This month I want to do a brief overview of La Casa de Paso. Since we opened this emergency house almost four years ago, more than 600 moms and kids have stayed there! It seems miraculous on many levels—we aren’t a nonprofit, and we don’t have an organization to sustain us every month. It shows what a bunch of caring individuals working together can do!
Javier does not get a salary; he is a full-time volunteer. Donations are used to pay the rent ($900/mo) and utilities (electricity, gas, water, ± $300/mo). We buy about eight 10-gallon jugs of water a month for drinking and cooking, more depending on the number of people in the house. We pay for food, emergency doctor and dentist visits, and medicine for families unable to pay. We help asylum seekers send for papers they need (e.g., hospital/police records, birth certificates, work permits). We pay for gas, Ubers, and public transportation for families when needed. Javier occasionally pays first/last month’s rent for apartments he finds to get families in a safe place when he knows they can pay the rent after that. All of this takes $2,000-2,500 a month. And sadly, as of March 31, we no longer have a working car. Last Wednesday the streets in Tijuana flooded once again, making it impossible for Javier’s beater, low-to-the-ground, 30- year-old car to make it home (water was flowing in under the doors!). He left it in a parking lot and walked home. When he returned to get it the next day, the car wouldn’t start. A mechanic friend checked it out and said the transmission has water in it. We need a reliable car to transport moms with babies and people who are too sick or old to walk, and to take families and food to shelters far away. If you have any ideas or can help, please contact me!
New asylum seekers still arrive at the Tijuana border every day, exhausted from often perilous journeys that take many months. Every time Javier and I walk around Tijuana or are in a car, Javier points out new families to me. He can spot them at a distance when they don’t stand out to me at all. “Did you see that family back there?” he’ll ask me. “They just arrived.” After all this time it’s still a mystery to me how he knows. If we can stop, he’ll hop out, talk to them, and offer to meet them later, usually bringing them back to the house to rest, take showers, wash clothes, and give the children a chance to play while he goes out to buy food so they can cook.
Families typically stay at La Casa de Paso for 1-3 nights, sleeping in one bedroom and/or on mattresses and sleeping pads on the floor until Javier finds them a permanent place. It’s not easy. Shelters are full, and multi-generational families with as many as 12 or 14 people present an even bigger challenge. Although it often feels like we are doing too little to help, we know that no one is doing what we are doing, because no one except Javier walks around in an unsafe area every single day to help families—and continues to help them until they are safe and stable somewhere. He doesn’t just point them in some direction and say adios.
He's now developed a schedule of sorts to make his days a bit easier. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are “Pampers” days, when he takes moms with infants each week to pick up Pampers. He meets several of them in the downtown to transport them, since it’s too far and too much to carry along with a baby and perhaps other children in tow. Emergencies come up, but generally Mondays and Tuesdays are “clinic days” and Fridays and Saturdays are designated “bank days.” About six families Javier knows are trying to survive in Tijuana. They don’t qualify for Mexican work permits yet, so they rely on family members to send them a few pesos each week. Since they can’t receive the money themselves, Javier gives them his bank information to relay to family members when they send money each week. Then he stands in line at the bank to get the money for them. Sometimes the money isn’t there, usually because a number was typed in wrong. Until the problem is solved, he has to keep returning to the bank until the money is there, sometimes loaning the family a little money in the meantime to buy food. They are extremely grateful for his help. Without it they would not have money to feed their family for the next week.
La Casa de Paso is a much-needed port in a storm. We have helped families cross the border by filling out the right form or talking to the right border patrol person on the right day, but mostly we listen and care enough to try to help make things better. I’ll leave you with three stories from this past month.
1. You may recall the story of this Honduran family. A mom and two kids ages 12 and 8, along with her sister and 5-year-old daughter, were on a bus headed for Tijuana. They fled Honduras after experiencing unspeakable horrors and planned to cross the border to be with relatives in the U.S. Soon after entering Mexico, a cartel hijacked the bus. All five were removed from the bus and held captive by the kidnappers. They were all tied up, and both moms were raped. Still, these brave women decided to make friends with the kidnappers in hopes of getting some leniency. It worked, and at the first opportunity they all escaped. They made it to Tijuana and were shocked when they couldn’t cross. Javier saw them that day. They were so scared and had no idea what to do next. He heard enough of their story to bring them immediately back to the house, because he knew they, possibly more than anyone we’ve met, were in grave danger. The next day he took them directly to the border to see if they could cross immediately but were told they needed more proof, so Javier spent that day requesting copies of police reports and hospital records from Honduras and getting copies of photos of injuries off their phones. He said they all had burn marks on their arms and legs from being tied up, even the 5-year-old. On the third day Javier got them into a shelter. I think the shelter knew it was dangerous to have them there, because they crossed three days later. One of the moms sent this photo to Javier from their new home on the east coast. I blurred faces for their safety, but even that can’t mask their pure joy. Javier said they have called him four times so far to thank him!
2. This little girl and her family were at La Casa a couple weeks ago. She REALLY liked Javier's reading glasses and laughed when he would rest them on his head. She wanted to do the same thing, so he gave her another pair to put on her head just like him!
3. Last week a mom and two kids stayed at the house. The mom cooked while Javier and the kids had fun playing darts with the magnetic dartboard we have, a favorite of almost
every family who stays at La Casa de Paso. When they went to leave, Javier said the little girl sobbed uncontrollably because she didn’t want to leave the dartboard. Javier told me that
night on the phone, “It broke my heart to see her cry so hard. I know she didn’t have any toys where they were staying. What else could I do?” He packed up the dartboard and all the darts for her to take with her.
And so it goes. I happily return in May for a little over two months. Thank you so much for your support.
COMPASSION IS A VERB.