Work, pray, love…in Ciudad Juárez By Megan Cullip

This week’s guest posting is from Megan Cullip. A chaplain and mental health professional, she wrote this reflection on her time spent at Vision en Accion, the shelter for homeless, mentally disabled people in Juárez, Mexico.

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In 2008, when I was in my junior year of college, I saw a YouTube video about El Pastor, a man in Juárez, Mexico who had built an asylum in the Chihuahuan desert for those who are drug addicted, mentally ill, or developmentally disabled. I had a lump in my throat within three minutes of the video. I always had both an intellectual fascination and a tender-heartedness toward people with atypical brains. El Pastor, in the video, said that people referred to the residents at the asylum as: “human trash.” But what I saw, when I went there, was far from a dump.

Fast-forward about six years, the mental asylum in Juárez had been cemented in the back of my mind for some time. I had a deeply passionate compulsion to go.

I work in a state psychiatric hospital in the United States. We serve a wide variety of individuals with a spectrum of mental health issues: schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression, substance abuse, personality disorders. Because we are a state institution, we receive ample government funding. We are a multi-million dollar facility with about 1,200 staff members and, on average, 420 patients. We have professionals with lots of education and specialized experience. We have access to enough meds for everyone to receive whatever dose the doctor deems necessary, daily.

But we have codes daily. We have much conflict, patients fighting patients, patients fighting staff, patients harming themselves. We consider emergency restraints, where a patient has to be restrained in a chair or bed, “a treatment fail.” And it is.
Our patients are scheduled to attend groups throughout the day: psycho-education, medication management, spirituality group, individual counseling, music therapy etc.
But the patients rarely work with their hands, though some do get the opportunity to work in the greenhouse or the copy center.

Vision in Action has done something incredible without having millions of dollars to spend, nor teams of specialized professionals. I remember walking into the kitchen at the asylum. I was immediately handed a spicy dish of pork smothered in sauce and a plate of cheese quesadillas. Every morning, afternoon, and evening, the ladies and gentlemen who worked in the kitchen would offer me food-refried bean burritos with avocado slices, bottles of soda. They delivered their hospitality and quality cooking with broad smiles. They make 360 meals a day, and they don’t work in shifts.

During the day, people are working. They are cleaning, cooking, building, helping other low functioning patients perform their daily living tasks. When I was there, a new patient named Monica was dropped off from the local hospital. The other patients were at the gate waiting to receive her. She was placed in a cell for observation. She was despondent, when I asked her how she was. Monica appeared the same way many of our patients do upon their arrival at the hospital. But, as I looked around at the other patients at Vision in Action, I saw Monica’s potential. Monica would not meet with a treatment team. She would not be scheduled for groups. But I would not be surprised if, as I write this, she is putting her hand to cleaning, or laundry, or any of the other options. I wouldn’t be surprised if another patient is making friends with her and helping her adjust to this strange place of dignity and hospitality in the desert.

I had the privilege to speak at length with the medical doctor who works hard (for free) to try and give the patients the best quality of life possible. He showed me the supply of Haldol and Klonopin and other psychotropic medications that he locks in a tiny room in the asylum, out of reach from patients. If I were to take my own personal medicine cabinet, stuff it with psychotropic meds, and multiply it by three, that would be the maximum amount of medication that I found at the asylum. It was clearly not enough for 120 people, and definitely not enough for a consistent daily medication routine. The doctor told me that sometimes he has to cut one Haldol pill in half to serve two patients. It’s not enough. It’s inconsistent.

There is not a doubt in my mind that medication is helpful. And Vision in Action lacks the appropriate amount.

But there is also no question about the “success” (if you can ever talk about success when you talk about people) of this asylum. I did not see misery there. I saw sickness and poverty, yes. But I saw joy and community. I saw faith. I saw people who poured themselves out for others. I saw an energetic man in black slacks and a black blazer, named El Pastor. I saw him share the story and fundraise and care for his people, everyday crossing the border, praying to Jesus. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, when he marched to Montgomery during the civil rights movement, said: “I felt my feet were praying.” This is what I saw El Pastor, and all of those who help Vision and Action, doing.

Throughout the week I met many people involved in many different things: art dealers, curious givers, and a man with a landscaping business building an irrigation system for the asylum on his own dime. These people came and went, like the wind passing through from different directions. My last afternoon at the asylum, a pastor from Oklahoma came to pick up blankets. The asylum had extra blankets that they wanted to donate. The pastor from Oklahoma was going to take these blankets to natives on a reservation, who lived in caves. The poor were donating to the poor.

At Vision in Action, I saw a lot of my own values at work: faith, community, hard work, preserving human dignity. Many of my coworkers at the hospital feel similarly as I do about patient care and best practices. But the system is very overwhelming, with a lot of red tape and the like. It is frustrating. Change comes slowly. In many ways, it seems, we are slaves to liability. We are under fear of litigation or scrutiny from authorities. It is hard and almost unfair to compare a large state psychiatric hospital in America with a small faith-based asylum in the deserts of Mexico. My hope for state psychiatric hospitals in the US is that they would look a little more like Vision in Action. I hope that patients are allowed to use their hands, to do good work. I hope that everyone treats each other with dignity, treating people as whole people and not diagnoses’ on a page. I hope that programming and schedules would be seen as one of many tools and not a prescription that will magically heal every brain and heart. I hope that staff, at the end of the day, will be able to utter: “I felt my feet were praying.”

