Francis Pauc wasn’t sure what to expect when he reached the chilly U.S. border in El Paso, Texas, but reality was worse than he imagined and now he is unable to unsee those living on the other side of the border in impoverished conditions.

Francis Pauc of Racine traveled with 14 other people to check out conditions along the United States-Mexico border. (Submitted photo)

Traveling this past October with a group of 14 others from the newly formed Catholic Coalition for Migrants and Refugees group (CCMR), the member of Racine’s St. Rita Parish said he began to see and understand the amount of suffering going on at the border among the men, women and children seeking asylum in the United States.

“These people are living in tents, and many of these migrants and asylum-seekers are from Central America or southern Mexico; places where people have no experience at all with cold weather and many of them are women and children,” he said. “They have fled in terror from their homes and now they are stuck on the wrong side of the US/Mexico border. They can’t go forward and they can’t go back, so they sit and freeze.”

The group stayed for five days at a shelter run by Annunciation House in El Paso and participated in an immersion program that took them to places in El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. He saw those who were suffering and struggling to survive.

“I tried to keep my eyes and ears open, along with my heart and mind. I became a witness,” Pauc said. “The main thing I learned is that people are suffering on the border unnecessarily. I also learned that we are not stopping the flow of drugs in any effective way. The cartels are still making money. The only people we are stopping are the poor and the desperate.”

According to Pauc, the solution for the immigration issues is for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package as the current system is not working. A couple of years ago, he took a 40-hour course on immigration law and through the class, he learned the current system is chaotic with more exceptions to the rules than rules themselves.

“Also, enforcement by itself is ineffective. The wall will achieve nothing,” he said. “Why are people walking all the way across Mexico to get out of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador? If citizens of these countries felt safe at home, they would stay where they are.”

While the migrants suffer extreme hardship, Pauc said much of it is beyond our control.

“However, some of the pain that these migrants currently feel is caused by the government of the United States. Our government is keeping these people in Mexico, despite the fact they are seeking asylum in our country,” he said. “Through a variety of ways, the current administration is punishing people who just want to live in safety. Our government is hurting those people who have already been hurt. We, as citizens of the United States, are actively working against the poor and the oppressed. That’s a fact.”

Though Pauc believes in immigration reform, he is not advocating that the United States allows open borders to anyone who wants to move here.

“Every nation has the right and responsibility to control its borders, but the question is how much each country does that. Back in 1980, I was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. I went to Nogales, Mexico, quite often. The border was open then and there was no problem,” he said. “Why do we have problems now? We can control the flow of people into the United States in a fair and rational way. We don’t have to militarize the whole thing.”

After seeing the wall being built between the U.S. and Mexico, Pauc said he found it physically ugly and morally hideous. When he served in the U.S. Army in Germany in 1982, he visited the Berlin Wall.

“The wall on the southern border brought back some dark memories,” he said. “We are Catholics and our job is to help those in need. These migrants on the border are desperately in need; that’s why CCMR was formed, to raise awareness of their plight and call for a more humane response to these ‘least among us,’ as Christ called them. We can start by looking at immigrants as assets rather than liabilities. We, as a nation, need to be welcoming. We need immigrants to keep the economy going.”

Without immigrants, Pauc said, the United States has a graying population and immigrants are needed to work in many available jobs. He said they are intelligent, work hard and want to contribute to their communities.

“Welcoming them to our country is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do,” he said.

Immigration issues are close to Pauc’s heart, as his wife, Karin, is an immigrant from Germany and is a green card holder. The couple has three adult children, Hans, Hannah and Stefan, and all support his volunteer work with the immigrants.

“All three of them spent time in Germany and understand how it feels to be a stranger in a strange land,” he said. “When I went to the border, my wife was concerned about my safety; but then, so was I.”

To Learn More

Catholic Coalition for Migrants and Refugees has a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Catholic-Coalition-for-Migrants-and-Refugees-101884498070378/

For additional information or to get on the mailing list, contact:

CCMR Spokesperson

Mark Peters

Director of Justice, Peace and Reconciliation

Priests of the Sacred Heart, US Province