Mexican immigrant walks to honor those whose U.S. journey is cut short

Raman Jimenez, 49, of Oxnard prays during a special Mass for immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

Raman Jimenez, 49, of Oxnard prays during a special Mass for immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

For Antonio Mendez, crossing into the United States without immigration papers was as simple as walking through Tijuana.

That was 1982. These days, many immigrants without papers trek through miles of desert, risking death to evade Border Patrol agents.

On Sunday, Mendez set off on a walk of his own to honor those whose journeys end in tragedy. Beginning at 3 a.m., he walked 47 miles from Orange County to downtown Los Angeles, where Archbishop José H. Gomez was leading a special Mass for immigrants.

The eight-hour walk was not hard, Mendez said — at least he and his four companions had plenty of food and water.


“I did it for the suffering of the people dying in the desert, never reaching their dream to come here to the USA,” said Mendez, 55, a handyman who does not have legal status after nearly three decades in the country.

The Catholic Mass for immigrants, an annual event first held in 2012, drew hundreds from across the region.

Gomez, who was born in Mexico, switched between English and Spanish during his homily, praising the U.S. and especially Southern California as home to immigrants from all over the world. He urged the worshippers to pray for immigration reform and for others to open their hearts to immigrants.

He referenced a biblical passage in which shepherds mislead and scatter their own flocks. The passage made him reflect about “the times we are living in,” he said.

“Sadly, it seems that some in our society, our civil society, are acting like some of those shepherds, allowing our immigrant brothers and sisters to suffer under a broken immigration system,” Gomez said. “Because they are allowing those people to be scattered, to be deported — millions of them in the last 10 years.”

But the passage from Jeremiah ends on an optimistic note, as did Gomez.

“God himself makes this promise to our family, to everyone who is caught in this terrible system of immigration,” he said. “‘I will appoint shepherds for them, who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble, and none shall be missing.’”

Emiliano Leonides, 33, was among those who joined Mendez on his walk from Lake Forest. He said he made it across the border from Mexico a dozen years ago and is living his American dream, working as a plumber. He recently got married.

But he is in the country illegally. And he is saddened by the fates of those who never made it here.

“We are walking to say about all the immigrants dying of thirst that we should have no more separation of families,” he said. “We don’t want any more to die. God loves everyone, all the same.”
Twitter: @cindychangLA