The bus in this photo arrived on Friday afternoon with the latest batch of asylum seekers - only about 20 this time. (It's probably an ICE bus but I'm not certain.) We had around 300-350 guests that day and more arrived in dribs and drabs so the monastery was busy. A long line of parents and children, patiently waiting for lunch to be served, snaked down the hallway while others talked on cell phones with their loved ones and anxiously tried to make plans for travel. As I staggered across the parking lot with arms full of cereal bags, trail mix, pairs of jeans, and oranges, a young man rushed to help me. Our guests are always eager to help - emptying trash, mopping the floor, lifting heavy loads. We took the food to the kitchen and I thanked him, receiving a broad smile in return. Those smiles are the best reward. I store them up for the days when I'm angry at our current administration and its hideous policies (and those days are many). As usual David wandered the floors doing anything that needed doing, except that he ended up causing a near riot over a load of brand new shoes. Shoes are a hot commodity. Either our guests' shoes are worn out from walking, or falling off their feet because their shoelaces were confiscated. Volunteers from a Jewish organization dropped off 300 (yes - 300!) pairs of brand new shoes of all sizes. David forgot the cardinal rule of hiding highly sought after items and only putting them out a few at a time. The news spread like wildfire and suddenly the clothing room was full of people eager for new shoes because when you have nothing, a new pair of shoes is gold. Order was eventually restored and David was forgiven. Just another day at the monastery.
At the end of our shift we said our goodbyes to the volunteers we have come to know well, to the friendly security guard, and to the people who manage the Alitas program. But as I waited in the hallway for David a young mother approached me. I couldn't tell what she wanted so out came the trusty phone and she spoke into it. She wanted to know the address of the monastery because her husband and son had been sent to a different shelter (she was at the monastery with her daughter). Her husband was hoping to find a way to get to her so that the family could be together again. We found a Spanish-speaking volunteer and explained that we'd be happy to go get her husband and son and drive them to the monastery. And then we discovered the problem. Her husband wasn't in Tucson - he had been taken to Demming, New Mexico, a day's drive away. Any other week we would still have gone to pick him up but this week we have too much going on. We left the volunteer trying to figure out if they could coordinate Greyhound buses so that the couple could meet up somewhere like Phoenix and travel on together. I'm not hopeful. Greyhound schedules are not the most reliable!
There's nothing unusual about families being split up by the authorities at the border. One dad from Honduras told us he'd been held with his wife in the notorious compound beneath the bridge in McAllen Texas but then they'd been sent to different places. By the time he arrived at the monastery his wife and son were already at their final destination with their sponsor and he could stop worrying about them. I don't know why ICE and Border Patrol split up families. It's inhumane. Imagine coming to a country where everything is unfamiliar and you don't speak the language. Someone in a uniform takes your wife and daughter away but you don't know where they've gone or how you will find them. Imagine the stress and anxiety that would cause on top of all the other stress and anxiety you've already experienced on your journey.
I wish more politicians from northern states would get involved and visit these facilities to see for themselves the inhumanity of our government's policies and procedures. Summer is here in the SW but the number of asylum seekers has not diminished. I'm sure we will have more deaths as the temperatures climb. This isn't just an issue for border states - these refugees have destinations all over the US. I contacted the staff of a Minnesota politician for whom I'd volunteered in the last election. I didn't get a response. He'll be hearing from me when I get home! Call your politicians. Ask what they know about the situation with asylum seekers at the border. Ask what they're planning to do about it. Demand that they do something.
As always we are in need of donations:
Disclaimer: The opinions in this blog are mine alone and do not represent an official Alitas account. Any mistakes are mine and mine alone.