Thursday, April 25, 2019

McAllen April #8?

definitely not a good day for driving. Got lost twice.
Actually, found the Target, which felt like home, but couldn't find my way back. Then got lost on the way to the bus station with two refugee families. It's TWO turns. Obviously I made one of them wrong. Had to use the gps.....sad!

Some sort of confab yesterday at the Respite Center. Sister Norma, head of CC RGV, another nun or two, bunch of guys...learned later they were Border Patrol/ICE. Not sure what the conversation was but I can report that there was plenty of chaos for them to observe.

We put out the usual calls for folks needing to go to the bus terminal or airport, and we had the usual last minute folks who apparently didn't hear the calls and let us know 20 minutes before their busses left that they had to get to the terminal. So I made two trips, one in which I managed to get lost. But all ended well.

We had good volunteers so all the clothing rooms were open, the shoes room was open, and there were folks sorting through the mounds of donated stuff--mostly clothing--which was a huge help. ICE/BP again sent us 3 busses at a time.....twice, in the afternoon. We had already gotten one in the morning.  Really long lines waiting to talk to staff....but we had a new hire so hopefully the wait wasn't too long.

We've had more intact families than usual....two parents with 1-2 kids. More than a few pregnant women traveling alone. Fathers with teen daughters--we wonder if this is a safeguard against rape, and mothers with teen sons, similarly. We've seen a young man drag one foot behind him, a boy with just one arm, a girl with Down's. And the faces of the adults....lined with care, aged before their time, exhausted yet moving forward. It is truly inspiring. takes a village, right? so when kids come up asking for a toothbrush, shoe laces, or hair ties, I always ask them What are the magic words?  most of them get it. Yesterday a little boy cocked his head and then whispered "abracadabra", ha! Of course I gave him the toothbrush....

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

April McAllen # 7 or so..the giant bunny

sort of cute but my pragmatic side wonders what do we do with it now?

Yesterday a well intentioned woman brought some lunch bags with sandwiches, chips, and a can of soda in each one. We typically have some 300 or more people around that time; of course not all are children but still, she didn't bring enough for everyone so of course I had kids coming to ask me for theirs...which I didn't have.

And what do you imagine a 3 year old with a full can of soda will do? Yes, I had to go get a mop. Sigh. No 3 year old needs soda anyway.

About midday Border Patrol brought a woman with a 2 day son. Wow. Mom was clearly sore. We got her a chair, of course, and I saw that the baby was wrapped in a mylar blanket. I immediately found a soft, warm, dark teal one and in less than a minute, the mylar was in the trash and the baby wrapped in blue. A terrific improvement.

As she sat in the reception area, waiting to be registered, contact family, and so on, many of us paused in our chaotic days to admire the newborn. Old, young, male, female, staff, refugee, volunteer--we all shared a few moments of joy that in the midst of so much sorrow and uncertainty, new life arrived to remind us of hope and the future. It was lovely. And I hope her family buys her a plane ticket rather than a bus ticket. Maybe I will check this morning and see, perhaps if they only planned a bus, I can help upgrade to a plane.

and Eli sent me to get lice treatment for a little head itched immediately. Shudder. So contagious....

We got lots of folks asking for cold remedies; they blame the far too cold detention centers. I imagine the heat of the center feels good. No a/c and hundreds of people makes for a very warm place.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

April #4 sad stories....

A woman and her son needed to get to Chicago. Her brother-in-law said he'd let them stay at their house but he wouldn't buy her tickets. I checked on prices and it would be about $520....which maybe I could help with but it didn't sound like a welcoming situation, and that's a good chunk of money, so I turned her over to one of the staff. They decided to call La Posada, a longer term place, a lot smaller, but they work to find sponsors and assistance and so on. So the woman was at the desk several times asking when she'd be transferred.

I thought I had photos but can't find them. It's in a rural setting, with trailers and a few larger buildings, garden, play area, classroom space for English classes, and so on. My friend loved the tranquility. I felt like we were miles from anything and it made me nervous--although I live in a rural state, ha ha.

I hope her story ends well.

We have had a volunteer, a Texas native with a cowboy hat...he was tapped to drive the buseta during the day. We have two, and M., one of the long term volunteers, was also driving. Cowboy was waiting for passengers and told me he avoids M because she is one strong willed woman. After he left, M said she was avoiding Cowboy because he turns a 5 minute drive into 20 minutes, drops off refugees without going in to help them, and doesn't speak Spanish so has no idea what they are asking him. I had to laugh. I think yesterday was his last day,.

