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Report from the Tijuana Border -December 2022

What a month! For Javier and me it’s full of the faces and voices of so many people we’ve met… Venezuelan teenagers with their accounts of traveling through eight or nine countries and the Panamanian jungle to reach Tijuana, more moms with kids, old people with serious injuries and illnesses needing Javier’s help in getting to a clinic (and likely a hospital), more moms needing Pampers and milk, people needing to get papers, and everyone needing information they can trust, which seems to be hardest of all to come by. Yet, it appears that a hopeful process, one we can count on, is beginning to develop. The end of Title 42 is set to go into effect on Dec. 21. Hopefully a smooth process will be in place by then. On a not-so-positive note, we’ve seen many Venezuelans of all ages who have been deported from U.S. detention centers to Tijuana in the last week. They were given none of their belongings or papers and are at a loss as to what to do next. We are trying to get more information on why this is occurring.

On a personal level, the scariest night Javier and I have experienced here happened a couple weeks ago. For anyone who didn’t read it on our last blog, I’ll include an account here. I’m including a photo I took from our upstairs bedroom as I waited for them and watched our

street turn into a lake. The other photo he took while the five of them waded in the dark and pouring rain to get back to La Casa de Paso.

It rained torrents in Tijuana starting about noon on Monday, Nov. 7 and continuing until early Wednesday morning. The pounding rain did not stop. It could have been eight or more inches. We worried so much about families who had been sleeping on the street. Where would they go, we wondered? Javier got a phone call about 9:00 Tuesday night from L. She, her 16-year-old daughter P, and two other young women (K, age 22 and N, her 27-year-old mentally retarded sister) were holed up in a terrible room near the street. The area is dangerous on a good day, but now water was beginning to flow into the room under their door. Could Javier get them? We knew it would be dangerous, but Javier decided to try in this old beater car someone gave him that is low to the ground and a million years old. I worried about them as I watched our street become a lake and the water rise rapidly up to our steps.

He called in a while. He had to abandon the car in a parking lot on the way back, because the water got so deep every way he tried to go that cars, including his, were completely floating and ramming into each other. So they were now proceeding on foot, wading in the dark, through a really unsafe part of Tijuana to our house about three miles away.

Finally they all arrived, drenched of course, but safe. Everyone had hot showers, coffee, and popcorn (!), and we made sleeping places for them. Javier said later that he was very scared, and I haven't known him to be scared of much of anything before. Javier retrieved the car the next morning. The sun came out and only puddles remained in our street. The women's clothes dried on the clothesline. They made the most delicious enchiladas I've ever eaten, and the 16-year-old and I had a long Spanish/English practice session while making a dessert together that’s one of my favorites.

Since the rainstorm, very few families remain sleeping on the street. Many of them have crowded into shacks near the shelter they hope to enter. They are cold, and most everyone is sick. Two groups recently sent clean, used blankets, and we handed them out yesterday. The kids, seeing us arrive with them, excitedly made an orderly line on their own in order to get one. Can you think of any kids you know who would be eager (and grateful) to stand in line to get a blanket?

There are not enough shelters, but the Mexican government-sponsored shelters seem to be key to crossing these days. Once in one, it appears that people cross in about three months. Getting in one is the challenge, and for many families, so is the 30 pesos (about $1.50 US) per person per day many shelters charge, which is way beyond what many families can pay, especially when they can’t work.

We visited several shelters recently in hopes of getting some factual information on how we could send families to them. As a result, L and her daughter P are now in one! We miss them, but we know they will cross in a few months. In the meantime, though, we can’t see them. Since COVID, once in a shelter, people are basically kept in there to keep the possibility of COVID and other contagious diseases out.

Sadly, K, the 22-year-old who is caring for her 27-year-old mentally retarded sister N, weren’t allowed in that shelter with their friends L and P, because they are single women. They were so sad to be apart from them. Finally, K decided she and her sister would take a bus to Mexicali, where they heard people were crossing. Who knows, but thankfully they are in a shelter there and believe they will cross soon. We pray for these four beautiful women and wish them the best. They text and call regularly to update us, which we appreciate.

Wherever we go, Javier is amazing at spotting people in need of help, but sometimes they find him. Yesterday it was almost dark when he rode his bike to a place nearby to get more milk for us. On the way out of the store, a woman asked him where to get the bus to Tecate. After explaining that it was not safe to cross the bridge this late in the day, he finally said that if she wanted, he would ride his bike the few blocks home with the milk, come back with the car, and drive her safely across the bridge to the bus stop. But then she motioned nearby, where a group of about seven other people in her family were waiting! Plan B was obviously needed, so he walked them all a few blocks to a local bus stop, explained to the driver where the family needed to get off downtown to walk a block to catch a bus to Tecate from there, and would he make a special stop for them? The driver agreed, Javier paid him, and the group boarded the bus. He said as he was going to sleep last night he could see their smiling faces waving at him through the window.

On another happy note, L has one more dental appointment to seat her two crowns and she is done. Thank you to everyone who helped make that possible. If you would like to donate to help pay for the remaining $2000, please contact me directly. Also, for her daughter V’s 10th birthday, L’s niece, who is a senior in college majoring in Biology, took V with her to her college campus for the day. L knew that for V to have an image of herself in college at a young age would be a very good thing. And that is one of the many reasons I think L is one of the best moms I know.

I’ll be back soon for a few months. It will be hard to leave Javier and my life here, as always, but it is how it is for us right now. As you know, Javier continues the work 24/7, with or without me there! Thank you so much for your ongoing support of La Casa de Paso. We absolutely could not keep La Casa de Paso open without your help.

Compassion is a Verb.


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