Mass Migration (from Central America) and our Fed’s Response

June 4th has come and gone.  That was the date that a few of the Honduran women stated as the deadline for a supposed amnesty or program that they believed would allow them to stay in the United States.  I did have a slight battle with technology and my first few interviews and pictures are gone (I was so frustrated!!) but I returned to the downtown Laredo bus station that had housed so many migrants who had been released by ICE on their own recognizance after being detained and processed by Border Patrol.

Those of you on the border know, the mass migration that began to start to trickle and impact the local community started about three weeks ago.  In that time, thousands of migrants from Central America have entered the US.  Normally, we in our border community don’t see much behind the closed doors.  This time, it is different.

As I made mention in my previous post, there were mainly women and children taking up all the seats, some lining up against the wall on the floor.  Because the downtown bus station employees were not as friendly to us distributing items or speaking to people, I was able to interview with three young women from Honduras inside the rest room.  One was breastfeeding so did not speak but the other two shared the following responses to questions:

The chain of events since then has included an interview with Border Patrol Union Local 2455, attending a press conference from the the Laredo Sector Border Patrol which was canceled, writing to Commander Harris for information on how to bridge the agency with local entities, being granted private audience with several Border Patrol officials, Breitbart Texas’ story “Leaked Images Reveal Children Warehoused in Crowded U.S. Cells, Border Patrol Overwhelmed” including photos of the overcrowding, the start of a clothes/toiletries drive and… no significant news of changes about to occur.

The following are some of these interviews:

The Border Patrol Union representative expressed the concerns of the overcrowding situation with relation to the Border Patrol Agents. They have raised a flag of concern because detention centers cannot safely hold those who have been detained. What has surprised me personally, is the silence that has come from the federal government. After sending the following email to Border Patrol:

Thank you, Sara, for letting us know who to contact in DC at this morning’s Border Patrol press conference that resulted in a cancellation. Besides the media, the community was also interested so if you can forward this to Commander Harris, I would be most appreciative. Thank you. VG

Commander Harris,

As someone involved with various non-profits, the concern from the last few days of excess amounts of people released after processing at the local bus stations is still felt. While it seems that the drops at the bus stations are stopping as of today, we imagine that overcrowding still continues. I am asking on behalf of the Holding Institute Community Center, who provided hygiene kits via the Bethany House and offered showers to those interested, how can we best work with families who may have food & basic care needs beyond what Border Patrol is prepared to provide?

In all honesty, the Bethany House soup kitchen was taken by surprise. Pooling resources let some volunteers buy diapers and easy food that can be carried for those waiting hours at the bus station. I understand that it is not the responsibility of Border Patrol to go above and beyond to provide care for detainees about to be released; but, this situation did create a strain on the community’s resources. Any suggestions of how to prepare or updates on the continuation of this unusual migration are most welcome.

Sincerely, (me)

So, the Holding Institute Community Center has begun to collect clothing for children and hygiene products to be given to Border Patrol for detainees being released.  But – let’s think… the resources that are being pooled to assist because of the humanitarian void people are falling into because of the long processing and our federal government’s decisions on how to handle those in detention are going to a massive agency with a multi-billion dollar budget.  Those resources would normally be going to local organizations that we all support – Bethany House, Volunteers Serving the Need, Goodwill, the Salvation Army and many others.  Even though the request has been made via the FACE Coalition, at a Sisters of Mercy discussion on immigration, via Univision & Fox station, etc., the donations collected will be a drop in the bucket of what is needed – most importantly, it will divert the resources needed in Laredo, one of the poorest cities in the US.

