A SMALL WHITE CHAPEL sits just a couple hundred yards north of the Rio Grande river in Mission, Texas. While the chapel no longer hosts an active parish, its interior shows signs of frequent use. Prayer candles and silk flowers line the altar and the base of a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. An entryway table holds dozens of prayers, written on folded loose-leaf paper. Children’s composition notebooks, filled with more handwritten prayers, are stacked in piles.
“Please watch over our brothers, sisters, and all the children being held hostage at the border,” one prayer says. And another: “Please bless our health & the children being separated from their parents @ the border.”
La Lomita Chapel is now part of a municipal park and serves as a rest stop for passersby—while Border Patrol trucks sit just outside the park entrance and a helicopter circles overhead. The chapel land was originally granted to Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate priests in the mid-1800s. Given its location—midway between mission centers in Brownsville and Roma, Texas—La Lomita served as a meeting place and “housed transient visitors to the mission,” according to a historic marker on the site.
I visited the chapel, quite by accident, during a reporting trip at the border at the height of the family separation crisis. The separation of parents and children moved the hearts—and wallets—of people across the nation. But that fervor waned after a U.S. District Court judge gave a July deadline for reunification and more than 1,500 children were reunited with their parents, largely thanks to the efforts of faith groups and advocates. For many, it seemed, the story was over. The reality is that the crisis continues.
As of this writing, 497 children remain separated from their parents, 22 of whom are under the age of 5. More than 300 parents have been deported, and many who signed a waiver to be reunited say they were coerced. Children, including some babies and toddlers, haven’t seen their parents in months. It’s likely that some of those children will never see their parents again.