LAREDO, Texas - The Associated Press has reported that at least two of the survivors of Sunday’s deadly immigrant smuggling incident crossed the border by foot at Laredo before they boarded the tractor trailer later found in San Antonio.
It is in Laredo where religious groups are working to fight human trafficking.
It is where Interstate 35 begins, about 150 miles south of San Antonio. For many undocumented immigrants headed north, it’s their first stop before falling into the hands of human traffickers.
Several churches in Laredo want to disrupt that network by reaching out to immigrants through their faith.
"We've minimized what it has taken for people to really leave their country of origin,” said Sister Rosemary Welsh the Director of Outreach at Mercy Ministries.
For Sister Rosemary, the idea of blaming undocumented immigrants for their own perils means ignoring why they risked it all to come here.
"The whole thing, especially in this heat, you’re taking a tremendous risk but how can we tell them not to do it when going back home can be a certain death,” she said.
The 73-year-old immigrant advocate wants to end the cycle of abuse undocumented people suffer when placing their trust in human traffickers.
"Everybody is welcome,” Sister Rosemary said. “We don't ask them where they're from but where they live."
The Mercy Ministries of Laredo is one of the places she said is open for victims of human trafficking. The center offers counseling and primary healthcare to those in need, as long as they live in Webb County.
She believes that religious organizations, including hers, need to double up efforts to reach out to people and offer help. That, she said, could keep them from having to make life or death decisions.
"Every church, Muslims (we have a mosque here in town), Jewish synagogues, Catholic churches, born again Christians, Methodists, we are here to help you if you think you're being trafficked," Sister Rosemary said.
She said church organizations from all religions are planning a family violence and abuse conference that she hopes will also address human trafficking issues that continue to plague border towns like Laredo.