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Border & Immigration

Memorial For The Deported Unveiled In San Ysidro

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Matthew Bowler
Hundreds of unidentified migrants are buried in this Imperial County cemetery, June 28, 2016.
Bishop Robert McElroy consecrates a memorial wall at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in San Ysidro, September 20, 2015.
Jean Guerrero
Bishop Robert McElroy consecrates a memorial wall at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in San Ysidro, September 20, 2015.
Memorial For The Deported Unveiled In San Ysidro
Bishop Robert McElroy consecrated a memorial wall dedicated to families separated by deportations, celebrating this week's arrival of Pope Francis in the U.S.

A memorial wall commemorating families separated by deportations now stands outside of a San Ysidro church overlooking the U.S.-Mexico border.

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A granite plaque on the cement brick wall quotes Pope Francis: “Church without borders, mother of all.”

Bishop Robert McElroy unveiled the wall Sunday at an interfaith community event celebrating Pope Francis’ historic visit to the U.S. More than 100 people attended the event at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church.

Interfaith leaders said Bishop McElroy was appointed by Pope Francis to shepherd a “Church of the Border” in San Diego County.

Audience members watch the unveiling of a memorial wall at a San Ysidro church, September 20, 2015.
Jean Guerrero
Audience members watch the unveiling of a memorial wall at a San Ysidro church, September 20, 2015.

“That challenge, the challenge of inclusion, is the very heart of the challenge that the Pope has given to the whole life of the church internally and externally,” Bishop McElroy said.

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A painting of the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph tops the memorial wall. Bishop McElroy pointed out that the three in the painting “were undocumented immigrants” when they arrived in Egypt.

Bishop McElroy consecrated the memorial and recounted the story of Pope Francis' first visit to the island of Lampadusa, a refuge for immigrants turned away from Europe. He said Pope Francis quoted from Genesis, asking, "Where is my brother and where is my sister?" Bishop McElroy said the pope plans to raise that question this week in the U.S.

“We are a nation of immigrants. First and foremost. That is our identity,” Bishop McElroy said. “And yet that identity is repudiated day after day in this nation, when we refuse to embrace the immigrants who have lived here for so long, seeking only to live good lives among us, to be Americans.”

Other religious leaders spoke at the event, held by the San Diego Organizing Project. The event was part of a nationwide celebration by the faith-based community group PICO National Network “to drive the Pope’s message home,” according to a press release.

Bishop George Dallas McKinney, of the Church of God in Christ, likened the struggle of Mexican immigrants to the Civil Rights Movement.

“The black and brown communities are bound together in a common brotherhood of suffering,” he said. “Because of the injustices and the discrimination we’ve experienced. We’ve also been bound by a bond of hope, for we have this faith that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

On a stage in the parking lot of the church, immigrants shared their stories of being separated from their relatives. Paulina Rosas, 23, said her father was deported recently.

"We are missing a huge part of our hearts,” she said.

Attendees wrote names of deported loved ones on wooden crosses and placed them beside the memorial wall.

Relatives of deported immigrants placed crosses dedicated to them on a San Ysidro chain-link fence, September 20, 2015.
Jean Guerrero
Relatives of deported immigrants placed crosses dedicated to them on a San Ysidro chain-link fence, September 20, 2015.

Among the immigrants was Lita Morales, a 55-year-old Mexican woman who calls herself “undocumented.” She said she moved to the U.S. from San Luis Potosi, Mexico when she was 15. She has since operated a house cleaning service.

She said she feels understood by current church leaders and is excited about the Pope’s coming arrival in the U.S.

“I feel like the Pope and this bishop here, they’re very particular,” she said. “They’re down to earth. They know exactly what our needs are. And they’re just trying to help us. They see us as another human being.”

Using a Sharpie, she wrote the name of her deported brother-in-law and several others on wooden crosses, and placed them on a chain-link fence beside the memorial wall. Behind them, the Mexican flag waved on Tijuana’s populated hills.