Exploring immigrant experiences and identities through a trip to the borderlands, by Mary Louise Pabello

By Mary Louis Pabello

I have known the struggle of migrants all my life, being myself an immigrant to the US. But after the border trip with Loretto’s Latin America and Caribbean Committee, I find myself asking, “do I really?” Like the young woman I met at Casa Nazareth, my mother crossed countries while three months pregnant, and with two young daughters in tow. Unlike the young woman, however, my mother wasn’t fleeing violence in her home country. My mother wasn’t made to cross miles of desert on foot. My mother had a husband waiting to receive her. This young woman’s husband was in an unidentified detention center. She was alone. No family other than the life she carried, her yet-unborn child who might grow up never knowing their father. 

I saw my father in the men at El Comedor. My father, who took a risk and left behind the only home he’d known, with only the hope that there would be something better on the other side. The one thing setting my father apart from these men? An employment visa issued by the United States government, on the promise of guaranteed work writing computer code for a Canada-based company with an office in St. Louis, Missouri. A skill deemed “useful” according to the State Department’s visa bulletin, vis-á-vis the evolving tech industry. That one piece of paper opened doors for my family, a “path” to naturalization denied to so many others. 

This personal agitation of being “immigrant enough” has come to the forefront during my year as a Loretto Volunteer. A decision to confront that feeling was made intentionally by myself and by my supervisor, Sara, with the purpose being to push my understanding of migration issues and uplift my own story. For example, Sara asked me and two other young women who are the children of immigrant parents testify before the Missouri House Judiciary Committee against SB 34, a bill that sought to create the crime of illegal re-entry for Missouri. Illegal re-entry is already addressed in federal immigration law, so the bill is totally unnecessary and ultimately didn't pass. But testifying on that issue affirmed my own beliefs and experiences. 

Emigrating with papers and becoming naturalized citizens are privileges that are not accessible to every migrant. Those privileges do not invalidate or lessen my migrant experience. If anything, my privilege should (and does) motivate me to do right by the thousands of others who are more impacted by the broken immigration system than I am. 

I will never know the feeling of fleeing violent unrest caused by an unstable government. I will never know the feeling of crossing miles of desert, wondering when or if I will find clean, drinkable water. I will never know the risk of being found and detained by Customs and Border Patrol. I will never face abuse by their hand. I will never know the hurt of families kept separate by inadequate and outdated migration policies. I will never know a life where my parents couldn’t raise me. 

But I have borne witness to those who do know that pain and suffering all too well. Their stories, courage, and perseverance are what continue to motivate me in this work of justice. I hold their hurt along with mine, and together we will march forward. “Hold on just a little while longer; everything’s gonna be alright”.