When called in response to my email about alerting the community of possible impact, I was given audience at a meeting on June 3, 2014.  I met with Deputy Chief Marcos Garcia, Acting Division Chief of Op Support Enrique Martinez, Division Chief of Operations Mathew Hudak, Acting Patrol Agent in Charge Eugenio Rodriguez, and Acting Special Ops Supervisor of Comms Branch.  The discussion was clear but the expectations from each other were different.  While I made mention of examples of cases like natural disasters where our city has a disaster plan in place for receiving evacuees, they made mention of not knowing who to contact for different services in the community.  I do understand that it is not the responsibility of Border Patrol or ICE to follow anyone being released, there is a humanitarian responsibility to those in their custody; but also, to the community where they work and live along with all of us.  I did state I would pass the word about the immediate needs for children’s clothing, diapers, hygiene items because the overcrowding has brought issues never before anticipated – and I have.

What I still do not understand the stance taken of the agency existing in a bubble, as if it does not affect those in and around them.  One of the questions asked of me is if I would be the point person for efforts; the answer is of course not!  I am simply a community volunteer who is having a hard time with the recent actions in dealing with the Central American mass migration.  Unfortunately, this also points to a deficiency in the Laredo community with our communication amongst nonprofits but at least there are several coalitions where the message about a drive can be disbursed.   Laredo may not have the best leaders, nor the best systems to respond in emergencies but it does have a beautiful community of caring people.  This does not absolve the Department of Homeland Security from the responsibility of communicating with the greater public and its humanitarian responsibility.  When Border Patrol and then ICE decide to release hundreds of people, not everyone had a family member to call to buy their bus ticket to reunite with family.  As the employee at the bus station told us, “I don’t mind selling so many bus tickets since it is good for my employer but our regular schedule means everyone is stuck here until we can find them space on a bus to go.”

The problems are many but unfortunately, it is reluctantly admitted as a problem and only recently because of the push from media and others.

I’m beginning to get a little lengthy here so I close with one final point.  In the several interviews I did, the women with children talked about the end of May, beginning of June deadline for some amnesty program they believed to be going on.  This idea did not come out of everyone but of many.  The question remains, WHAT has caused the sudden mass migration?  Is it a rumor run amok that just became so distorted that people risked life and health and home stability to run to the United States??  If you are conspiracy theorists, maybe you might think it was an idea planted by a nefarious organization meant to intentionally pull Border Patrol resources away from surveillance & deterrent presences to pass more than just human smuggling??  Even now, as I passed by the railroad bridge, only one Border Patrol vehicle was in sight when normally there are three or more.  Maybe, just maybe, it is the mixed messages being sent by our federal government in its decisions for immigration reform that are being twisted and misunderstood and encouraging those on the brink to take the plunge and cross.  What was striking was that those I interviewed did not view their detention & processing as something negative – I honestly believe that some interpreted the action as part of the process to come in to the United States.  As a woman humbly told me, “My kids will automatically be admitted in to the US but I will have to go to court 3 or 4 times before I get my papers to let me stay.  All that we went through will be worth it.”  Strange.  I feel her desire to better her life and know that to make the decision to move from one country to another is not one that is taken lightly; but, I couldn’t say, “You’ve got it wrong” because honestly, I am not so sure she does have it wrong.  I wish her the best and also to the border communities that are impacted by an unprepared system not quite open to working outside of themselves.

Should you want to donate, please drop off any supplies or clothing at the Holding Institute Community Center at 1102 Santa Maria or to any of the Border Patrol Sector offices marked for Processing Center donations.

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Crazy overcrowding over at Border Patrol and yet…

I’m tired.  As I sit here wondering when Bluehost will be done with my blog migration, I realize that I am thinking of such a minor insignificant nothing.  So yes, I am tired from the minor worries but I’m also physically tired from having gone out to distribute food last night and out again tonight.

Most importantly, I am tired of our broken systems.  Last night (Wednesday), a frustrated bus station worker called Bethany House (soup kitchen) to report a higher than usual number of people at the station.  She described the the uniform of the driver, the decals on the bus that dropped off about 50 people at the station.  From there, I was called to ask my sources if I knew what was going on because that was highly unusual.  So I called around and was told by one detention center that shouldn’t be happening that the usual release happens at the border for those returning or may happen at a bus station at request for someone OR’d but not a whole bus load.  Everyone  I spoke to when looking for answers said “that sounds strange” or “that is not protocol” or the like.  What was a fact was that now there were about 50 people at a bus station.