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Megan Cullip works as a chaplain at a state psychiatric institution in the United States. She can be reached at megancullip@gmail.com

Southside Presbyterian Revives Sanctuary Movement…Daily Beast

What is most interesting in this article is the clear description of how quality legal representation makes such a difference in immigration cases. Unfortunately, most people in the system get little or none, or they pay many thousands of dollars to lawyers and get deported anyway because the cases are so difficult.

Also of interest is the description of detention conditions–the cold holding tanks, loud music, harassment by guards… techniques designed to make the detainees give up. -Molly

This Church Is Reviving the Sanctuary Movement to Shelter Undocumented Immigrants From Deportation

As the immigration debate gets even more politicized, one church on the Arizona border is quietly taking up a long-held tradition of offering safe haven for families facing deportation.

Daniel Neyoy Ruiz doesn’t sleep much. He lies awake on the bunk bed he shares with his wife and 13-year-old son, wondering what he will do if he’s forced to leave them. Every police siren sends his stomach into knots: Is this it? Are they coming for me?…

Project 380: Aid to Violence Related Mexican Political Asylum Seekers on Humanitarian Parole

Project 380: Aid to Violence Related Mexican Political Asylum Seekers on Humanitarian Parole

“Rita’s family and about 500 other individuals who, after staring death in the eyes,are legally present in the United States and they want to work.  They each need a minimum of $380.00 just to get the visa to allow them to work.  The 380 PROJECT was designed to assist in that specific need. All funds will go directly to the U.S. State Department for these work visa fees.”

Please consider contributing $3.80 or $38.00 or $380.00 or any amount to this project.

Project 380

Rita lived in a small town near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on the land that had been her family home for many generations. Officials in the United States and Mexico decided to put a new international bridge near Rita’s community. That meant that the price of Rita’s land was rapidly increasing in value and corrupt officials wanted Rita to leave. The cheapest way to accomplish that was through terror. And those acts of terror included killing Rita’s husband while she and her children huddled in the next room. Then, Rita happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and she witnessed a Mexican federal policeman murder a room full of people. She ran, but they hunted her. Her family – mother, brother’s family, and children – ran to the United States border with only the clothes on their backs.

After weeks of complex immigration processes, the family was granted humanitarian parole and they were admitted into the United States. They do not have official asylum, but they are legally residing here.  During the next four years, they will go through many more legal proceedings and finally an Immigration Judge will determine if their asylum will be granted, or if they will be forced to return to Mexico.

Meanwhile, the family has no financial support, and because of their status, they cannot take advantage of any U.S. entitlement programs.  A group of people who knew of their status and their financial need are providing funds to ensure that the family has a safe home and food temporarily.

Rita, her brother, and his wife want to work so they can provide for their family. However, their work visas take a long time to process, and it costs $380.00 each time they renew their work visas.  The visas are granted for random time spans – a few months up to a year.  Then, the applicants have to pay the $380.00 again and repeat the renewal process which takes 60 to 90 days.

Rita’s family and about 500 other individuals who, after staring death in the eyes, are legally present in the United States and they want to work.  They each need a minimum of $380.00 just to get the visa to allow them to work.  The 380 PROJECT was designed to assist in that specific need. All funds will go directly to the U.S. State Department for these work visa fees.

Please consider contributing $3.80 or $38.00 or $380.00 or any amount to this project. Click here to make an ONLINE DONATION.  At the drop down menu choose: 380 Project: Political Asylum

Checks can be made to Catholic Charities, c/o Deacon Tom Baca, 1280 MedPark Drive, Las Cruces, NM 88005.  For more information you may contact Crystal Massey at the law office of Carlos Spector, crystalatspector@gmail.com.

Please consider contributing $3.80 or $38.00 or $380.00 or any amount to this project.

Mexico: Family of 20 Crosses into Texas Seeking Asylum after Drug Cartel Murders

This story has been reported in El Diario for the past several days…Two
members of the family–a father and son–were murdered. The son was at his
father’s grave in the Villa Ahumada cemetery when he was shot. Others
received death threats by phone. They left the town early in the week and
have been camped out in the offices of the federal Attorney General (PGR)
in Juarez. In a dramatic move, all 20 family members have crossed into the
US to seek asylum, although the latest Diario article said that the Mexican
Attorney General was going to meet in Juarez and discuss how to provide
protection for the family.
There have also been several recent articles in EL Diario on the lack of
any police protection in many of the towns and villages in northern
Chihuahua since 2008 when many police were killed, many fled and others
were dismissed. In 2009, a gun battle took place in Villa Ahumada in which
more than 22 people were killed. Earlier, in May 2008, the Army entered
Villa Ahumada and killed many more then…
Perhaps this case will bring attention to the ongoing and almost unreported
violence in the rural towns and villages surrounding Juarez…

UPDATE:
the Porras family from Villa Ahumada are all seeking political
asylum in the US.  Several houses and businesses in and around Villa
Ahumada owned by the family have been robbed, vandalized and burned
according to an article in El Diario.