Local attorney who saved migrants receives humanitarian award

“People ask why, as a woman traveling alone, I would stop in the dark on the side of a country highway to help three strangers. The answer is simple… like many Texans, it’s how I was raised.”

EL PASO – “People ask why, as a woman traveling alone, I would stop in the dark on the side of a country highway to help three strangers. The answer is simple… like many Texans, it’s how I was raised,” Jeff Davis County and Marfa City Attorney Teresa Todd said in her speech Saturday night as she received the Witness on the Border award in El Paso.

Annunciation House, a non-profit that serves immigrants and refugees on the US/Mexico border in El Paso, bestowed Todd with the honor, which recognizes groups or an individual who “bear witness to the reality of the poor in migration often at significant personal risk or cost,” as stated on the event program.

Todd was selected because of her actions on February 26, when she stopped on the side of Highway 17 to help three migrants in need. A young man waved for her attention as she was heading home that night from Mar-fa to Fort Davis. As a mom of two teenage sons, Todd immediately stopped to help three siblings – Carlos Saul Orellana-Lazo, Francisco Esteban Orellana-Lazo, and Esmeralda Sarai Orellana-Lazo. The three migrated from El Salvador and crossed into Presidio County a few weeks prior. Esmeralda needed immediate medical attention.

Presidio County Sheriff Deputy Mitch Garcia also arrived at the scene after the sheriff’s office received a call from someone else that spotted the young man on the highway. Garcia couldn’t locate the guy but when he stopped a vehicle leaving the scene to see if the driver assisted him, he discovered Todd with the undocumented immigrants. US Border Patrol detained Todd and the siblings. Esmeralda was transported to Big Bend Medical Center in Alpine and was treated for dehydration and exposure before she was transferred to Border Patrol custody.

Todd told the Big Bend Sentinel that she felt that her actions were justified from the beginning, but to see them encourage people was something completely unexpected and humbling. She felt the same sentiment when she received the call from Ruben Garcia, Annunciation House director, about the award.

Annunciation House hosted the Voice of the Voiceless Solidarity Dinner with a simple meal of rice, beans and tortillas on Saturday, June 22, at Santa Lucia Church in El Paso. The organization honors those that help refugees, immigrants and undocumented persons.

Along with choosing Todd for the Witness on the Border award, Annunciation House also chose the refugee children of the border as the 2019 Voices of the Voiceless “for stirring the conscience of an entire nation through their quiet suffering innocence, for galvanizing the roar of the of an outraged citizenry that demanded and succeeded in bringing an end to the most egregious of abuses,” as stated in the program.

Todd was set to start her vacation with her two sons, Haden and Shadix, last Thursday, but after she talked with them about the award dinner where she would be honored, they decided to cut their trip short to attend. They left for Colorado from El Paso on Sunday. Joining them at the dinner was Todd’s minister Greg Meads and his wife Myra, former Presidio County Justice of the Peace for Precinct 2 Dan Bodine and his wife Noemi, friend and confident Callie Meeks and Jeff Mino. City council member Natalie Melendez and Todd’s lawyer Liz Rogers were unable to attend, but Todd thanked both of them along with those who attended in her speech. She also thanked her parents, the late Lucille and Ruel Todd, who raised her in Hamilton, Texas.

“The main reason why I stopped that night is because I knew it was the right thing to do, because that was the example set by my parents,” Todd said in her speech. “You see, they didn’t just ‘talk the talk’ of compassion and Christianity, they ‘walked the walk.’”

She shared how her parents believed in service and shared memories of watching them care for those in need. She also quoted the Gospel According to Matthew, “…for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… inasmuch as you have done it unto the last of these my brethren, this you have done unto me.”

She accepted the award on behalf on her parents. Meeks brought the large plaque back to the Marfa so Todd wouldn’t have to worry about traveling with it during her vacation.

Todd has received letters and emails since her story has been shared through local media and the New York Times, but to see 600 people standing for her that night was overwhelming.

“To be in a room full of people that provide services every day to folks in need, it was amazing and overwhelming,” said Todd.

She ended her acceptance speech thanking the El Salvadorian siblings she met on the highway that night.

“Finally, as a mother, I would like to lift up Carlos, Francisco, and Esmeralda, two bakers and a beautician from El Salvador, that I met on a dark highway, that changed my life,” Todd said in her speech. “I hope that, like my kids, each of them will be given the chance to live and thrive in the United States, and that they will not have to return to the violence and death they escaped in Central America. Thank you.”