We had family of 4 come to help and they worked on toiletries bags. We have cloth or similar recycling style bags and we add toiletries and give them out when newcomers arrive. We ran out of bags so the dad decided to use the plastic bags we use for food bags that we give them on their way out. That caused a lot of consternation from Sister Anne....though what else to do, I don't know. But I really really hope there were some at our off-site storage facility and that they have been brought to the center.

It's Easter and I don't know what to expect re staff or volunteers. I know ICE will bring as many detainees as usual. I'm going incognito today, not wearing the volunteer t-shirt, in hopes of getting some things done before anyone realizes I work there, ha ha.

I am sort of also pushing for a get into the rooms so I don't have to keep asking. I have tried being annoying, bribing, and asking outright. We shall see.....

and here's a cultural question:  for some, we take a photocopy of the adult's destination info and then write the names of spouse, kids, etc. We always ask how old the kids are. Quite quite often the adult will answer "she's going to be 12 in August" or something similar...and I pause....say, ok she's 11? and write that down. When I am tired, I think "I don't care how old she is goinng to be! I asked how old she IS!" but it happens enough that I wonder if there's something cultural there. I'll have to ask my informants....

Saturday, April 20, 2019

McAllen April 2018 #6 stories you wonder about

Did that woman get her taxi? She had to be at the airport by 4 or 430 in the morning...we don't start our buseta runs that early so I helped her set it up. I only picture people sleeping on mats everywhere while she tries to make her way to the front door....

And what about the woman with family in Houston? They were going to drive down to pick her up and she wondered how late they could arrive. I was told it's a 6-7 hour drive. Did they come? How late? Did she finally get to stay with family that night or next day?

This one I know the end of. A mom and daughter arrived on an early bus and had been told the husband/son would be released the same day. So she waited....a few hours later, a new bus but no husband. A second bus, no husband. A third bus arrived--I was at the front desk when a young boy crowded past me, then approached the counter where his mom was on the other side. She saw him and shrieked with joy. The reunion was touching......

but it turns out that a woman I'd been working with for a couple of days had left kids home in Central America. The family reunion totally triggered her and she fell apart....we comforted her (no sub for having your kids with you) and sent her home. A happy/sad story, as are most of them.

notes on culture: our cultures are so deeply ingrained that we believe them to be the only cultures, the "right" cultures. We see other behaviors according to our own cultural filters. When we ask our refugees to line up and it looks more like a crowded circle, that's cultural. Why SHOULD they have the same ideas about standing in line that I do? When I ask them to move and they don't....havenn't they been ordered around enough? When do they get to be autonomous beings again? My personal space, like many Anglo Americans, is perhaps 10 or so much of Latin America it is much closer. I react by feeling crowded or trapped. But that's my filter. It's so important to keep in mind. My culture is not superior. Their culture is not superior. Our cultures are simply different and we need to learn to respect those differences without judging.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

McAllen April #5 NFL players!

yes, we had a visit from 2 NFL players, Josh Norman  & Demario Davis (New Orleans & Washington). They got a briefing, tour, gave out gifts, helped serve food. Anything that brings attention to the center is welcome.

Super busy today, about 600 new detainees, one mid-morning bus, which made things difficult because we were also trying to coordinate getting people to the bus terminal and airport. It seems we were behind all day, just barely enough greeting bags with toiletries (then we'd rush to make more before the next bus), not having people available to give out clothes, discovering in the pm that we didn't have much to give out. Thankfully 2 young men came around 430 and were happy to help sort clothing, which I hope we can get into the clothing rooms early and then start giving out, We shall see. Nothing is ever really the same from day to day.

I was serious about giving out blankets so we wouldn't have to store them and I came across a box of bagged knitted or crocheted throw blankets.  I opened a bag to see, and they were beautiful. The one I opened had a note of encouragement and welcome adn was signed by the knitter....another had a note commenting about times her family had moved (fled Hitler's Germany, for example) and noting that any place can be home and anyone can be family. We were tearing up!

Amazing and touching.
I was waiting with a small group for the buseta and used the blankets to explain to them that the government and policies in this country don't necessarily represent the people. that was a touching moment too!

and that is a good place to stop for the day.

McAllen April #3, in which I start complaining to BP...

Well, there was a big media event today...60 Minutes? Not sure. Shortly after I arrived, 730 this morning, Eli mentioned it and set me to helping clean things up, which meant grabbing a couple of refugees and getting help taking garbage to the dumpster, cardboard to the recycle, and a slew of plastic bins to a little known storage area. Which I have been there long enough to know about....

