I’ve been here in Tijuana for a month. It has been personally the most difficult time I’ve experienced here, with two more months to go. Some days I want to be back in Oregon. I’ve never felt like that before.
The suffering of people waiting at El Chaparral is difficult to see every day. Amidst the chaos of all the people living in tents for close to six months now, an unwanted group has now moved into El Chaparral and wields the power there. They dole out perks such as running an extension cord into your tent, giving you an extra big space (a tent erected inside a larger tarped sitting area), or providing you with a microwave, fan, or a TV in your tent. All in exchange for who knows what. Many activities going on daily are inappropriate and dangerous for anyone to be around, but especially children. The police largely leave the area on its own, overseeing the perimeter in their patrol cars but rarely intervening. One afternoon, super loud booms went off that rocked the house. I thought they were gunshots. Turns out it was kids setting off cherry bombs at the end of the street.
Last Thursday Javier saw a toddler about two years old wandering near our house. No adults were anywhere around. The little boy didn’t have language skills, so Javier finally took him by the hand and told him to take him to his family. The toddler led him back to El Chaparral, through the maze of winding, chaotic passageways between a sea of tents to somewhere in the middle and right to his mom’s door. She looked up and when questioned by Javier, said nonchalantly, “He just got away from me.” Javier was livid. He told her if he ever found her son wandering alone like that again, he would take the little boy to the police and they would take him away from her.
One young girl we met a couple weeks ago was pregnant and living with her sister in a tent at El Chaparral. Javier asked her if she had been to the doctor. She said she hadn’t, so Javier offered to take her. It was the first time she’d seen a doctor during her pregnancy, and she was due in TWO WEEKS! I lost sleep thinking of her going into labor in El Chaparral. The clinic must have made an emergency appeal on her behalf, because she and her sister crossed a few days ago.
We had two moms and their three kids here for almost three hours a few nights ago to tell their stories so I could sift through the details and fill out Humanitarian Parole forms on their behalf. It’s a long and emotionally wearing process, listening to these horribly sad stories. I literally had to go to bed after they left. It was 7 p.m.
I have many newly completed Humanitarian Parole requests like these ready to submit, but at this point we are holding off doing more until we know the best place to send them. It is sad and depressing.
COVID is a huge concern here again, as it is everywhere. Yesterday Javier saw a little boy running around El Chaparral whose family was supposed to cross two days ago but couldn’t, because he tested COVID+ when they went to cross. You might ask why the family isn’t in quarantine. Such a good question. I have no idea. One of my goals for today is to find out if there is any place in Tijuana now where people can be vaccinated.
So, what we are doing in the meantime, when the border is closed, COVID is raging, and we once again must be careful with people in the house? A lot of what we’ve always done. We take sick adults/children/infants to the clinic, and to more than one if they did not get the help needed at the first one. Sometimes a clinic doctor refers a patient to a hospital for more tests, as we hope happens with one 10-year-old with a seizure disorder and a severe chronic bowel problem. We continue to buy food and other needed items (diapers, wipes, etc.) for several shelters, and help families in El Chaparral get the items they need when we know the need is legitimate. We provide transportation for people who have appointments and are far from the clinic. We try to find shelters and other safe places for families. We continue to look for groups who are actively processing Humanitarian Parole requests. I’m working with an immigration lawyer in LA and a new friend in NY in figuring out how we can continue to move some of these serious cases forward so they can cross. I know things will continue to change—it is the nature of life, after all—and hopefully for the better, but right now, waiting is hard.
In another piece of unsettling news, last Friday, August 20, the U.S. Supreme Court paused a lower court order requiring the Biden administration to restart the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) program that cruelly returned thousands of asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for their asylum hearings, putting them back in very dangerous situations. The suspension of the lower court order expired Tuesday, August 24. In devastating news, the Supreme Court just ruled against the Biden administration.
Last Sunday was the 50th Anniversary of Friendship Park at Playas (the beach at Tijuana), founded by Pat Nixon in 1971. Friendship Park provided the only way many families divided across the border could see loved ones for brief times. In March 2020, the Department of Homeland Security closed the area between the fences, and it remains closed. During the celebration that took place in Spanish and English on both sides of the border, Friends of Friendship Park unveiled designs to enhance the park as a celebratory space. Plans include tearing down both fences to create a “binational city with businesses, restaurants, a pedestrian border crossing, and 24-hour access to loved ones.” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria emphasized the Build That Park competition as an important part of their binational bid with Tijuana for the 2024 World Design Capital designation. [www.friendshippark.org]
For now, the best news is that almost everyone we have helped to cross is doing well! We stay in touch with many families. I heard today that 10-year-old Victoria, who is very special to Javier and me, just started school in CA last week and is excited to learn English. She and I decided we will be pen pals! Hopefully, her 3-year-old brother can attend preschool part-time as soon as COVID cases drop and preschools can safely reopen. The mom wants to work, but she does not yet have a work permit, so it’s difficult. Now I wish I had a way to help her rent a clean, modest 2-bedroom house or apartment in Windsor so they can finally begin to build a new life after three difficult years. Right now they are all living temporarily in one small room. If anyone, as an individual or as part of a group, has the financial means and desire to help do something that would change a family’s life forever, please contact me! I’m looking for a miracle for this wonderful family, and I know miracles are possible. Contact me if you have any ideas!
Thank you to all of you who have continued to remember La Casa de Paso with your donations. It is a challenging time. We have been here on the ground 24/7 for close to three years now, and we could not do any of this without your financial support.
Compassion is a verb.