Wednesday, February 13, 2019

McAllen Feb 2019

and escaped a winter storm 8 inches of snow, to come to what feels like tropical weather. Warm, a bit humid, nice breeze, palm trees....but the Respite Center not quite so calm or easy.

The McAllen City Council voted to give the center 90 days to find a new location. Neighbors complained about strangers (refugees) wandering the streets, which does not happen, and too much traffic. While the city has appreciated that the center cares for these refugees rather than leaving them to be dumped outright on the streets of the city, they did cave to the residents of the neighborhood.

So now, at higher levels of management, the search is on for a new location. The mayor has promised to help. I've heard possible locations might be an old K-Mart: one volunteer likes this idea because there's a lot of concrete which could easily be kept clean (he thinks this is better than a grassy yard out back?!). Another possibility was a closed gym, because it would have a lot of showers. And no problem if no kitchen, the churches can cook and deliver meals. None of these strike me as great but maybe there are places out there where we could have our kitchen, our yard, our showers....I do hope so.

Meantime, in the midst of this discussion, a volunteer goes off on a rant against the asylum seekers for breaking things, ruining things, damaging things etc etc....and I was able to simply walk away. I hope it is merely burn out and she takes a break, but if not, I don't know why she is volunteering, and I have little doubt that her attitude is apparent to the refugees. Too bad, for sure.

There are some changes from when I was here last month, but nothing very radical. Some new faces, familiar faces, and the daily arrival of hundreds of sad and scared people, who are nevertheless grateful for the little we are able to do. We are entirely donation funded. When we run out of gloves, we run out of gloves. There are volunteers who rush out to Walmart to buy gloves and so on, which is lovely but not very sustainable.

Yesterday shoe laces were in short supply. Why ICE confiscates them, I really don't understand. They could put them, and the belts and hair ties, in the small bag of possessions that the refugees get back when they are released. At any rate, I found about 10 pairs of shoelaces in the clinic and stashed them in my pocket....and then as I went about other tasks, I'd find myself staring down at shoes rather than up at people, ha ha. The same occurred a few hours later with hair ties--found about a dozen, started looking at people's hair. But in general I try to make eye contact as a way of showing the other person respect.

How not to respect these asylum seekers--traveling with 3 young kids all the way from Central America? When I tried to avoid taking even 2 to Target with me!

Some differences from last visit: they aren't wearing monitors. Did ICE run out? Ok with me, they are quite dehumanizing. Refugees still have to check in with ICE when they get to their destinations, of course, and will be waiting who knows how long for court dates, but at least they don't have to worry about recharging--while the monitor is on--for at least an hour at a time. Also I've seen a few more intact families, two parents with kids. And yesterday I met a Cuban--that is a first. More are arriving who have cell phones as well--I will have to see what I can learn about that. But the center no longer has open wi-fi (an unnecessary bill?) so many of the cell phones won't work, and that is frustrating. But part of it may be that refugees want to bypass the registration process due to the long lines, and they want to call their families themselves. And that leads to some chaos because after contacting their families, they still need the help of staff, yet the staff is already working to help others and it becomes really difficult to have the process interrupted. The center is incredibly careful about keeping track of who we have, who their kids are, where they are going, and so on. If some percentage aren't going through registration, it's impossible to know.

As part of the "knowing" process, I've been helping make photocopies: of the parent or parents, then adding the names of the children, so we have a set of documents that show who is there and with whom. This is important when there is a lost and scared child...who's wandered away from a parent...and we have to try to reunite them.

One last interesting event from yesterday: we have a winter Texan couple who work with the children and baby clothes. They have been caring for a 3 year old whose father is in the hospital. The mother is presumed to be in detention but hasn't been released. We don't know when the father will be released. The retired couple enjoy the child but it is a LOT of work and they have plans to travel soon. If the child is turned over to Social Services, odds are good that the parents will never see her again--how does an undocumented person go to an agency and qualify? I am hoping for a good resolution on that situation today!

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