- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

FALFURRIAS, Texas (AP) - For the past couple mornings, Sister Pamela Buganski has gone to the immigrant detention center in Falfurrias to pray with the women there.

She gets the feeling they’re not allowed to congregate otherwise.

There’s a deep sadness there, Buganski told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (https://bit.ly/1yRgufr). The women miss their families, but there’s also a sense of peacefulness and trust in God. And when they pray, Buganski said she hears the women say they are thankful.

“Really, this is a place where we would be praying prayers of gratitude?” she said of her reaction. “You look in the eyes of each woman, and you see the eyes of Jesus. They pray in their own words, they talk about what the scripture means to them. It’s just very profound and very deep.”

Buganski, part of the Sister of Notre Dame, moved to Falfurrias from Ohio in August to join Eddie Canales, founder of the South Texas Human Rights Center. They work with the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office to search for migrants who went missing after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Buganski is filling in a map of the water stations they manage, an effort to keep fewer migrants from dying of dehydration as they cross the county, and she’s a volunteer with Catholic Charities immigration services.

During an afternoon this fall, Canales and Buganski loaded up gallon jugs of water into his pickup and headed out to check on water stations near drop-off points near the Border Patrol checkpoint.

As she sat in the passenger seat while Canales drove south on U.S. 281, Buganski said her first couple months went by quickly. She’s learning the culture, the places and this history surrounding immigration in the area. And there’s never a shortage of things to do.

“If we don’t have enough projects, we seemingly invent one every day,” she said.

Before moving to Falfurrias, Buganski spent a year and a half in Guatemala integrating computers into a school in a poor town of about 800. She was a teacher and worked in her church’s finance department before that.

She said people leaving for the United States weren’t discussed, especially with an outsider, but it was evident in the children who were left behind.

When her sisters in Toledo started looking for new charitable endeavors, she said, they visited the Corpus Christi diocese in January to learn about helping the immigrant community.

Canales was the lone staffer when he opened the center in November 2013. A year later, he said the center is gaining name recognition. He has no plans to slow down even with another set of hands.

“With the capacity of two people, we’re doubling the work,” he said.

Land owners, law enforcement, organized crime, economic migration - all these coalesce at the border. Buganski said she understands now how complex the issue is.

“There’s something valid about everybody’s stance,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is not so much change people’s political minds but combine humanitarian work into what’s already being done.”

Canales turned left and the pair got out near a blue plastic barrel with a flag emblazoned with a cross fluttering above. Migrants used it recently, he said. Half of the gallon jugs inside are gone.

As they replaced the water, Buganski suggested putting a simple map on the barrel’s lid to help orient migrants who are dropped off there to circumvent the checkpoint.

During the trek across the hot, sandy terrain of Brooks County, that’s when the deaths occur. The recovery of migrant bodies hit an all-time high for the county in 2012 with 129 found. The death toll dropped in 2013 to 87, and the sheriff’s office has responded to the discovery of 58 migrant bodies as of October.

Illegal migration took the national spotlight last week when President Barack Obama announced his intent to expanded deferred action to include the parents of citizen children and more people who were brought to the U.S. as children. The Diocese of Corpus Christi released a statement supporting the move.

“We strongly urge and pray that the Congress and the president use this current administrative relief as a first step in enacting comprehensive immigration reform,” the statement said, “which implements legal processes and policies that are not only in the best interests of this country, but which also insure and respect the dignity of all God’s children, no matter their place of birth.”

The issue is highly divisive, but Canales and Buganski said they see it as a humanitarian cause. Canales has spent a year fielding calls from people looking for lost loved ones, people who know at best they will get a body to bury back home.

The process is frustrating, Canales said. Unless he is looking for someone who has been detained, he must rely on the trust he’s gained from smugglers to find out where they left people behind.

“When we get a call, we’re getting secondhand information from someone getting secondhand information,” he said.

Canales hopes he will have more time for community organizing and increasing membership at the center. He got a call recently from students who want to help with rescues.

During her four months in South Texas, Buganski has come to feel she is where she belongs. Her goal is to do whatever she can to keep the human rights center moving forward, and she and Canales try to help people amid an immigration system they said fails to keep people from dying.

“We can still be for all sorts of people not crossing the border, but can we do it in a way that’s not killing people?” she said. “I tell Eddie that I believe our very presence has made people think. I can’t say we’ve seen dramatic changes, but I think our presence may … put more perspective in the pot that’s being stirred.”

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Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, https://www.caller.com


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