My friend, who first went with Bethany House to pass out diapers and some supplies to the one station in the North, remained concerned.  At 11pm, I picked up another friend and went to buy bags of oranges, apples and granola bars – food that could be stored for later consumption.  When we got to the bus station, tired looking people just stared at our bags and pretty soon, the kids were gathered around us.  We spoke with a few who said they had not eaten since sunrise.  Even though we were systematically giving out the food, the fruit went fast.  There is no denying that they were hungry.  The majority seemed to be from Honduras, some San Salvador and a few from Guatemala.  What was most striking was that almost all were women with children.

So, who were they?  Immigrants who had crossed in the Valley of Texas, detained and then brought to Laredo.  Apparently the overcrowding is so severe in detention areas, the subcontractor who holds them, released them with their OR (own recognizance) paperwork.  While it is not uncommon for a few to be released in this way, what is different is how this is now a mass dumping at the bus stations that started this week.  There was no warning – not to the bus stations, not to those who serve the hungry or care about humane treatment.  They were released but had no resources, little (if any) food, little (if any) hygiene products, little (if any) information.

Not only those 50 but in talking to the bus station workers, they said that another busload had been taken to a bus station downtown.  The three of us hopped in and went to buy out the local HEB of their apples, oranges and granola bars.  At the downtown station, we again saw almost all women with many children.  Their destinations were as varied as the first group – Maine, Illinois, Minnesota, Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky.  Again, almost all were from Central American countries.  We heard quite a few thank yous and god will bless you but the core of the problem is not just filling a belly with a one time snack.  What is going on?  Why the mass migration?  Or is it really Border Patrol changing policies or procedures? Or is it the subcontractor?  What has changed and how is our border protection system resolving problems created by those changes?  Local media covered the story from the viewpoint of the Border Patrol Union who is complaining of the overcrowding and inhumane standards it is creating.  LareDOS newspaper (May 2014, page 14), KGNS, KGNS 2, and Univision covered some of the story.

It isn’t just Laredo.  This is a link to a story out of Tucson via the Arizona Daily Star.  In the last two days, they have had the same scenario as Laredo at their bus station.  They state:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona is processing 400 people, mostly families coming from Central America and Mexico who were apprehended in South Texas and flown here over the weekend, officials said. To process the surge of crossers from Texas, the Border Patrol is turning to all available resources at its disposal, said Daniel Tirado , Border Patrol spokesman for the Rio Grande Valley Sector.

Regardless of your political bent, regardless of how you feel about immigration (legal or otherwise), regardless of the manner of entry to the country, people have a right to at least food.  That had been the concern of the bus station worker.  But today was another day.  We thought maybe it was a fluke but Bethany House did a check and again, more people were dropped off by the busload.  At least today, the nonprofit soup kitchen was able to prepare for the extra mouths to feed.  I did a visit around 11:30pm.  I spoke with a few of the women camping out at the bus station.  I do have some audio that I will upload in a follow-up post and some photos of the crowded station.  Normally, at midnight, the station only has a handful of people.  Tonight, there were people lying all over the floors, outside on the benches and, of course, in the seats.  The place was abuzz with activity.  I was able to interview Mari and Velma, two young women from Honduras, about why they decided to come now.  Management did not seem too pleased with my presence.  When my friend and I returned with bags of food for a family who had missed the Bethany House food distribution, my friend was shoved by the security man from the station as he intended to take his camera.  Those spending the night on the floors were willing to talk to us but management had other ideas.  More about the interview tomorrow along with an additional interview from the spokesperson for the Border Patrol Union in Laredo.

People’s lives are fascinating but in that fascination, humanity must come first (according to me).  Border Patrol has scheduled a press conference at 10am to respond to the situation.  I can’t wait to hear some of the solutions.  From the outside, it looks like our borders have become porous in such an unintended way – and could this be one of the causes of the increase in migration?  Or is something beyond the surface picture taking place?  For today, may the families and children get some rest as they wait for the ironically named AMERICANOS buses to take them to their new destinations while they wait for their court dates.  What a system we have.

