In 2018, Friar Juan Zuniga Lopez was completing theological studies in San Antonio, Texas, when he met Fr. Phil Ley and was introduced to Posada Guadalupe. Friar Juan shares his experiences in this 3-part series.
Posada Guadalupe is a shelter that primarily hosts young men emigrating from Central America and Mexico. The shelter’s mission is inspired by Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me into your house.” Friar Phil Ley is the director.
Friar Phil invited me to visit and to learn more about Posada Guadalupe. He told me he had lived in Central America for many years as a missionary, which helped prepare him for this ministry. It was a blessing because he can understand the reasons why many people emigrate to this country.
The main reason these young people come to the U.S. is to seek refuge.
Due to the high rate of organized crime in their home countries, they are vulnerable to drug cartels. They are forced to belong to these groups; if they refuse to join, they run the risk of being killed. Their best option is to escape.
Another reason is poverty.
Many young people do not have the privilege of studying, but must work to help their families financially. Another reality is a lack of employment, and jobs that exist are heavily demanding, with many hours of work for little pay.
The issues they must face once they leave their countries are many.
They need to walk long distances. They do not have enough money to pay for transportation or food, so they ask for help wherever they pass. It is even more difficult for those who must cross multiple countries.
For example, those who come from Nicaragua must cross Honduras or El Salvador, then
Guatemala and Mexico until they reach the border with the U.S. They are vulnerable to drug cartels – they could be kidnapped, forcing their families who live in this country to pay for their rescue. If they do not have family who can pay, they are forced to work for the cartels.
When they reach the US-Mexico border, those who are from eligible countries can request political asylum. They must wait until they receive an answer of acceptance and sometimes the process is extended.
Another option is to cross the border illegally with a coyote’s help, as most people do (coyote is the slang term for someone who smuggles people across the border). This option is dangerous; some walk long distances, and many die due to the shortage of food and water, along with bad weather. Coyotes hide and jam people in trucks, which causes many deaths due to lack of oxygen from remaining in the tractor-trailer for long periods of time.
Each of these young men has his own experience of the difficult journey to the U.S.
What they don’t realize are the difficulties they face when they arrive in this country as undocumented. First, because of the language, but also because without documents it is difficult to find work. Also, the jobs here are very different from those in their home countries.
In part two, Friar Juan talks more about the work that takes place at Posada Guadalupe and how he discerned what he could do to help.