We’ve been back about three weeks from our week away. No surprise, it took exactly zero time back to feel like we’d never left, but it’s all good.
We recently met Bing, a wonderful 30-something independent journalist from China. She’s been in Tijuana for a few weeks, learning more about asylum seekers and immersing herself in border issues. It was so interesting talking and listening to this bright young woman. She’s headed to Mexicali from here, and then plans to spend about six months in Mexico City. She invited us to come to CDMX when she’s there, which would be fun, so we’ll see.
People are crossing with days/times from the CBP One app two times a day. Every morning about 100 people cross, with about the same number crossing each afternoon. The process seems organized and predictable, something we’ve never seen before. Often now we help new arrivals who, without knowing any better, simply show up and stand in the line that’s formed there, assuming they will cross…until they reach the front, cannot cross, and find out about the app. So we help them directly or take them to a place where they can get help in downloading and filling out the app. We help them find a place to stay until they get a date to cross. In checking with everyone in line, we also find many people scheduled to cross that day who didn’t realize they needed to print out a copy of the CBP One form with their documents on it, something the border patrol requires and keeps as a record. In these cases we take them to the nearest place to get copies of everything, pay for the copies if necessary, and get them back in line in time to cross!
It appears that everyone with a date to cross with the CBP One app is routinely allowed to cross and is given a court date; in other words, no one crossing with the app has their asylum case evaluated as a condition for crossing. Their court date, depending on the location, may be scheduled for a year or more down the road, and even if they lose their asylum case at that time, they can appeal. Other good news: We hear that as long as one person in a family all crossing together has a strong asylum case and ultimately wins asylum, the other family members who crossed with them are automatically granted asylum as well.
Javier got a call a few days ago from a woman from Chiapas. He first met her and her child at the border during the pandemic more than two years ago. He told her then that no one would be crossing for some time and advised her to go back to Chiapas if was safe for her to do so. He said he must have given her his phone number because she called him several weeks ago to ask about coming back to the border. He advised her to continue to stay in Chiapas but told her to download the CBP One app. This time she called to tell Javier she had gotten an appointment through the app, came to the border, and crossed! She was in Los Angeles waiting for her flight to Utah to be with her mother. She thanked him over and over for all his help the past three years. He said it made him want to cry.
We met a family of 13 last week. They got a date to cross on the app and on that morning they were in line at Chaparral five hours early! They were all hungry but were so intent on not losing their place in line that we brought food to all of them! Amazingly, they had waited only two weeks to cross.
Yesterday Javier brought a mom with five kids to the house about eight hours early to wait for their 6:00 crossing time. They came from Michoacán four months ago. Ana, the mom, said she packed up what she and the kids could carry and fled, leaving the key to her house with everything in it with a neighbor. She decided to leave because when she was at work she found out a relative who was supposed to watch the kids took the oldest daughter with her and tried to introduce her to drugs. The kids, ages 4, 7, 11, 13, and 17, were so nice. They were all happy to be at La Casa because it’s hot outside and there are many things to do. (Also, there are no restrooms at Chaparral.) The kids played, drew pictures, made good use of the Legos, finished every puzzle we own, and got to eat something. Ana said she was too nervous to eat. I told her not to worry, that every adult at the house who crossed before her felt the same way.
I had a lot of time to talk with her. They are headed for Birmingham, AL, where a lot of her relatives live. (They also bought plane fares for all six of them.) I told her some things about Birmingham, pointed out Alabama on our big floor USA puzzle map, and showed them photos. They were surprised at how far away it was from California! Ana asked about traditional foods there, and I said shrimp and grits. Hopefully that’s a good answer—I should have asked my cousin Bill!
We asked Ana and the kids what they imagined their new life in the U.S. would be like. Ana said even school was a challenge in Michoacán, because it was expensive. She and the oldest kids were all amazed that U.S. public schools are free. The oldest daughter said her favorite subject was math. I explained that she might be taking five different classes a day in high school—an ESL class, maybe history, science, math, PE—who knows?! She was very interested to hear that.
As far as dreams go, Ana and many other moms we’ve spoken with cannot imagine anything for themselves beyond cleaning houses or working in the fields. I watched Ana draw animals for her kids. I could tell she was a good and confident artist. We said that maybe, now that all the kids will be in school, that she will work but that she might also have time to pursue her art. It was an option she had never ever considered for herself. Sometimes Javier and I just plant seeds.
After we walked them back to Chaparral to wait, Javier went back to check on them barely an hour later. The kids were predictably hungry, so we made popcorn and brought it back for them all to share. By 7:00 they were gone!
We were both exhausted last night. It takes a lot of energy for me to communicate with six people in Spanish all by myself for several hours while Javier is out taking a mom to get Pampers or accompanying someone to the clinic. I’m always glad to see him return!!
I spoke with Lucia a couple days ago. They are all doing so well! Matias is in school this summer, which will be good for his English language-learning. She said the Goldfinch, the restaurant her partner Rodrigo opened in Sebastopol, is getting great reviews! Lucia said she sometimes takes the kids to the restaurant on the day it is closed.
To say that Lucia is a great mom is a vast understatement. She said, “I am teaching Victoria simple things. I tell her that she must study a lot to have a more physically relaxed job. I am also teaching both my children to value all the people who work there from the dishwasher to the one who carries the merchandise.” She said that Victoria already values more what she does because she sees it is physically such hard work. She said 4-year-old Matias is learning too, “but he takes a lot of breaks!” HAHA By the way, if you or anyone you know is near Sebastopol, CA this summer, stop by the Goldfinch for a great meal, and be sure to say hello to Lucia and Rodrigo from Javier and me!
Thank you for your continuing support of La Casa de Paso. It is MUCH appreciated, by us and by all these families. Your contribution helps make a huge difference in their lives every day.