Last month, I traveled to El Paso (Texas) and Juarez (Mexico) to bear witness to the humanitarian crisis that continues to unfold and to volunteer with respite centers helping the migrants. Here is my first report — “Aren’t You Seeking a Better Life?”
In full disclosure, I lead 2 lives — distinct from each other. I have that luxury. And it is, indeed, a luxury to have these 2 concurrent lives.
Last month, the difference in these 2 worlds was glaring. In San Francisco, with 4 schools in a 2-block radius of my home, I watched the many parents, nannies, and housekeepers dropping their children off and picking them up at the end of the day. I call it “the parent trap” as it is almost impossible to maneuver around the ever diligent and caring adults.
Also last month, I went to El Paso (Texas) and Juarez (Mexico) to bear witness to the humanitarian crisis of migrants seeking asylum and to volunteer at respite centers helping the families. I saw the fear, worry, and anxiety on all their faces — young and old. I watched the many parents desperately struggling to create a better life for their children.
On the Paso del Norte Bridge sidewalk heading to the American border, I walked past the never-ending line of families praying to be safe in my country.
I was greeted by the Border Police who carried AK47s (earlier in the day, they wore full riot gear) who seemed immune to the tears and pleas of help. How much of their indifference was due to their accustomization to the scene or an act of self-preservation?
Some group members and I volunteered at Annunciation House — an almost completely volunteer-driven respite center for those families who have come over the border. While the families were from different countries, El Salvador, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Brazil, to name a few, they were united in caring for and being protective of one another, as well as grateful for any help or kindness offered to them. The men were respectful to other adults and fatherly to all the children, not just their own. The women were helping each other with their infants and young children and doing whatever needed to be done.
They were polite as they waited in line for the meals which we served. They were patient as I, not able to speak Spanish, fumbled in trying to communicate. The children shyly asked for water, a piece of fruit or a snack, and often for another child or adult and not themselves. The dining room was filled with volunteers from the USA and refugees from elsewhere — all treating each other with respect, care, and simple human decency.
The food we served was either lovingly made or bought by El Pasoans. Not a single morsel was from federal or grant money. For years, the citizens of El Paso have donated their time, treasure, and talent to take care of the families who, again I repeat, want a better life for their families and who are escaping from highly dangerous environments, rampant poverty, and/or political instability.
I noticed men reading comics and elementary schoolbooks to begin learning English. I watched the fathers and mothers protectively watching their children play on the small asphalt area behind the building while also hanging up their newly hand washed clothes to dry in the hot Texan sun.
Hundreds of families come and go from the Annunciation House. Each family chooses from the assortment of clothes and toiletries that have been donated and is offered medicines that are needed. Infant care supplies are available and generously donated. When it comes time for a family to leave for the next part of their journey, volunteers create as robust a care package as possible.
Much more is needed. Given the large number of families in need, all donations are quickly depleted. As generous as the owner of the building has been to donate the space, there are many repairs that would be helpful. The stove and oven don’t work. The kitchen sink’s plumbing backs up. Another refrigerator would be incredibly helpful. The list goes on and on…
Soon it will be cold. El Paso is almost 4,000 feet above sea level and November will bring the nighttime temperatures to an average of 40 degrees.
While we were in El Paso and Juarez, ICE announced their new decision to stop working with the various charitable organizations and determined that their best course of action is to now abandon families — regardless of the health conditions of the young and the old — in downtown El Paso bus stations in the middle of the night.
Let that sink in. Rather than work with volunteers and nonprofits to provide a shred of human decency, ICE has chosen to be particularly cruel to human beings desperately wanting better and safer lives for their families. And these people, who are not told a thing about where they are going, what they should do next, how and where they can find help, are the “lucky ones.” Think about that. And while you are doing that, please also think about how you are seeking a better life for you and your loved ones.
I wonder if those parents picking up their children from the schools near me ask themselves this question.
What would you do to make that happen?
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Photos Credit: Emily Scott