HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — Missionary Alma Ruth is from Monterrey, Mexico, and admits she has an accent when she speaks English. She says she knows what it is like to be an immigrant and to be misunderstood.
That is why she formed the faith-based nonprofit organization Practice Mercy Foundation that ministers and provides support to Indigenous women asylum-seekers and their families who are living across the border from South Texas as they wait to legally immigrate into the United States.
Border Report recently caught up with Ruth as she was crossing the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge taking toiletries and Bible verses to share with the non-Spanish speaking Indigenous women at a migrant camp in the crime-ridden Mexican border town of Reynosa.
“We focus on serving and helping Indigenous women and their children that are seeking refuge within our borders,” Ruth told Border Report.
Out of the 2,500 asylum-seekers at the migrant camp, she estimates about 100 are Indigenous women and children.
The camp numbers are expected to shoot up as the Biden administration next week is expected to restart the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, or “Remain in Mexico,” begun under the Trump administration that forced asylum-seekers to wait south of the border in Mexico.
The Biden administration halted the program but was forced to reimplement it due to a court order. On Thursday, the administration announced it had reached an agreement with Mexican officials to begin sending back migrants to Mexico.
Migrant advocates, like Ruth, fear that vulnerable populations, like the indigenous who are unable to speak Spanish, will suffer in the border camps.
Ruth says the Indigenous women currently are among the most vulnerable migrants in the Reynosa camp because of their lack of ability to communicate.
Most are Mayans from Guatemala, who “have very very broken Spanish,” she said. “They get bullied because they don’t speak Spanish enough.”
She said she also witnessed many Indigenous migrants suffer in Matamoros, Mexico, where upwards of 4,000 asylum-seekers lived from 2019 until earlier this year when MPP was disbanded.
“We try to locate them and identify their needs so we can offer spiritual support and also tangible support,” she said.
This includes taking toiletry items, underwear, over-the-counter medicines and blankets and air mattresses.
Her Christian-based organization and volunteers take the time to listen to the women’s stories and help them as they collect information to present to U.S. immigration officials for their asylum claims.
“We validate their story. We try to help them in their journey for dignity and self-sufficiency and self-esteem so they can be self-sufficient as they tell their story to request asylum,” said Ruth who lives in McAllen, Texas.
There are about 40 different dialects used by asylum-seekers who have pending cases and who were placed in the Migrant Protection Protocols program under the Trump administration, according to an April report by the nonprofit research organization Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University.
Mayan dialects spoken by Guatemalan asylum-seekers include Mam, Quiché, Kekchi, Aketeko, and Chuj, the report says.
The report found that migrants who spoke rare languages and were enrolled in MPP during the Trump administration had a tougher time getting paroled into the United States up until January 2021.
“It’s hard to find interpreters. It’s challenging to fill out forms or documents, either in Spanish and English. And even immigration judges themselves, who want to do a good job and get the right interpreters into court they also have a hard time finding interpreters for these rare languages and that can cause scheduling difficulties with the court,” TRAC researcher Austin Kocher told Border Report earlier this year.
Ruth began Practice Mercy Foundation in 2019 to help migrants living in the Matamoros camp. She also has worked with refugees in Cuba, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, North India, the West Bank, and Turkey.
She said she will continue to cross into Reynosa weekly, and also will return back to Matamoros, if migrants begin resettling there once MPP starts up again.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.