No one was allowed into the front part of the building until 9. The crew arrived around 830 to set up. One guy asked what it would typically look like and then said Good, We like chaos in the background.

As people were allowed to move, there was plenty to do. I did get volunteers into the adult clothing and kid clothing rooms, and a couple more to help prepare the welcome bags with toiletries. Was quite pleased with myself. Mostly ignored the journalists. Sadly, around 1030 or 11 I discovered that the volunteers had left the adult room, the door was unlocked, and over a dozen people were looking for clean clothes. Unfortunately they rushed, competed, and threw clothes they didn't want on the floor. So all the organizing we had done yesterday and in the morning was wasted. I was upset and chided them....and told others still waiting that we now couldn't open the room for another hour at least, probably more like 2. And I explained why. I feel a little bad now. I hope they didn't feel bad about upsetting me. Still, it was a rotten way to behave.

We had a big bus arrive around 10 in the morning so I expect the journalists saw as much chaos as they wanted. But it quieted down a bit so I left for a bit and picked up cold waters on the way back. We had additional help come so we did get the clothing rooms set up and could reopen them.

At one point in the morning--evidently this was a BIG deal, because McAllen cops were there for security--I spoke to a woman in a skirt and blouse, and began to complain about Border Patrol. Was saved by her saying cheerfully Well, I am from BP! What can we do better? I suggested they stop sending us busses of people while we are trying to get yesterday's people on their way and that noonish would be a whole lot better, She said this situation of apprehending and detaining has been going on since 2014, and that they apprehend 1100 per day. Since I know the centers are overcrowded, and they send us at least 400 per day (usually more), I am guessing that this is just in our local area, not all along the border. Really hard to imagine the entire long border....

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

McAllen April #2 in which Cheri is bitchy,,,

7:30 to 5:30. One half hour break to buy cold waters for the staff and a sandwich to eat in the car.  Get so dehydrated that I drink 3 full bottles of water at the end of the day (followed by more coffee, my comfort drink).

Detainees dropped off early and continuously. Detainees from yesterday didn't get welcoming bags (with tooth brushes and toothpaste, deodorant, comb, etc). Spent some time today making more but still not enough to cover yesterday and today's newcomers.

Few volunteers and two that weren't very helpful. One, working with me in children's clothes (a priority), spent over 15 minutes per kid, letting mom shop and pick through stuff. I explain that there is a long line, which there is, and stick to about 5 minutes, giving them choices and hustling them along. These clothes are only for traveling to family, they just need to fit well enough and be clean. They don't have to match or have princesses on them. She even let them spend time choosing hair ties--I grab 2-3 and hand them over and move on.

We have folks waiting in line and then get another bus or two, and we have to close down the rooms in that hallway, esp the kid clothes, so we can take care of the new arrivals. That means some have stood in line 3 or 4 times without ever getting a chance for clothes. That's why quick turnaround is important. We did a lot today but it never seems quiet enough.

I did take a short break in the adult clothing room, which hadn't had any attention in several days. I closed and locked the door and worked as fast as I could getting men's pants and shirts folded or hung and organized by size. Then women's pants. I had only a little time to work on women's tops--there are still 3 bins piled with clothes I didn't get to. But then, knowing there were people who hadn't yet had a chance to bathe, I opened the door and did as much as  I could on my own, finally announcing that I could help 3 more and then had to work in another area.

When the door was open, an older volunteer would show up with bins of clothes. They weren't sorted or organized. They are supposed to be but she just figured if she had adult clothes they belonged in the adult room. So I could either sort in there or help people but not both....

ok last complaint. As I was preparing to leave late pm, ICE/BP showed up with 3 busetas, each with 15 or so people. As they were being escorted into the building (and I was standing outside, looking for a particular jefe whose keys I needed to return), one agent at one of the busetas said "I'm leaving the doors open to air it out" and laughed; the other agents joined in.

WELL MAYBE IF YOU GAVE THEM CLEAN CLOTHES AND LET THEM SHOWER, YOUR BUSETA WOULD SMELL FINE. What do they do in those centers? Cage them up, give them cold sandwiches for meals, and just watch them and refuse to help in any way? I was outraged. As far as I am concerned, anyone working for ICE is morally bankrupt anyway.

But as they say in Spanish, tomorrow is another day. Some dinner, lots of quiet, and sleep and I'll be set for another round tomorrow. Wish me luck.....

oh and Cheri is definitely censoring herself. There is plenty of swearing under my breath and in my head. Tomorrow I WILL try to train some responsible asylum seekers to help with clothes and sorting.