Detained But Loved:

A social justice project to help North American children reach out 
to Central American refugee children in detention centers


Developed and written by Anne E. Neuberger 
in collaboration with Gabriela Romeri.

You are welcome to use this program free of 

charge but please credit Ms. Neuberger on 

any copies. Questions? Contact 

Anne through: www.anneneuberger.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/World-of-Stories-for-Children/582385385138568

 
This  project's focus on  unaccompanied migrating children who are caught at the border between Mexico and the United States, and then detained in centers in El Paso, Texas. Students in grades K-12 and adults will gain an understanding of social justice issues and how injustice can affect people’s lives, and receive concrete ways to work for justice.  It is designed to be used in parishes, classrooms and homes. 


TABLE OF CONTENTS:

For adults and older students (grades 7-12, possibly grades 5-6) 
  1. An introduction to the topic 
  2. Discussion and research information 
For students in grades K-6

    3. Introduction for children grades K-6
    4. A story for children grades K-3 
    5. A story for children grades 4-6 

Taking Action: Project information and suggestions for adults and students of all grades
  • Who
  • Why
  • What
  • Where

   





For adults and older students (grades 7-12, possibly grades 5-6)

1) Introduction to the topic

Many unaccompanied children, particularly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, leave home, traveling for months under dangerous conditions. They do so in hopes of emigrating to the United States and a better life. But children found alone on the border between the United States and Mexico are often caught and placed in one of some 75 detention centers along the border. Those who cross through the desert outside of El Paso, Texas, may be brought to just such a center. The number of migrating, unaccompanied children has increased so quickly that a fifth detention center for children has just been built in El Paso. 

Norma and Rolando Lujan, parishioners at St. Pius X Church in El Paso, realized that undocumented children were being detained in their city. With the support of the pastor, Monsignor Arturo Bañuelas, they began the Rico Ministry for Detained Children. In keeping with Scriptures which instruct us to welcome the stranger, those in Rico Ministry provide family-type fun at the parish, age appropriate discussion groups, art projects and some religious education for groups of detained children who are bussed to the church twice a week. 

2) Discussion and research information 


Discuss these facts: 

            In 2011, 6,854 children were detained in the United States. 

            In 2012, the official number was a total of 13,625. This was more than double for 2011, and far exceeding the 8,200 that was  projected 

            In 2013, the U.S. detained 24,668 youth. 

            The official number for 2014 are not yet established but estimates are between 60,000 and 66,000 children were in detention; the average stay was 35 days.  

Activity for students: 
            Create a graph to better show these statistics. 
            Do some math to further your information: 

                    How many more children were detained in 2012 than in 2011? ________ 
                    How many more in 2013 than 2012? ________ 

Links to an article on the work of Norma Lujan and others in El Paso:

English: http://maryknollmagazine.org/index.php/magazines/400-detaining-gods-children

 

Spanish: http://www.revistamaryknoll.org/index.php/revistas/404-los-ninos-del-desierto


Further discussion material:

A fifth detention center as opened in El Paso in 2014. The four other detention centers were at capacity in 2014:

Canutillo had 90 children
Franklin 45
Clint 65
Lutheran 46 

Why do so many children leave their homelands without adults in hopes of living in the United States? 

  • Some are leaving terrible situations.
  • Violence is on the rise in their countries. 
  • Some people are very rich, many others are extremely poor; and the number of poor people is getting greater. 
  • Problems in their governments cause life for poor people to be even harder. 

And: 
Some children hope to find the family members working in the United States. 

What happens along the way? 

  • It can take children several months to travel from their countries, through Mexico, to the border between Mexico and the United States. 
  • Some travel on foot, by bus, or on top of trains. This is particularly dangerous as they must jump up and down to catch rides, sometimes breaking their legs or ankles. 
  • Some make that trip alone, or when possible, may travel with a family member, such as a cousin or aunt, or a friend. 
  • Those with family who can afford it travel at least part way with “coyotes.” 
  • These "coyotes" are adults paid to help the child travel. Some are paid for that final part of crossing into the US. 
  • Coyotes are often human traffickers. Many times children are violated and abused in a variety of ways (e.g. not giving the children enough food). 
  •  Coyotes may force children to carry drugs across the border. If it looks as if they might get caught by border patrol, the coyote will often leave them and run, leaving children stranded in the middle of the desert, in locked vans, etc. 
  • Children caught at the borders are picked up by customs & border patrol (CBP); It has been documented that the CBP have denied children water more often than adults are denied, have withheld food from children, and have been verbally abusive. However, as abusive as CBP can be, if the children are left to wander alone in the desert, they might die. 


Then what? 

  • The children are brought to a detention center. 
  • Children are separated according to age when they are detained. Siblings, cousins, etc. are not necessarily allowed to stay together. 
  • Lawyers are working to streamline the paperwork for these children so they will not be detained longer than 2 to 3 months before leaving.  

