CBS Chicago

At Border Shelter, Chicago Priests, Nuns Welcome Immigrants Who Have Braved Alligator-Infested River, Other Horrors

CHICAGO (CBS)– Since 1989, a shelter near the southern U.S. border has welcomed 30,000 immigrants from all over the world.

Chicagoans play a critical role in helping that mission.

Cbs 2’s Mike Puccinelli travelled there with a group of Chicago priests to see why La Posada has attracted people from 85 countries.

WARNING: Some content might be disturbing.

TThe newest residents of La Posada emergency shelter in San Benito, Texas met with a large group of Chicago priests who’ve travelled more than 1,200 miles to hear their stories.

“The people of Chicago and the people of Texas have something absolutely in common, we know how to care for one another,” Fr. Jack Wall, Catholic Extension president, said. “And these people are in genuine need.”

La Posada has been welcoming immigrants for more than 30 years. Catholic Extension of Chicago got involved in 2013. Since then, they’ve pumped in more $130,000.

Sister Zita Telkamp runs the shelter and has heard many stories over the years.

But one resident’s tale of trying to cross an alligator infested river with a smuggler, or coyote, still keeps Telkamp up at night.

“On the raft was a woman who was menstruating and she said the alligators started to attack the raft. The coyote took the woman, picked her up and threw her in the water and she said she I heard her scream until her life was ended,” Telkamp said.

That survivor made it to La Posada and remained there until her asylum case was heard. Sometimes that can take a long time.

But the first stop usually isn’t in the comfortable rooms of this 24-bed shelter, but in a border detention facility.

A man from Angola was locked up and separated from his 7-year-old son for more than a year.

Sr. Terez Cunningham saw them reunited.

“The first two days he came here he was so quiet, I thought he had lost his tongue, Cunningham said. “But now I can hardly keep him from talking.”

Or from sharing his ideas, like sticking his drawings on the recycling bins so residents more clearly know where to place garbage.

“Their enthusiasm is inspiring,” Cunningham said. “He’s enthusiastic about it. Immigrants are ready to pitch in. They’re ready to do something, to come up with the most creative ways of doing things we can’t even imagine.”

The priests did go across the border into Mexico.

CBS 2 will continue to follow their mission and bring reports on their journey.