A volunteer greets the bus and escorts the new arrivals into the building. Some carry small backpacks. Others carry clear plastic bags (given to them by ICE) with their few belongings inside. Shoes without laces flap on feet like penguin flippers. ICE confiscates all the refugees' laces (and hair ties too) - I have no idea why. More volunteers greet our new arrivals (pregnant women and mothers and fathers traveling with their children) and hug or hi-five them - this is their first encounter with Americans who are not officials of Border Patrol or ICE and we want them to know they're welcome.
The new arrivals are taken straight to what used to be the Sanctuary - sanctuary for the sanctuary seekers. They sit on wooden pews and relax, recognizing that this was once a sacred space where people worshiped. A Spanish-speaking volunteer tells them: "You are welcome here and you are safe. There are no uniforms here and we will take care of you." As she explains how they will be given a bed, and clothes if they need them, and how someone will help them phone their families in the US to arrange their travel plans, another volunteer hands out water and cups of hot soup. And this is the difficult bit for me to understand. Many of these asylum seekers have not eaten for days while they were in detention. Either they weren't given any food or the food was so bad that they couldn't eat it. So we can only give them half a cup of hot soup - their stomachs can't take more than that at first. Worst of all, the medical staff tell us that most of the children are dehydrated when they first arrive. How is it possible that in the richest country in the world we can detain families and not adequately feed them? How can we accept that from our government? How are we not in the streets protesting this outrage?
The numbers of asylum seekers arriving has reached a crisis point. For the first time a couple of weeks ago the monastery had to turn people away. Word has filtered down to Central America that the president may close the border; anyone who was thinking of coming in the near future has decided they'd better get here before the border closes. And so we have a manufactured crisis that gives Trump the ammunition he needs to claim a different kind of crisis. But in the meantime, the monastery has over 700 volunteers - "helpers" not "haters" rule here.
As always we are in need of donations. Cash is best so that we can buy the supplies we need the most but if you live in the Tucson area we're always short of shoes (small sizes, even for the adults), men's clothing (jeans size 34 and below, shirts size small) and snacks to put in the travel bags (granola bars, apple sauce pouches, trail mix, juice boxes, etc.). I'll tell you more about those travel bags in a future post.
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Disclaimer: The opinions in this blog are mine alone and do not represent an official Alitas account. Any mistakes are mine and mine alone.