What happens to them after that?

  • If the children are orphans, they are allowed to stay in the United States, in foster care. That is about 40% of detained children. 
  • Those who have family in their country are sent back. If they have family members in the United States, but those family members are not US citizens or residents, or they simply don't qualify for other reasons, then the children must go back to their country. 
  • About 60% of the children who make it into the United States are sent back. 


For additional information, see: 
http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/upload/Mission-To-Central-America-FINAL-2.pdf
 




For students in grades K-6


3) Introduction for children grades K-6: 


Many children from Central and South America, especially Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, try to come to the United States to live. Why? 

When parents are very poor, some go for work in the United States to make more money. If they can make enough money, they send for their children. Other children leave home because it has become very dangerous there, adults cannot keep children safe, or the children’s parents died. So the children come without adults. 

It is often a long and dangerous trip to get to the border between Mexico and United States. 

Many don’t have the important papers that allow them to come into the United States. At the border, they are taken to a detention center to stay. It is there that decisions must be made about where they will be allowed to go next. 

Scriptures say we should welcome and help newcomers. In El Paso, Texas, there are caring people at Saint Pius Church who do just that for children kept at the border. 


4) A story for children in grades K-3: 

Vicente knew Stefano felt scared. He did too. Everything seemed scary right now. 

It was almost as scary as the long, long walk they had taken after they left their home. A few days ago, when they got to the border between Mexico and the United States, a guard saw them. He took them to live in a detention center. 

But tonight, they had gone to a church with other children who also lived at the detention center. Walking inside, Vicente held on tightly to Stefano. 

A woman said warmly, “Welcome, Vicente and Stefano! We’re so glad you’re here today! My name is Norma.” Vicente liked her smile. 

Norma brought them to a cheerful room with children’s art on the walls. Stefano, who loved to draw, whispered. “Look!” There was a table covered in art supplies. Vicente pointed to another table. “Sandwiches!” he whispered back. 

Other women came. Vicente thought they all seemed like mothers. The priest arrived too. Everyone sat in a circle on the floor. Norma led them in songs. She told the story about God helping Moses in the desert. Then she held up a book, saying, “Here’s a story about a man named Saint Vincent de Paul. Does anyone know about him?” 

That was Vicente’s patron saint! Shyly, Vicente spoke up, “He helped many people.” 

It was a great story. Then they prayed and sang again. 

But now it was time for sandwiches! Stefano began painting. Everyone talked and laughed. Vicente grinned at Norma and she smiled back. 

Soon it was time to go back to the center to go to sleep. Norma came over to him. “It will soon be getting colder. Here is a coat for you. I have one that should fit Stefano, too. I hope to see you next week!” 

Stefano came running to Vicente, clutching his colorful painting. Norma helped him try on a blue jacket. Vicente watched his little brother grinning as Norma zipped the jacket for him. 

He didn’t know if he and Stefano would be sent back to Honduras, or if their father could come to them. But right now, he knew that God loved him and he didn’t feel quite so scared. 


5) A story for children grades 4-6 

Vicente saw the fear in his little brother’s eyes. Stefano clung to Vicente’s hand. Vicente acted brave for his brother, but he was nervous too. 

It was not as frightening as the walk they had taken after they left their home. That had taken months. What kept them going was the hope of eventually finding their father who was in the United States. 

Just a few days ago they finally arrived at the border between Mexico and the United States. They weren’t certain how they could cross. Soon a guard saw them. He took them to live in a detention center on the United States side. 

Tonight, they had gone to a church with other children who also lived at the detention center. The others were enthusiastic about going. Walking inside, Stefano’s clutched Vicente’s hand even tighter. 

A woman said warmly, “Welcome, Vicente and Stefano! We’re so glad you’re here today! My name is Norma.” Vicente relaxed a little. He liked her smile. 

Norma brought them to a cheerful room with children’s art on the walls. Stefano, who loved to draw, whispered. “Look!” There was a table covered in art supplies. Vicente pointed to another table. “Sandwiches!” he whispered back. 

Other women came. Vicente thought they all seemed like mothers. The priest arrived too. Everyone sat in a circle on the floor. Norma led them in songs. She told the story about God helping Moses in the desert. Then she held up a book, saying, “Here’s a story about a man named Saint Vincent de Paul. Does anyone know about him?” 

That was Vicente’s patron saint! Shyly, Vicente spoke up, “He helped many people.” 

After Norma read the story so familiar to Vicente, they prayed and sang again. 

Next, Norma asked the children to share something about their experiences before they arrived. Everybody listened respectfully as each person spoke: 

“I walked miles and miles, day after day,” a boy said. “My shoes were wearing out.” 

