Sunday, August 18, 2019

MPP and other illegal policies....and effects

so people have a legal right to request asylum in the USA. By not permitting them to enter via "approved ports", the USA gov't has forced them to cross at "unapproved" locations,  which are often dangerous and have resulted in deaths.

That being seen as insufficient, the gov't put in place the "remain in Mexico" policy (MPP). So now, in my area for example, CBP is meeting refugees on the USA side and sending them directly back to Mexico. In some cases, along other parts of the border, we are evidently shipping them south to Monterrey with no support, or worse, Chiapas.

This means there are fewer detainees and fewer detainees to release into our care. So our shelter, with support, resources, volunteers, is mostly empty. We have food, clothing, hygiene supplies, energy and desire but no one to help.

The 9th Circuit Court said it had to stop, but also said that its ruling only applied to its own jurisdiction, which does not include Texas.

There is no change on the horizon, though change seems to be the only constant.

At this point in time, we are exploring options. There are shelters in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen. We could transport human and physical resources there to help asylum seekers who have been turned away and have nowhere else to go.

But Reynosa is dangerous, in large part due to kidnappings by cartels. An associate told me that if we are in marked Catholic Charities vehicles, we should be ok. But in these early days, Catholic Charities has not decided whether it's a good idea to send supplies over. So no CC vehicles and too dangerous in personal ones.

It's possible, and highly desirable! that the 9th Circuit will review and revise its order and make MPP enforcement illegal all along the border. Or that some other event will occur to force a change in the policy (it seems unlikely that this admin would change it willingly). Until then, we are helplessly watching the cruelty and illegality of forcing asylum seekers to remain in dangerous situations.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

El Paso and beyond....

so we're scared.

We work at a Humanitarian Respite Center and now we are afraid that white supremacists or copy cats will think our shelter is a great place to "stop the invasion". They don't know our numbers are down due to the remain in Mexico policy--though we still get 150 or more per day from detention centers.

I went to work Monday feeling despair inside but focusing on helping and compassion outside. Long time volunteers and staff mentioned to me several times during the day that they are afraid of a shooting incident too.

One begins to think. I had Active Shooter Training--what would I do? What are the exits and which are permanently locked? We have two guards 24/7. Are they armed? I don't know. I doubt the front doors/windows are bullet proof. They're tinted so you can't see in but that's about it.

Would a shooter know that you don't have to enter by the front guarded door? I don't plan on publicizing it....

Would I run to get kids? Stand in front of refugees? Approach the shooter to interrupt the carnage?

I don't know. I hope I don't have to find out.

and we had a visit from the bishop, the mayor, and the police chief, reviewing our security and making recommendations. It's upside down for a human shelter to have to protect itself....

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Carrizo Comecrudo Protest

July 27, noon, Los Encinos Park, McAllen, TX

Mix of Indigenous activists and others; ARISE was there as was Proyecto Azteca. There is a cemetery with ancestral graves, and the proposed wall will go through it (it's near the wildlife refuge as well). My friend and I visited the camp; leader Juan Macias and others camping out to protect the graves.

This protest opened with songs of the earth; I didn't understand the words but the rhythm, singing, movement were deeply calming. Speakers addressed the historical crossing of "the border" and noted that the border, to many Indigenous peoples, is an imaginary line that simply complicates their lives and separates them from family and communities. Others noted that the people haven't moved--the border has. And that is exactly true.

The protest was well planned and attended and music continued after we left. A few pictures.

on the street

stage to left, audience right

I like flags



nice breeze for flags

the requisite dog

on the street

Juan Mancias speaking


tents from parking lot


Friday, July 26, 2019

Pictures Summer 2019 Respite Center

Entrance to Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center, McAllen, TX

Entrance to bus station

Main entry/room inside center

Dining area

the "bar"

Clothing area, needing to be restocked

Volunteers serving lunch

Mats for sleeping, piled up during day

Waiting in line for clothes

upon moving in; now quite full

donations waiting to go upstairs and be sorted

water to send with families as leave

Snack bags for bus travelers: 2 waters, 8 snacks, 4 sandwiches added just before leaving

we spend hours making sandwiches & snack bags....

making money selling mats for sleeping

one donated coconut

July & Aug 2019 #1

been away but busy, general catch up below

The "new" center
It's been over a month, but still settling in and figuring out systems. We are downtown, literally across the street from the bus station, in a large building that used to be a night club of some sort. There's a large central room with a long bar; a raised platform along one wall, and a couple more large rooms that we use for clothing, showers, bathrooms, dining, & sleeping. Also a nice big commercial kitchen.

