It’s February 4. The last few months have been cold, windy, and rainy in Tijuana, at least by Mexico standards! The wet, cold weather makes everything just a little bit worse for all the asylum seekers waiting at the border. Once again, just as people were beginning to believe that what they were told would lead to their crossing, things changed. Let me back up and fill you in.
Remember all the families living on the street across from a shelter? They were there because they believed, based on what they were told and by what was happening before their eyes, that if they were patient, all the people currently in the shelter would cross at once and they would be the next group in and would then be on a similar path to crossing! It seemed legit because it happened regularly, although randomly, in a handful of shelters.
And so they waited, sleeping outside or under cover in equally horrible conditions, until finally they were indeed moved into the shelter after the previous shelter occupants crossed. Now people currently in that shelter, along with so many others, have waited almost three months, expecting their turn, only to hear that everything has changed. Again.
Under this new system, in order to cross, everyone now must download an app called CBP One.
Assuming they have a phone—and one that is compatible with the app—they enter their information (the app is only available in English and Spanish, which leaves out a whole lot of people); upload a photo of themselves (good luck with that; often the app’s face recognition technology doesn’t recognize dark skin tones, even after several tries); and then use the app to get a date to present themselves at the border (NOTE: “Present” does not mean you automatically will cross). The app freezes and crashes often, and with so few dates given out each day and thousands of people all trying to get one of them, the dates offered each day are gone within minutes, and then you must start all over the next day—getting on the app, requesting an access code, entering the code, and then trying to get a date. It’s like trying to score Taylor Swift concert tickets.
Asylum families Javier and I spoke with are very tired and disheartened, and some are at the breaking point. If anyone seriously wonders why people resort to trying to cross “illegally,” look no further. What would YOU do? I hope the online system is updated soon so many more people can be given a date to appear further in advance without having to log on day after day, only to be told that “All the dates are taken for today; try again tomorrow.”
The four women we helped during the flood three months ago are still waiting in shelters. The 16-year old girl has now developed an infection that has her mom extremely worried. I plan to see them both while I’m here. The other young woman and her sister (with a mental disability) are still waiting as well, but they chose to leave Tijuana and are waiting in a shelter in another town that seemed at the time to offer a better chance of crossing quickly. It hasn’t happened for them either, and they are equally discouraged.
For those lucky enough to get a date to appear, many challenges remain. First, you must hope that when you finally present yourself that everything will be fine and you will be allowed to cross. Note that under this new system, everyone crossing must have the name and address of a sponsor to enter into the form. Anyone can be a sponsor, and there are no financial requirements for sponsors, but it’s good for potential sponsors to know that most families will need financial assistance for at least a year (including the biggie, help with housing), until they are issued a work permit and can begin to support themselves. Please don’t sponsor someone without a plan and a commitment to help them make a successful transition once they arrive! We tell asylum seekers that it’s best to write down the name and address of someone living where they want to live if possible—a relative, or perhaps a neighbor, friend, or someone from the relative’s work or church if they cannot safely use their name as a sponsor.
I feel for all the families who must navigate this new system, but I also worry about the children, many of whom, in addition to being traumatized, haven’t been in school for two to three years. Javier and I know so many kids who are super smart and not used to this street life—until it became their life by default. What will it take down the road to help these kids once in the U.S. when we’ve let them languish in chaotic conditions for so long? We have just a hint of an idea from teachers in the U.S. who are learning firsthand the skills their students lost (or had no opportunity to learn) during the 2-3 years of closed schools due to COVID. It takes time to identify, (re)introduce, practice, and help students master learning skills they missed so they can even begin to tackle grade-level assignments. In the same way, we will need to have patience and a thoughtful, compassionate plan for students suffering from PTSD who have not been in school for some time and are also new to the United States and just beginning to learn English.
Thank you for your continuing support of La Casa de Paso. Javier is still out there every day helping families, thanks to your donations. Yesterday he got up really early to go to a clinic and get an appointment for a sick little girl. He does this often because the lines are so long that sick people are forced to stand in the cold for many hours. I spoke with him at 9:00 and he was heading out to get the little girl and her mom and take them there, wait with them to make sure she gets good care, and help pay for medications she might need if the mom cannot afford to pay. We help new arrivals find shelters and get papers they need, as well as giving families we’ve known for a while some respite by bringing them to the house to shower, cook a meal, and providing a place to relax for a time.
Every day groups of new arrivals from Haiti can be seen waiting outside the Cathedral. It appears to be a predetermined meeting place. They are met there by someone who helps them find a place to stay.
Other new arrivals again are congregating at Chaparral, hoping to find information on what to do next.
I arrived back in Tijuana a few days ago and will be here for about two weeks with plans to return for a long stretch in a couple of months. Early next week Javier and I are taking warm clothes to a shelter in Playas. This shelter houses asylum-seeking children who have no parents. The children living there were possibly lost, abandoned, kidnapped and escaped, or their parents died. We will find out more.
COMPASSION IS A VERB.