Here’s what’s been happening at La Casa de Paso. I have been unable to return to Tijuana since late February due to COVID, but I intend to go back in December. Fingers crossed.
For the past eight months, due to the border closing and then COVID, your La Casa donations have enabled Javier to buy food for about six shelters who rely on that assistance; distribute masks, clothing, and other needed items; and pay for emergency dental care, transportation to shelters, document request fees, and sometimes a a hotel room for a night or two until he can find another place, usually for a family who has just arrived until more permanent housing can be found. This week, however, Javier chose to help a family in a way he had not done before.
A mom called him five nights ago, desperate for help. Javier and I both knew her from when she and her two sons, ages 7 and 13, had fled for their lives and arrived at the border at El Chaparral almost a year ago. They have been waiting all this time.
She told Javier she tries to work, but it’s hard with the two kids, because she has to rely on the older son to watch the 7-year-old. Now her problems have grown exponentially. She explained that a “group of men” latched onto her older son (I call him “A” to preserve his anonymity). These nice men made friends with A on the street and kindly offered to help him. How could any 13-year-old say no? They told him what a “man” he was. They gave him money “to help his mom” and bought him some cool new clothes. Next, they gave him drugs, to which he is now addicted. Now the group requires payback from him, and it is never a choice. She correctly fears for her son’s life and for the safety of all three of them. Adding to that, the younger son looks up to his older brother and wants to be just like him. Please, could Javier help?
Javier said he tried to talk to A that day, but he was high and wanted only to sleep, so he took them to a place A could safely rest while he talked to the mom. He told her that he believed the best option for her son was to get him into a rehab facility. He would get off drugs there. He would be protected from the group of men. He could receive counseling and would go to school. Meanwhile, Javier could help find a safe place for her and the younger son and get him into school so she would be able to work. She agreed, although she understandably didn’t want to let go of A.
Javier called around and finally found a rehab facility with a specific treatment program for kids. Meanwhile, he paid for meals and a hotel for them that night and met the three of them for breakfast the next morning. Afterwards he talked with A alone. I asked Javier later how the conversation went.
He said A didn’t want to answer many questions, so Javier offered to tell him how he thought it all went down and A could say if he was right. He proceeded to describe in great detail to A exactly how the group of men began interacting with him, what they said, the money they offered him, how they plied him with things that made him feel important, and what they were now asking of him, including the very real threats if he didn’t comply. He looked at Javier with new respect and acknowledged that he was 100% right.
At that point Javier said bluntly, “They don’t care about you. You mean nothing to them. You are simply an investment, and now it’s time for them to collect on their investment. Next, you will be asked to deliver and sell drugs for them, and eventually you will be asked to kill people. Continuing on this path is guaranteed to end in one of two ways for you: You will go to prison or you will die on the street, either from a drug overdose or from a bullet. Is this what you want? If not, then the best option for you is to go into rehab. It will protect you and your mom and brother.”
After getting A’s reluctant okay, he got a cab and took them to the rehab facility he had contacted earlier. Javier said when A saw it he didn’t want to get out of the cab. It is not a pretty sight. The man in charge came out and talked to A, and several boys his age also talked to him. Finally, he said an emotional goodbye to his mom and brother and walked in. Javier paid the entry costs. Once inside, the government will pay all the costs. A understands that if he leaves, the police will be notified, and he will never be able to return.
A will not see his mom and brother for about four months, or when he is deemed ready to be discharged. Javier said he urged the mom not to contact A for a while. He explained that A has to believe that the life he had with her and his little brother is no longer an option for him in order for him to seriously work to create another healthier one for himself. I pray for A every night. He has to feel so scared and alone. Hopefully at some point he will understand what a gift he was given. Meanwhile, the mom and younger son will stay in a shelter for a few weeks until they feel they are safe from the group actively looking for them. At that point she hopes to find an apartment somewhere outside of Tijuana for herself where the two of them will live and hopefully reunite with A at some point in the future.
Thousands of asylum seekers have been waiting in limbo in Tijuana for close to a year now, with the trauma of leaving their homes, the deaths of family members, and the continuing threats to their safety adding to the terror. Many of us in western Oregon have been stuck in our houses with the threat of fire and the reality of smoke for about two weeks. In the midst of “EVACUATE NOW” alerts, many wondered: Where should we go? What route to safety would be safest? How can I keep my family safe? What should we take with us? What must we leave behind? What will we do if we lose our home and/or business? How will we recover? Where is a safe place to start over?
Gives one pause. Be safe out there, and remember those that are still seeking a safe refuge.