By Rev. Sherry Brady
No matter what side of the immigration debate you’re on, no one wants to see a child suffering or in need. That’s what hit me between the eyes when I saw Mayor Garino of Nogales, AZ on the news. He was talking about how Border Patrol had brought over 900 unaccompanied immigrant minors to Nogales that were being held in a local warehouse. He went on to explain more children would continue to come. That night I could not sleep after seeing a reporter on the Texas side of the Rio Grande hold up clothes and a child’s floating jacket that were left behind by these children. I just kept imagining how desperate a parent must be to send their children off across countries and deserts.
Monday morning I received an e-mail from our retiring South District Superintendent, Karen Vannoy and our incoming District Superintendent, Dottie Escobedo-Frank saying they had been in contact with authorities in Nogales. Personal hygiene products, underwear and clothes were needed. We quickly packed the 345 pairs of socks that we had collected for the Desert Southwest Annual Conference mission project.
I immediately called our Deaconess, Barbara Haralson, and asked her what we were going to about this. She had already received a phone call from her sister in Mesa, AZ and an e-mail from the Superintendents. I had Thursday off so I asked her if she wanted to get things together and go with me to Nogales City Hall where items were being collected. She said yes and we immediately began our work.
Barbara sent out pleas for the needed items through her humongous e-mail list. I started making personal visits to pastors, churches, and other ministries. I contacted the leaders of the Catholic youth to see if they would like to join us to pack the items. We were overwhelmed with the donations (monetary as well as other) from inside and outside the community. Angel’s Closet donated 4-6 bags of clean clothes and Barbara’s sister brought a box full of toothpaste and toothbrushes from her dentist in Chandler along with a check for supplies. Checks were received from as far away as Louisiana and California.
We had 8 youth and 7 adults from various churches making health kits, sorting and packing clothes by size, organizing other donated items like diapers, hair bows, baby wash, and a few fun things like bubbles. On Thursday, we loaded up my pickup and a trailer from Bill and Ruth Johnston and headed for Nogales, picking up Marjie Hrabe in Tucson on the way.
When we arrived at Nogales City Hall, we were greeted by Mayor Arturo Garino and his wife, Cathy. They were amazed that our church would come that far to deliver items to their city. As I moved the pickup and trailer to the front of City Hall, Mayor Garino called city employees to help us unload. He was very thankful that we had taken the time to sort the clothes by sex and size. That was such a time saver for them. The clothes were going to be distributed to the children along with donated items from their own community.
Mayor Garino and his wife invited Barbara, Marjie, and I to his office where he gave us a briefing of what had happened over the weekend.
Mayor Garino was given a 48-hour notice by the Border Patrol that all the children were going to be arriving. He and Cathy personally went around Nogales gathering up needed supplies from local churches, etc. Shortly after, he sent out a notice saying they weren’t accepting any other donations because of the abundance of the initial giving efforts. For example, some of the children hadn’t taken a shower in a week because at first there were only a few showers available, but that week FEMA brought in a semi-load of showers, washers, and dryers. A caterer was now the premise full-time serving the children three meals a day with snacks always available.
The Mayor continued to share that Border Patrol was not wearing weapons around the children to avoid causing fear in them. Most of the children were coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. They were escaping political persecution, and drug cartels. Some children came with information about a friend or a relative in the U.S. and they were contacted. All the children arriving are being processed, checked out by a doctor, and inoculated.
According to Mayor Garino, the children cannot be deported because they are minors and will be taken to Air Force or Army bases in CA, OK, and TX. He warned that this was going to be a process that will take several months. He personally is going to meet with the consulates of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to see what is going on down there that would cause parents to send this influx of children.
After this personal briefing by Mayor Garino and his wife, we had a delightful lunch with them. We asked what we, as Methodists, could do for these children. Mayor Garino replied that we needed to tell our church people to hold off on donations right now. He would let us know when more things could be given.
Mayor Garino, his wife Cathy, and his staff in City Hall were so welcoming and hospitable and we were so glad that we didn’t miss this opportunity to bring the body of Christ together to help those in need, or as Christ says, “the least of these my brethren.”