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'Their Trauma Was Raw,' Local Nuns Say Of Migrants At The Border

Courtesy of Sister Kay Kramer
Sister Kay Kramer stands in front of the El Paso shelter where she volunteered. Esperanza means hope. She says the migrants and refugees like to have their picture taken there before they move on.

Two Greater Cincinnati nuns and a group of Thomas More University students made two separate trips to the U.S.-Mexico border this spring. They say what they saw was not surprising, but also gratifying in some ways.

Sister Kay Kramer, a midwife at St. Elizabeth and an instructor at Thomas More University, was part of the Annunciation House's effort to help migrants in El Paso until earlier this month.

As part of the volunteer effort she welcomed families seeking asylum, refugee status or shelter in the U.S. Most were from Central America. Her work included doing intakes, serving meals, doing laundry and making contact with sponsors in the U.S.

"Their trauma was raw because they had just come through being picked up by Border Patrol or they had just been processed by ICE. There was a lot of pain and sadness and just listening to their stories," says Kramer. "What's they've gone through to get here was, at times deeply, deeply troubling. But they were very hopeful."

Kramer says among those working for Annunciation House thought , "Okay, you've made it this far. Welcome to the United States."

Sister Alice Gerdeman saw the pain of migrants.

Recalling a situation at the border in 2019 she says, "I was remembering a woman that I met from El Salvador and she had her son there. They had just been refused entrance into the country and she said, 'I'm going to keep coming. At least he's going to get through, you know. We both saw my other son murdered in front of our house. I will not have a second child murdered. I'll do whatever I need to do. '"

Gerdeman says she understands people should come here legally but "when you're desperate, you're desperate."

She worked with thousands of unaccompanied minors at the border in San Antonio this spring making sure the kids had things to do like playing games or making crafts.

Both nuns have worked with immigrants locally. Kramer was surprised to realize her biggest takeaway from the trip to the border was that it was a privilege to be there.

"I wasn't expecting that I would feel that way and I also was very aware of receiving a lot from them - their honesty, their simplicity and their gratitude and excitement mixed with fear."

Both sisters want to make sure the experience at the border is a welcoming, kind and compassionate one for those being received in our country.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.