When you read this story, remember that it is one of many. What would you do?
This family of 13 just arrived at the Tijuana border from Michoacán, a state in southern Mexico that has seen more than its share of violence. We’re accustomed to seeing families who have been separated, with parents, grandparents, and siblings left behind while a grieving widowed mom and her children escape, now on their own. But now more multi-generational families are arriving at the border, unwilling to leave any member of their extended family behind. Javier finds them standing in large groups near El Chaparral and La Casa de Paso, tired, hot, and unsure what to do next as the bitter truth sets in. No matter what they were told, they now realize they cannot walk across the border and ask for asylum.
Last week he encountered two such families in three days, a family of 13 and a family of 12. Helping these large families is difficult. They traveled this far all together for a reason, and they do not want to be separated. Finding a place to stay for such a large family is almost impossible, but Javier tries. He calls shelters, but they never have space for that many people; it’s hard to find space for two or three people at this point. So far he has found a place for one family. He’s still looking for housing for the other family.
Night before last he got a panicked call very late from a man he knows. He and his extended family of eight have been waiting to cross the border for some time and live not too far from La Casa de Paso. On this night the man was badly beaten by a group of men on his way home from work. The man explained that he works as a welder, and when he comes home from work his clothes are very dirty. Walking home, a group of men encountered him. When they saw his dirty clothes, they assumed he was poor and tried to coerce him into selling drugs in exchange for money. When he refused, he was badly beaten. Javier met him the next day and then began searching until he found a place for them.
To find housing, Javier simply pounds the pavement in various areas around Tijuana, talking to everyone he passes on the street and people working in nearby shops, asking if they know of a place to rent. After finding a possible place, he takes the family to see if they want it. He negotiates with the landlord on behalf of the family, sometimes paying first/last if needed, and when everything is agreed on, he makes many trips back and forth, moving the family members and all their belongings there and helping them get settled.
When he’s not finding housing, he’s taking families to get clothing, to the doctor, to get papers, and taking moms to get diapers and formula for their infants. He’s helping people get the papers they need to work. He also takes people to get money wired to them from relatives. Let me explain how this time-consuming process works.
People coming from other countries can’t work because they can’t immediately get a work permit. They don’t have Mexican ID, so they can’t open a bank account to receive money wired to them. When Javier first heard of these situations and realized the serious problem it caused families, he figured out a way to help. First, he talks with them enough to know and trust them. He has good instincts, and when he feels it’s okay, he gives them his bank numbers and exact instructions to give to their relative to wire the money. When the money has been sent, he sets out to get it from his account. However, there is no one bank/bank branch where he can go to access his account and predictably receive the money. I have no idea why this is. Also, all banks have long lines and tellers sometimes in places like on the second floor of a department store in the middle of the ladies lingerie department (seriously!), so you wait in a long line only to hear that the money is “not there.” The teller then directs you to another bank a ways away. Once we both went from bank to bank, walking for miles until six banks later we found the one that magically had the money. Since walking in and out of banks with a large family group is neither safe nor quick, he goes alone and meets up with the family later (requiring trust on the family’s part), or he takes one adult only with him. And he only wants to do this for one family at a time, which means it sometimes requires a lot of back and forth in one day for several families. In the end, however, this means the world to families that otherwise would have no way of surviving in Tijuana.
The border is still essentially closed. We hear that 30 people a day are crossing as Al Otro Lado makes their way down a very long list, but 30 people a day doesn’t even come close to keeping up with the number of new arrivals at the border each day. Many asylum seekers have now waited three years to cross. Just today, June 30, the Supreme Court ruled that Biden can end Title 42. I am not going to get excited until I understand exactly how this ruling will actually impact the people who have waited so long. Fingers crossed.
La Casa de Paso cannot solve the problems of U.S. immigration, but your support makes a huge difference and lets people waiting at the border know that someone cares.
On a personal side note, Javier and I were married in a civil ceremony in Tijuana on June 2. We feel blessed to have found each other and to have made this life commitment to each other.