I’ve been back in Eugene for a couple weeks. It’s nice to be back and see my family and friends, and it will be so nice to return to Tijuana again in late July!
Javier and I continue to adjust to changing conditions at the border. The number of people living in tents at El Chaparral increases daily, along with the dangers of being in overcrowded conditions. More people are getting sick, and there are reports of Covid there now. Javier thinks the police will likely sweep out the area soon, and if/when that happens it will be impossible to find shelters for more than 2,000 people all at once. All the shelters we know about are already full.
Meanwhile, La Casa de Paso continues to give many moms and kids a place to take showers. The kids play while women cook meals together. Imagine what this small bit of normalcy feels like. Cooking on a stove. Eating at a table amid relaxed conversation. Lots of laughter. Many moms and kids are also staying at La Casa for a night or two before they are scheduled to cross the border. It gives them a chance to relax and us a chance to prepare them for what they can expect. The morning they are scheduled to leave, we fix them a quick breakfast and send them off safely in an Uber to their crossing destination.
Here’s what happens to people crossing from Tijuana to San Diego now. Groups of 25-30 people arrive at the specified time and place at the Tijuana border, usually early morning. It’s a long, arduous, and stressful day. They have a Covid test on the Mexico side and wait for the results. Documents are checked and rechecked. They are not given food. I don’t know why. It’s especially hard on women with children. Finally they board a bus and cross and are driven to a hotel. I know of two hotels used to house asylum seekers in San Diego, but there may be more. The rooms are very nice. There is someone to ask if they have questions. Food is delivered. I tell them to take tons of hot showers, watch a lot of TV, and catch up on their sleep in comfy beds! They are basically in “soft detention” and cannot leave the hotel for 2-3 days until a second Covid test administered in the U.S. comes back negative. Then things happen fast with a text that says something like “Be in the lobby at 3:00 a.m. tomorrow to leave for the airport!” In some cases at least, a volunteer is assigned to go to the airport with them and make sure they are safe until they board the plane. I’m happy about this, because many people have never flown before, and others just need help in traversing all the security (and making sure their carry-ons have no liquids, etc.). Transportation is paid.
Although there are so many people still in limbo, the good news is that pretty much every person we have directly assisted at La Casa since March (by filling out forms for them) has crossed! That is truly amazing! They include people with serious (documented) medical issues made worse by being in Tijuana; people who are in danger by waiting in Tijuana; and people who have open asylum cases; that is, MPP (Migrant Protection Protocol) people whose numbers were called a year and a half or more ago, crossed, survived the hielera and being put into detention, and who then were bounced back to Mexico to wait for a court date instead of being reunited with family.
Here are just some of the people we helped who are now in the United States:
Ana, who is from Honduras, celebrated her birthday with us the night before she crossed. She’s now on the East Coast with her mother.
Jessica and Jean, from Cuba, are happily settled in Florida. They will soon be reunited with their two cats, which they could not take with them when they left San Diego. Two other women, also from Cuba, also crossed and are now with relatives in Florida.
Lucia and her two children have reunited with her mother, sisters, and other family members in California! Lucia never dreamed she would be there for her sister’s wedding that is this week! She hadn’t seen that sister in 21 years and her other sister in 16 years. Lucia sends me sweet photos and texts, says they are all so happy, and that “the light is back in Victoria’s eyes.” She told us that Matias (age 2) and Victoria (age 8) are both adamant in insisting that Javier and I are “Mama” and “Papa“ (their grandparents). We are most honored to be part of their family forever.
Lucia and the kids stayed at the house while Javier and I took a blessed one week vacation (it was the first day off from the border Javier had had in 15 months). When we returned, they surprised us with a poster they made.
Jacki and her daughter Sophía, who we met a year and a half ago, crossed today! She called us a few weeks ago from Chiapas just to see if the border was open yet. I explained that people who were MPPs were crossing quickly once they were on the list and determined that she was MPP. She had no idea. I quickly got her on the list, and the rest is history! She and Sophía will be on the East Coast by the weekend.
Lupe, a young mom with two boys, had been in grave danger at El Chaparral and was terrified to leave her tent, even to come to La Casa de Paso to take a shower. I filed a Humanitarian parole for her. She got the phone call and crossed the same day as Lucia.
Keyli (a 14 year-old girl from Honduras who is profoundly deaf—and a talented artist) and her mom are now with their relatives in CA! Their medical humanitarian parole visa was approved. Now Keyli can perhaps have a cochlear implant. It sounds like she will attend an arts-oriented high school with her cousin in the fall. (Below: Keyli and one her drawings)
Besides the people at La Casa, Javier continues to buy food for many shelters, and sadly, there are increasing numbers of shelters who call him, asking if he can help. Last week he spent three consecutive days at a clinic with a mom and her two daughters, 18 and 20, from Honduras. They are living in a tent in El Chaparral. The older daughter was almost ready to begin her teaching career; the younger daughter wants a career in music, when they had to flee dangerous, abusive conditions in Honduras, only to be followed to Tijuana. As a result of the fear and anxiety, the younger daughter developed a heart condition serious enough to warrant seeing a specialist. Javier paid for the doctor and tests needed to provide documentation to hopefully allow them to cross quickly with a Humanitarian parole. I sent it in two days ago.
Helping these families is a process, often one with many steps. Javier brings over tools to drill holes to make tent pegs more sturdy; hands out tents, sleeping mats, and masks; helps a mom at El Chaparral get a little stove and things she needs to cook something healthy for her children. He finds needed clothes in the right size or pays for necessary prescription medications. He patiently waits in line with moms and kids for hours at a clinic, just so he can be there to advocate for them when it’s their turn. He stands in long lines at his bank to get money wired by someone’s relatives to his account to give to them.
But many days I believe that one of the most important things we do is simply to get to know these families and take the time to listen, to play with their kids, to do something ordinary with them and give them opportunities to relax and even laugh. Living in a tent in El Chaparral and living in limbo for much longer, it’s easy for people to feel that they are stuck and that nothing will ever change. We continue to be hopeful that things will continue to improve, and we dispense that hope on a regular basis. Hope is essential, for the families and for us.
One last thing. Crossing the border and finally making it to the U.S. is huge, but it is only the first step. Many challenges loom for every asylum-seeking family once they get into the U.S. Most families badly want to work, but they cannot legally do so for 6 to 12 months after filing for asylum, so shelter and food are immediate concerns. There are traumas to be addressed that often emerge once people can finally relax a little. Kids need to register for school and begin to learn English; often medical and dental problems need attention; and legal costs loom ahead for immigration case hearings in about a year, and the merits/final hearing 2 to 3 years later.
In the midst of all this, they need to feel the ground stable enough beneath their feet to begin to build a new life, one step at a time. Many people are far from family, far from anyone who even speaks their language or dialect, and far from anyone who can relate to what they’ve been through. Please find the boldest, most loving way you can to help provide the scaffolding these families need to build strong, successful lives in this country. I think it’s why we’re here. Compassion is a verb.