Anticipation is high for Pope Francis’ visit to the Rio Grande on Wednesday. Few are more excited than Mari Centeno and her three children, who, along with dozens of migrants here, await their fate in immigration court.
The family made a harrowing journey from El Salvador to the border and will be among the few migrants and refugees to see Francis up close when the pontiff walks toward them along the U.S.-Mexico border. He is expected to offer prayers to those who have overcome danger or been arrested, and for the 6,000 migrants who have died in the past 20 years during their perilous journeys north.
Francis’ modest gesture is expected to resonate powerfully with migrants like Centeno, who is living in legal limbo.
“All I want to tell the pope is ‘thank you,’ because he offers compassion, something that few have shown,” she said, also referring to migrants in Europe.
“We’re all human beings; in my case, a mother who just wants to give my children a better life,” she said, tearing up and burying her face in her hands.
Her journey involved riding atop a notoriously dangerous train known as La Bestia — The Beast — being threatened by gangs in Guatemala and Mexico, and having her 14-year-old son held up at gunpoint.
Such stories are part of the American fabric, said Pia Orrenius, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, whose research focuses on unauthorized immigration.