Sister Maria Guadalupe Malvais, MGSpS

Immigrants Are Not Criminals

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

It has been a gift and a beautiful experience to be able to travel to the border with the Giving Voice sisters, Julia Walsh, Tracy Kemme, and Priscilla Torres, among other sisters who accompanied us to participate in the March for Immigrant Justice organized by SOA Watch. It is important for each of us to work for justice for immigrants. Here I want to echo the words Benedict XVI spoke some years ago:

“Those with greater political, technical, or economic power may not use that power to violate the rights of others who are less fortunate. Peace is based on respect for the rights of all. Conscious of this, the Church champions the fundamental rights of each person.”[1]  

As both an immigrant and a religious woman, traveling to the border of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico, meant feeling myself a daughter of God and a sister to my brothers and sisters in need, in addition to being able to answer the call of solidarity the situation cries out for. It was the ability to join our voices as the Giving Voice Organization into one voice with our brothers and sisters who call for justice and hope for immigration reform that favors uniting families instead of separating them.

During the Vigil outside the Eloy Detention Center, I could feel the grief that overwhelms the families at having their loved ones in prison. I was touched to my soul at seeing the people detained in that center wave their curtains when we shouted “YOU ARE NOT ALONE, WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOU,” from outside. I imagined what it must feel like to see one of my loved ones there locked up, and I could feel with these families the powerlessness, the pain, and the frustration, but also the hope for a better future.

It is painful for immigrants to be treated as criminals, locked up in a prison just for wanting to seek a better future for themselves and their families. Violence or the economic situations in our home countries often force us to emigrate, as in my case. No one leaves their family and their homeland by choice; they know they could die in the attempt. This tugs at my heartstrings because my brother Mario, one of my younger brothers, almost died in the desert when a “coyote,” the person who was guiding him, abandoned him halfway through the desert because he twisted his foot and couldn’t walk anymore. He said to him “wait for me here, I‘m going to look for help,” and he never came back. Because of this and because of the heat, my brother began to walk as well as he could, and found a puddle of dirty water, which he drank from because he was dying of thirst. My brother tells of how he came across immigration officers, but they didn’t stop to help or detain him… With his foot swollen and painful, he reached a town, where a good Samaritan gave him a hand and lent him her phone so he could call his family. At home, we prayed that my brother would be all right. Thanks to God, my brother recovered well and got his American citizenship a few years ago, but I am sure he will never forget what he went through in the desert.

When immigrants arrive at the United States border, the words of Jesus, “for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…,” (Matthew 25:35) appear to be forgotten. Some private institutions profit from keeping these people as prisoners. In the words of Pope Francis “We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – 'suffering with' others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!”[1]

A Glimmer of Hope

I am very happy that now that I am a citizen of this country, I can help my immigrant brothers and sisters by “Giving Voice”, and that together with the Church we are able to shout with one voice… “NO HUMAN BEING IS ILLEGAL.”

I would like to thank Giving Voice, because it was here that the idea to have this experience arose. I would also like to thank the Guadalupe Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit, who supported me in attending this protest in favor of immigrants.

Sister Maria Guadalupe Malvais, MGSpS

[1] Pope Francis – Mass with the immigrants in Lampedusa; July 8, 2013.

[1] Benedict XVI – Message for the celebration of the XI World Day of Peace; January 1, 2007, 4.