We also have the entire upstairs (though not air conditioned). The old storage warehouse was closed and all brought here. It's cavernous and currently struggling a bit between two identities: a ware house and a restocking center. Traffic is an issue at times, with multiple known and unknown volunteers dashing up, getting stuff, and taking it down to the bar or kitchen. Makes keeping inventory a huge challenge, plus there's an uneasiness about so many people having access to so much stuff.

Most of those people do not realize there are cameras EVERYWHERE...up and down stairs. Ha ha.

The border situation
Unchanged. We still receive hundreds of asylum seekers a day, most 2 to 3 person families: one parent plus one or more kids. Most from Central America. All from detention centers where have stayed 4-12 days, without showers, clean clothes, adequate food, any medical care at all.

All have family or sponsors in the US so our task is to connect them to families, who buy bus or plane tickets for them. While that is taking place, they can get a clean set of clothes, a shower, hot food, a place to rest. We often have a nurse for several hours a day and have a clinic area where the doctor(s) come several times a week. In emergencies, we will take them to an ER or clinic. I don't know who pays, but I know Catholic Charities has at least one pharmacy acct and I imagine other arrangements are in place. I have not been asked to pay when I've taken folks.

The numbers have been slightly down, which helps us do a better job, but fluctuation is normal and there is no expectation that they will stay low, and by low I mean under 600 per day. That's about our normal. Not sure how we do it all but somehow, a small group of staff and an always varied number of volunteers manage to distribute hygiene kits, clothes, meals, information, assistance, respect, and comfort.

Meantime, as we do our damndest to respond to a contrived crisis, we are aware that:

seeking asylum is a legal right;
preventing asylum seekers from crossing at authorized ports of entry is illegal;
separation of families is cruel & illegal;
mass detention of asylum seekers in overcrowded, unsanitary, poorly resourced/staffed centers is unconcionable;
deaths of individuals in these centers is preventable but there appears to be no interest in preventing such deaths;
ICE raids across the country are targeting homes, not workplaces, and are designed to invoke terror and uncertainty for no gain other than invoking terror;
anyone, anytime, can be detained by ICE indefinitely, without legal recourse, regardless of whether one is a citizen, DACA, green card holder;
being brown in this country IS the sin.

And this is unacceptable. Local protests and efforts at the state and national levels are ongoing and need to begin producing change immediately.

My new living arrangements
It was getting expensive, these trips. I saved money this summer by apartment sitting for cheap but when I saw that a car rental would cost over a grand, I decided I'd rather sink that money into something that I could recoup. So I bought a car. Then knowing that the apt sitting wouldn't last past 8/1, I rented an apt. Then I needed just a few basic furniture and kitchen items. Then I needed to get the kids up in Iowa in the loop.

All is well except for the guilt tripping by the kids.....but I find if I call them on it, they back down. That's a good thing. So now I am a borderlander--never a Texan--as well as a Midwesterner. I do look forward to winters down here....and the volunteer work continues to satisfy my soul. When the time comes, I haul my modest possessions back north. In the meantime, I have a sanctuary, wheels, and good work. Yay.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

June 2019 Respite Center

and lots of misc, covering past several days, not necessarily in order.

Met Miss Plus Rio Grande Valley. She came to volunteer. Very nice young woman.

We had two women who'd just had C-sections and been released from the hospital. We were told the baby of one was still in the NICU and I felt so bad for her, not being near her baby. Turns out that was a cover story. The baby had been stillborn. How awful to carry a child to near term and have it die.....

