Her voice broke and her eyes misted in pain as Sister Chabela recalled the immigration raid that ravaged this very poor, remote desert community in SW New Mexico two years ago. The Otero County Sheriff's Department deputies are said to have harassed and interrogated residents, and searched homes in Chaparral, NM while searching out undocumented immigrants. Speaking alternately in Spanish and English, the sister who has ministered here for eight years, recounted the horror of families ripped apart by immigration detention, leaving children stranded without parents and the community in deep distress.
photo caption: Immigration lawyer (left) and Catholic sister (right)
Last month two positive outcomes emerged from that pain.
1) A civil-rights violations suit is settled for $100,000
"We wanted to make sure what happened in Otero in 2007 would not happen again," said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso TX. That is why fourteen plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Otero County, N.M., sheriff's deputies utilized racial profiling, unlawful stops and other civil-rights violations while targeting undocumented immigrants. The Department agreed to a settlement of $100,000 and to changes to its operational procedures, which activists said would help eliminate fears that deputies are enforcing federal immigration laws.
Last week a Catholic Church-sponsored legal aid clinic that provides immigration assistance to low-income immigrants and refugees, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, blessed their newly-opened a satellite office in Chaparral. A lawyer will staff the office two days a week, serving those she can and providing appropriate referrals to those she can't assist. This office is twinned with another satellite office also slated to operate two days per week in Anthony NM, the two offices providing a resource of assistance directly where it is most needed.
This week, a 60 mile/hour wind blew the desert sand outside, but at the Casa Maria Eugenia in Chaparral, a sprinkle of water blessing a new legal aid office symbolized that many good people working together can create an oasis in the desert.
The sandpaper of suffering became a font of new growth and hope.cross-posted on The Sirens Chronicles