaves men and women migrants with physical and emotional scars. Stories of extortion, kidnapping and physical assaults are shared by migrants who came looking for the protection of a walled compound near the Rio Grande called Senda de Vida.
“This is a mission, this is a call from God given to me 27 years ago,” said pastor Hector Silva, founder of two migrant shelters in Reynosa. “Helping people freely is something beautiful, something that comes from God. (Most people) don’t give anything without expecting something in return. (But) we are Christians.”
Silva said he sees the migrants’ unfulfilled emotional needs as much as he sees their need for food, shelter and clothing. “Many of them have needs inside (their hearts), spiritual needs. People need God.”
Some of the migrants at Senda de Vida are grateful for the meals, the sleeping space and the emotional support they have received from Silva.
“A lot of things happen to you on the road. You get extorted, robbed, kidnapped, abused physically and verbally. You feel frustrated and you tend to forget about God,” said Venezuelan migrant Yovani Leon. “Then you get to the shelter where people help you and talk about God, you open your mind again.”
Leon left Venezuela after government sympathizers threatened him for campaigning on behalf of an opposition party. He decided to leave else the official party’s goons decided to go after his family, too.
Leon said he slept on the streets and endured crime in nearby Matamoros, Mexico, before he heard how an evangelical pastor in Reynosa was trying to make things better for migrants. He arrived at Senda de Vida a few weeks ago, and he left on Thursday after being summoned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to a screening interview for asylum at a port of entry.
“I am very grateful to those who helped me. I don’t know how things might have gone without them,” he said.