Josh Norman, Washington "Redskins" player...came and donated $18,000 to the respite center. Looked him up and he does many good things. Met him last spring when he first visited and he remembered me! Got a selfie but I look dreadful so I cropped it. Good person.

Noted yesterday a lack of one seems to know who the young woman is who proclaimed that she is the asst. volunteer coordinator. Our 2 drivers mixed up who was taking who to the airport when....our boss and one driver were at odds over how many snack bags to keep by the exit door. The occasional staff meeting would be good, ha ha.

Yesterday pm went upstairs for diapers. Woman with nametag practically accosts me (in my volunteer t-shirt) and announces to me that SHE is going to make everyone wear a name tag (I, obviously, was not). She continued: "Y'all aren't doing what WE are doing!". I should have asked what that was supposed to mean...but instead gave her a dismissive look and slight head shake and moved on. Wonder if she will be there today....

Not OCD but like tidy and organized, and the area behind the bar counter is a mess. Most of the mess is under the counter, at least out of the way. But stuff spills out and it's hard to walk and not only a mess but a hazard if we need to get out from behind there in a hurry. The rotating volunteers tend to do whatever so although stuff moves around, it is pretty reliably always a mess. I want to organize it this coming week. Wish me luck.

Still on the counter. WHY a bin of large containers of baby powder? We don't give it out, except maybe in doses in small cups. So we sure don't need a bin full. We're avoiding soap, since it clogs the drains (they get body wash in hygiene kits). But there are more than one bins full of bar soap. And they are heavy. And they need to go upstairs, which means smaller and more containers and someone to haul them. 

Was called on to meet and assist a delivery of 3 pallets of hygiene products at 10 on Thurs, I think it was. I was there at 10. At 1020 I left but kept checking back to the delivery door on the alley. At 1230 I went to lunch and of course that's when UPS showed up, in a semi, in the alley.....I got back and it was one pallet, not three. And it was cubicle walls, not hygiene products. And the driver complained about being late on his route. Not MY fault! And we had to get two guys each for one cubicle panel because they were so big and a bit heavy. All stored safely upstairs now. The semi blocked alley traffic for well over half an hour and there were donors lined up behind. Glad that mess is over.

We now have an "isolation room" upstairs, AC, place to rest etc. We've already had one chicken pox in there....And the clinic is being set up, very nice, we've had a couple of moms with 2 or 3 day old kids there.

We ahd a couple of days where we got folks out and new folks hadn't come. Volunteers get out a jump rope and harmonica and lots of playing and fun ensues. Coloring books, books to read corner, even a soccer ball! Time to braid and work on each other's hair. Singing! So awesome to see.

and a couple of reunions. We only see if people are actually picked up by family. I love to greet them, hug our detainees, wish them well, see them off.

possibly more later. It's 7 am and about time to start my shift.

Friday, June 28, 2019

June 18 at the new center downtown

Flights were fine, got the rental, drove to the new place and walked in just after 2 full busses had arrived. Big central area with staff working at one wall/chairs lined up for clients; a line for the kitchen/dining area; a rather impressive curved bar area where volunteers were giving out tolietry tote bags and misc--diapers, hair ties, extra toothbrushes, and so on. I didn't see anyone I knew and wasn't wearing my volunteer t-shirt so had to explain who I was as I checked things ok, small room for sandwiches and snack bags, limited dining space, all the clothing now behind make shift counters with volunteers behind picking clothes for folks. Slim pickings, it looked like. Then I saw a person or two I knew and then more, checked out upstairs where all the sorting will be done, lots of room for storage and they'll set up a clinic space there too.

Guards at the doors to keep folks from leaving and wandering all over. I was naturally put to work almost immediately--folks at the first respite center, 3 blocks away, needed to be walked to the bus station. Since the new place is kitty corner to the bus station, it's no big deal. So I did that and then other requests people with questions...I'd contacted Megan and she came around 430 with the key and showed me plans for the storage and sorting upstairs. I was tired from getting up early for the flights and being immersed in 100+ degree heat so didn't stay much longer. But I'll be there in the morning....