Reflecting on an impactful border immersion trip


In her role as director of Mercy Partnership Fund, Sarah Smith has collaborated with investees using Mercy’s investment to serve immigrants and refugees. Participating this fall in a border immersion trip with the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy gave Sarah a new perspective and firsthand experience as to the importance of this work. 

In late October, Sarah joined nine others affiliated with Mercy traveling to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and to the northern Mexico border city of Reynosa, Mexico. 

“There’s nothing like understanding firsthand the challenges that those impacted by policies and hardships are facing to understand the value of some of our lending,” Sarah noted. 

The trip was hosted by ARISE, a community-based program co-sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy that works with colonia families to strengthen their communities along the borderlands. Delegates participated in several activities including visits to the border wall, conversations with asylum seekers and border guards, and volunteering at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. Sarah observed that these experiences provided the delegation the opportunity to witness the harsh realities of asylum seekers’ experiences and the complexities of the immigration system. 

“Visiting the border wall, you see some of the stark remnants of those who have tried to cross the border – water bottles, ladders from trying to scale the wall, pieces of clothing. It’s very sobering,” Sarah observed.
At the respite center in McAllen, Texas, the group made sandwiches and sorted clothing donations for the many women and men seeking asylum. For Sarah, who recently welcomed her first grandchild, seeing young mothers with infants in such desperate circumstances  hit close to home. 

“One of the mothers had an infant that was a month old, the same age as my grandson. Understanding the challenges of young motherhood, in the best of circumstances, and thinking of this mother crossing the border in these conditions was heartbreaking,” Sarah stated. 

The group also visited shelters and clinics in the Mexican city of Reynosa where volunteers help migrants seeking asylum, as well as where a migrant tent encampment was established because of the limited shelter space.

“Most of the migrants in Reynosa were Haitians who were turned back trying to seek asylum,” Sarah recalls. “Hearing about their journeys, the harsh realities of our immigration system and the conditions that they’re leaving and why, reinforces the need for lending in various ways: We need to consider both how we can support organizations that are working with refugees and also organizations creating economic opportunities that will help people thrive in their home countries.”

She describes the experience as “eye-opening” in witnessing asylum seekers experiences in real time and learning more about the challenges of their experience as they leave their home country. Sarah’s grateful that she was able to see the critical works of Mercy occurring at the border, and she believes that Mercy Partnership Fund is an important component of the Sisters of Mercy’s wide spectrum of advocacy on immigration. 

“Several organizations in our portfolio such as the Kiva Refugee Investment Fund, International Rescue Committee’s Center for Economic Opportunity, Friendship Bridge and Working Capital for Community Needs are doing impactful work with immigrants and refugees – whether assisting them as they resettle or creating economic opportunities so they can stay in their home countries,” Sarah observed. “My experience at the border reinforces the need for this type of lending, and we’ll continue to utilize our investments through Mercy Partnership Fund to be part of the solution.” 

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