There are currently more than 400,000 migrants in Mexico and another 12,000 have passed through Coatzacoalcos in the past year. The role the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ play is small but very important. These migrants are being forced to end their journey because of major illness, violence, rape, kidnapping, even a loss of limbs as they fall from trains. We thank God and our benefactors for our two shelters, Casa Catalina and the Posada de Belen, to respond to these traveling brothers and sisters in need.
The majority fleeing from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are running from violence and extreme poverty. Recently a single mother at Casa Catalina described her life in Honduras. She sold small cook tanks for $7 per week. One of the most vicious gangs came and demanded she pay them half each week. She protested; she just did not have that money to spare. The gang’s leader, with his gaze fixed on her 14-year-old daughter said, “Perhaps we will find another way.” They left that night to protect the child.
For six years now Casa Catalina has been a place of refuge for homeless women, the sick and dying poor, and people with AIDS that have been abandoned. In the past 18 months, Casa Catalina has housed migrants needing a place to recuperate once discharged from the local hospital. One young man had his 19th birthday. He had little hope of ever leaving his bed again after a serious head injury. Thanks to a caring nursing staff and intense physical therapy he left, walking and determined to try immigrating out of the country again.
For 25 years LaPosada de Belen has sheltered families with ill family members in the city hospital. For a year, Belen has housed migrant families, usually about six families per month. Some families have stayed as long as three months awaiting a family member's discharge. One man, 42 years old, was released from the hospital after two months of care. He had lost both his left arm and left leg after falling from a train. His son and brother-in-law were staying at Belen and he wished to join them. Our hearts stopped on day three of his stay, as his son and brother-in-law left with him to continue North.
Just off the train, migrants come to the door of the Poor Handmaids for food and clothing. Together with the diocese, Casa Catalina, and Belen, have collaborated with Doctors without Borders to set up an office in Coatzacoalcos. About 100 Catholic church shelters exist in Mexico and our diocese has just completed a shelter to house another 90 people.
The detention area near Coatzacoalcos is limited and most of the migrants lack resources. One mother and her 8-year-old arrived after being held in detention for 45 days. The daughter was celebrating her 8th birthday that day and was so excited for freedom and space. She exclaimed, that she could not have asked for a better gift.
The Mexican government, with the support of the United Nations, offers each migrant apprehended two choices: either spend one year in Veracruz to establish oneself or be deported. Most opt to return to Central America, eager for their chance to try again.