Ruben Garcia sought his mission in life. He found it helping the 'poorest of the poor'
Ruben Garcia founded Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, which aids immigrants fleeing violence in Mexico and Central America.
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Cristina Parker, communications director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, says that the people of El Paso are "not touched directly by the violence in [Ciudad] Juárez, but we're touched emotionally. Where Annunciation House makes a difference is in bridging the gap in a healing way."Skip to next paragraph
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The stories of those staying at the house paint a vivid picture. Two young sisters from Durango, Mexico, speak almost inaudibly, still grieving, as they tell why they fled their home.
In May, one of their brothers was shot and killed, and the Mexican police did nothing. Later another brother was tortured and was afraid to tell anybody who did it as he lay dying.
The sisters suspect that the police were involved in these killings because a police car led a group of vehicles that followed two other brothers on one occasion.
The two women are afraid these killings are related to their having been kidnapped by a group of men before their brothers were killed. They were beaten and sexually abused and were told that they couldn't tell anybody about it or their family would be killed.
"Luxury vehicles" surrounded the cemetery during one brother's funeral, so their mother decided the family should flee to the United States. The two sisters, with their husbands and two children, made it to the US border and requested asylum, presenting the death certificates of their brothers. They were directed to Annunciation House by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. The rest of the family was not allowed to enter despite two or three tries.
One of the sisters explains what Annunciation House means to them. "We really need their help – food, lawyers, information. In Durango, there wouldn't be help like this," she says. They have been told it might take five or 10 years to be granted asylum.
"It's extremely difficult to get legal representation" if you are a Mexican immigrant, Garcia says. Legal services for Mexican immigrants in his area are so backed up that he's sent five families to other states for help.
On his speaking tours Garcia is outspoken about immigration issues, and he's held vigils for those murdered in Ciudad Juárez. "My focus is on the absurdity of immigration policies," he says. The need for "Annunciation House is a reflection of [failed US] immigration policy."
Regarding the many deportations of Mexicans who have fled violence, he says, "They came into our country, and our policy is not to protect them. We should be saying 'Yes, the US is going to offer you protection.' "
For many years Annunciation House experienced raids by or incidents of harassment from the US border patrol and ICE agents. Garcia estimates it happened roughly once a year.
In 2003, one guest was killed. "They searched him, and he ran," Garcia says. "He held a pipe in the air, and they shot him."
But gradually the immigration enforcers changed their ways and started bringing people whom they had problems caring for – pregnant women, sick people, children – to Annunciation House. The house now receives calls from immigration officials asking if it has room for a few more guests. Today, about 35 percent of the referrals to the house are by way of ICE.
For the last four or five years immigration officials have not bothered Annunciation House, Garcia says.