Yuma to Phoenix

05-19-2019Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

I recently attended a Board Meeting where many of the members are from Mid-west and far northern states and they asked me about the immigration situation on the ground in the southwest. From their perches they don't hear much except the usual political wrangling about immigration. So, I told them this:

When the Dept. of Homeland Security announces that there were 100,000 people who crossed into the country in March and that most of them turned themselves in to Border Patrol and requested asylum, no one ever asks where exactly are these people? For most people they are just numbers unless you live in places like Yuma or Nogales, Arizona or McCallum or El Paso, Texas or across from Tijuana. The Border Patrol, by court order, can hold adults with children for no more than 20days, process them and give them a date to appear before an Asylum Judge, sometime years in the future. And then they are free to go anywhere in the US. DHS does not have the structure, funds or mandate to provide housing, medical care, and transportation for these people. So as a result, they are released into the local communities and the local communities are overwhelmed trying to assist them. Recently the Mayor of Yuma declared a State of Emergency in his city. The social services, the homeless shelters, food kitchens are completely overwhelmed in Yuma, which is seeing over 300 people a day cross the border.

To offset the influx in places like Yuma, DHS has been taking asylum seekers to places like Tucson and Phoenix for release. DHS and the Governor's Office have been contacting area religious groups and asking them to provide assistance to the migrants: clothing, hygiene products, baby diapers and formula and mostly bus tickets to get to their destination inside the US. So, for instance, DHS will release 300 one day, 500 the next day, 700 the following day at the Greyhound Bus terminal. This has been going on for quite a while until Greyhound asked DHS to stop using their terminal as a release location as it was overwhelming their ability to provide transportation and restroom facilities for such large numbers.

Along the border itself, the groups that provide temporary shelter, food and clothing such as Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services along with St. Vincent de Paul are consistently overwhelmed and outstripped of their resources. Many of these centers receive daily bomb threats and their workers receive death threats. It is important to note that Christians and others who are responding to human needs in their communities did not create this situation.

On the Highway that goes from Mexico to Phoenix, law enforcement frequently finds dead bodies, parts of bodies: heads, hands, feet that have been strewn there by the Mexican Drug Cartels. (This is in addition to all the bodies of people who die trying to cross the Border.) The Cartels use Phoenix as their US headquarters, and not only do they control the flow of drugs into the US, which are in ample supply in Phoenix, but also the flow of immigrants. No one crosses the border without having to pay the Cartels. Human trafficking, child abduction and the slave and sex trade are a thriving business for the Cartels. Mexico can't really control the flow of migrants to the US as the Cartels have either bribed or threaten the lives of the families of local Mexican officials and law enforcement. In addition, the smugglers are using children to gain access to the US by telling adults that if they cross with a child, they are guaranteed admittance. So, they are paying parents from Central America for the use of their children to abet human trafficking. Once over the Border and admitted on an Asylum claim the children are taken back across the border to be used again, sometimes three or four times.

So, I told my friends who live in places not on the southwest border, all of us Americans are complicit with human trafficking, child smuggling including having children and young women being sold into the sex trade and others being sold into the human slave market. Not to mention that as long as we continue to allow this, we are enriching the Cartels which allows them to continue their murderous reign in Mexico and fueling addiction in the US.

No one expects this situation to change anytime soon. The issue of illegal immigration provides too much fuel for our politicians. Our elected federal officials have learned to score points by kicking this political football back and forth. Somehow, they miss that real human beings, on both sides of the Border, are affected by a lack of an orderly humane immigration system. In the meantime, the people in AZ and Texas will get diapers, formula and bus tickets and continue to respond to the human needs right in front of us. We'd appreciate some help.

Fr. John B.

If you would like to help, contact

  • International Rescue Committee's and St. Vincent de Paul's Temporary Day Relief Center: 602.850.6942
  • Restoration Project: 480.442.9634
  • Love United Church: 480.430.2897
  • Catholic Community Services in Yuma: 928.580.4968

Volunteers and Donations needed: Backpacks, baby supplies, financial support, hygiene supplies, underwear and socks and MORE!