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Report from the Tijuana Border • August 2021

I arrived back in Tijuana almost a week ago. The border situation is grimmer by the day, and the stories of so many desperate moms and children weigh heavily on Javier and me. After a day’s reprieve for me to get unpacked and us to make a Costco and mercado run, he brought three moms back to the house the following night. We talked for over an hour. The stories are difficult to hear, along with their confusion in knowing what to do next, which is basically the case with everyone waiting to cross right now. Here are three examples:

  • An official-looking person walked around El Chaparral recently, handing out an information paper from the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) announcing a new shelter for 3,000 people run by the INM. In a deal worked out with the U.S. government, people in this shelter would routinely be added to a list and be able to cross into the U.S. It sounded plausible since it would encourage people to leave El Chaparral. People were told to go to the shelter at the address on the form between 9 and 3 to check in. Three moms we spoke with at La Casa last night (and between them about seven kids) went early this morning. Meanwhile, Javier and I wanted to see the shelter firsthand, so a friend drove us there today. The address was far away and difficult to find. We arrived at the INM office to discover that no such shelter exists. Apparently, someone not representing INM handed out the forms, and INM must tell everyone the bad news when they arrive. Javier is trying to find these three moms now. They must be so sad and disheartened. We did hear of another shelter that supposedly can accommodate 2,000 people that we plan to visit tomorrow, although we were told it is closed to new people now, because they had a case of COVID there! And so it goes.

  • A lesbian couple we know called Javier this morning. They were scheduled to cross today but couldn’t because they didn’t have their COVID test results. We will try to help them reschedule if possible.

  • Javier is helping a family of five from Colombia today. Everyone in the family has medical problems, including an 8-month-old, so he took them all to the clinic today. We envision more trips and tests for several family members, but what can you do? Simply pointing them in the direction of the clinic is hardly helping. Hopefully, we can find a hotel for them for a week or so until we find something more permanent for them.

Walking through El Chaparral now is an experience that’s hard to describe. Many people have created more permanent homes there now, using materials other than tarps and tents. Extremely narrow, meandering passageways no more than 12-18 inches wide wind their way between tents, creating a gigantic maze. You have to walk bent over at a 90-degree angle to avoid wires strung over your head at the same time you avoid electrical cords running every which way under your feet. I literally lost my sense of where I was in relation to the El Chaparral I once knew until I finally got a tiny glimpse of the big MEXICO letters. What some people do to get electricity and other “luxuries” is deeply troubling. There are many reasons to be afraid there now, and it especially worries Javier and me to see children living in these conditions.

Asylum seekers are also beginning to test positive for COVID after they cross, meaning they were exposed between their COVID test in Mexico and crossing. When that happens they must quarantine in San Diego for two weeks, along with everyone in their crossing group, resulting in many less hotel spaces available for new arrivals. Two moms we know were excited to cross yesterday, but instead were held on the Tijuana side for that reason.

So that’s the big picture. The one we continue to concentrate on is how to help people as best we can in light of this challenging and ever-changing situation. Javier is back at El Chaparral telling people to throw away papers with the bogus INM shelter information on it, because the shelter does not exist. Meanwhile, I’m trying to help one of the three moms in the house last night with her complicated situation.

On a happy note, I got the sweetest message and photo from one of our Cuban friends who crossed about two months ago and is now in Miami. I sent her a birthday card. She took a picture of it and told me it was the first letter she received in the United States! Another mom has called us twice now from Atlanta at 10:00 p.m. our time (!) to say that she and her daughter just got home from working in her sister’s restaurant. They are so happy to be there and just thank us over and over! Another mom with two kids are now in the Chicago area and living with her father, whom she hadn’t seen for many years. She said she and the kids are doing well. Both kids are smart and eager to learn. The oldest opted to enroll in summer school and the younger child will start school at the end of August. The mom, meanwhile, is an excellent cook and is happily making money by selling tamales.

AND here is an update! The lesbian couple from Honduras texted Javier early this morning. They crossed and are in a hotel in San Diego! They took their COVID test results back to the border a day late and thankfully were able to cross. This couple was kidnapped, tortured, leaving one of the women blind, and finally escaped their captors. When Javier met them they were extremely angry, tired, frustrated, and unable to figure out what to do next. He said he felt like they needed someone to stop and take time to listen to them and try to help them. He took them everywhere they wanted to go. He brought them back to the house to rest and cook what they wanted. He took the woman who lost her eyesight to three different clinics. The first didn’t do much, so he found another clinic, where the doctor referred her to an eye specialist. That doctor did tests and discovered she had a serious eye infection that he began to treat. Now she can open her eyes and her vision is back! We saw her beautiful eyes firsthand on a video call! They will soon be on their way to the east coast and are ecstatic to start their new life. We are so happy for them.

Thank you for your continuing support of La Casa de Paso. We could not do this without you! In the beginning (two and a half years ago), expenses were more predictable; moms and kids spent a night or two in La Casa before their number was called and they crossed the border. Many more people are in the house every day now to take showers and cook food, requiring more food and resulting in higher water, electric, and gas bills. There are also many sick moms and kids at El Chaparral now, some with serious medical problems (like the Colombian family) that need the immediate attention of a doctor or dentist. We take people where they need to go and stay connected with them until they get the care they need. Javier says what we do is simply befriend people and not let go until we help them in some meaningful way. Compassion is a verb.


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