“My older brother helped me, starting in Guatemala and through all of Mexico. But at the border, guards stopped us. They weren’t at all nice. My brother was sent to a different detention center because he’s older than me. I miss him,” said a girl. 

“My cousin and I were so tired from walking, we tried to get on a train—that’s very dangerous! He broke his leg.” 

“My grandfather worked hard so he could pay a man to take me to my mother. But that man was really mean, and didn’t give me enough food. At the border, he left me in the dark, all by myself.” 

“Because my legs don’t work well, my brother carried me on his back for days and days.” 

“I brought my little sisters, trying to get to where our parents are. At the border, I didn’t know what to do! We hid in the desert for two days until a guard found us. The little ones were so thirsty—I was really afraid. Now they are ok but I don’t know if we will find my parents.” 

Vicente nodded. He knew how they felt. It helped, a little, to talk about this. 

Then it was time for sandwiches! Everyone talked and laughed and ate. Stefano began painting. Vicente could see his little brother relax as he spread yellow paint across the paper. 

Soon it was time to go back to the center to go to sleep. Norma came over to him. “It will soon be getting colder. Here is a coat for you. I have one that should fit Stefano, too. I hope to see you next week!” 

Stefano came running to Vicente, clutching his colorful painting. Norma helped him try on a blue jacket. Vicente watched his little brother grinning as Norma zipped the jacket for him. 

He didn’t know if they would still be here next week. He didn’t know if he and Stefano would be sent back to Honduras, or if their father could come to them. But right now, he knew that God loved him and he didn’t feel quite so scared. 



Taking Action: Project information and suggestions for adults and students of all grades

    Who: 

  • RICO Ministry, the program Saint Pius Church created for detained children, helps nearly 300 children, ages 3-17, weekly. The parish pays for all the expenses        accrued, which has already included a coat for each child, holiday meals, books, healthy snacks, art supplies etc. 
  • You: this project is designed to be used by people ages 5-adult; it can be used as a Lenten or ongoing project in parishes, in schools, individual classrooms, religious education classes, by youth groups, and by families.  

    Why:
  • Children as well as adults are needed to do God’s work. 
  • All Catholics, including children, are called to mission. 
  • The children who are detained need help as does the parish ministering to them. 
  • Participants will be learning how to act upon Scriptures (e.g Leviticus 19:33-34, Matthew 25-35.) 
     Students in particular:
  • Can learn skills such as how to organize, delegate and follow up on tasks. 
  • Use math and social skills in fundraising. 
  • Will find that fundraising can be creative learning experience; children can imagine different ways to do this, assess what they will need, and learn if their ideas are feasible, etc. 

 

   What:

    Your group can: 

1) Address the underlying cause: 

§  · Students and/or families can write letters and draw pictures to send to the children (see address below). 

  • · Host a letter writing party: provide guests with paper, envelopes, stamps and addresses to contact their state and federal representatives expressing concern about the detained children and their futures. 
  • · Write letters to local newspapers to inform others of this situation. 
  • · Put information on your Face Book page. 
  • · As a family or class, lead an adult education forum on this issue in your parish. 
  • · Plan a prayer vigil at your church. 
  • · Ask that this issue be included in the Prayers of the Faithful. 

2) Provide support: 

Norma Lujan provided a list of items used by the children in their twice weekly gatherings. The parish would welcome contributions of: 
   

 For art projects: 

  •  Colored markers made for children 
  •  Crayons 
  •  Colored construction paper 
  •  Small colored beads to making bracelet and necklaces 
  •  Permanent markers to label things, black or red 
  •  Craft sticks of varying sizes (Popsicle sticks or larger) 

To give as prizes and birthday gifts: 

  •  Stuffed animals 
  •  Games 

Part of religious education: 

  • Have an ongoing fundraiser to continually send the following:
  •  Rosaries (Norma writes the children really like rosaries.) 
  •  Bibles (they are always in need of these, Spanish versions, particularly Biblia Catolica para Jovenes )          

Education: 

  • Children’s books in Spanish 

Money towards other expenses: 

  • Food (On Tuesdays and Thursday, children’s groups are offered bread, cakes, cookies , juice , fruit, pizza, cheese, beans, popcorn, pancakes , hot sauce , chocolate, toast , burritos, hot dogs etc; On Sundays, sodas, juices, candy, cakes , pizza, popcorn. )
  • Gas (The parish provides transportation to the various centers on Sundays.) 
  • Replacing television sets (the classrooms had tv sets for children to watch movies; recently the parish was robbed of these sets) 

 

    Where

        All donations will be gratefully received by the RICO Ministry. 

        Please make checks payable to St. Puis X, attention Norma y Rolando Lujan, Rico Ministry.

         All contributions can be sent to: 

            Norma y Rolando Lujan, RICO Ministry 
            c/o St Pius X Catholic Church
            1050 N Clark
            El Paso, TX 79905-2002