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Undergoing a few changes

Yes, readers (former readers), I am finally going to self-host and am migrating the blog.  A ver como sale.  Wish me luck!

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Mayor and Chief walk downtown

I’m posting in an effort to get Keyrose to keep writing at www.LaSanbe.com (because I do hope he keeps writing his blog and that today was really not his last day) - it isn’t just that but that this press release just struck me as… well, if you know me, you know how it struck me.  Of course, I’ll be at work so I won’t get a chance to look for them and talk strategy of collaboration between downtowners and LPD participate in this “great photo opportunity.”  

Mayor Salinas, Police Chief Garner to Visit Downtown Laredo Businesses

Meet the owners, customers, assure them that they are both ready to serve and protect

WHO:             City of Laredo Mayor Raul G. Salinas

                       Chief of Police Ray E. Garner

WHAT:          Downtown visit

WHEN &       Wednesday, September 18, 2013      10:45 a.m.

WHERE:       Jarvis Plaza, then will walk to downtown businesses

WHY:             In an effort to reassure the downtown community about the commitment from the Laredo Police Department, as well as to listen to any concerns or issues residents and business owners in Laredo’s downtown may have about security or other infrastructure issues, Mayor Salinas and Chief Garner will be visiting several downtown businesses and senior citizens’ homes.  

                        Great photo opportunity.

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Gringo Barrio Debuts Album

This was a neat little surprised that arrived in my inbox.  Gringo Barrio is introduced in the press release with the following:

Gringo Barrio is proud to release their debut album of the same name at the iconic Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in Austin, Texas on August 24th, 2013. With songs that capture the heart and essence of the life on the border, Gringo Barrio, tells the stories of a group of three non-hispanic friends growing up in a predominantly mexican culture. But forget traditional cumbias or corridos, Gringo Barrio, translates these stories to the sounds and folklore that Texans know and love.

Check out their music video about Laredo (Apparently WordPress changed since I last posted and I can’t load in a video but the following is the link):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9u7Wr20QlmQ

Maybe they would want to play at the no-budget historic neighborhood street festival in November… hmm…. doesn’t hurt to ask!

Gringo Barrio

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A tiny look at Voz de Niños

My first introduction for Voz de Niños was through its former director, Edgar Ricalde. His wonderful presentation at a Rotary meeting informed members of the key role played by CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteers across the state. In Laredo, though, it is better known as Voz de Niños, but it’s mission is similar to other CASA programs (the following description is from the Texas CASA website):

What A CASA Volunteer Does

CASA volunteers are screened and highly trained and then appointed by judges to represent and advocate for a child’s best interests in the child protection system. CASA volunteers are each assigned to help one child or set of siblings at a time, so they can focus on giving that child or sibling group the individualized advocacy and attention they need. CASA volunteers save taxpayers money and children’s futures by helping children find a safe, permanent homes as soon as possible.

The local Voz de Niños is currently looking for dedicated new volunteers to serve the children of the Laredo and surrounding communities. By the way, in addition to volunteers, they are looking for another fabulous Executive Director.). The numbers of children in the system is astounding. I write this as I prepare to attend the Webb County Child Welfare Board of Directors meeting where we are provided the up-to-date figures of children in foster care and facing care needs. Voz de Niños is the advocate, the go-between, the link between children and the multiple agencies they have to go through. I hope to be able to give you a little more information about the Board of Directors of Voz de Niños and the system that abused and neglected children enter.

Many of you have already entered the drawing for prizes coordinated by Critters and Crayons. Be sure to check out the blog post at Critters and Crayons; and, also LaSanbe’s blog post.

Also follow Voz de Niños on Facebook!

Voz de Ninos header

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Good Friday, good eats

I miss my parents’ Lenten cooking. Fridays during Lent were filled with arroz con camarones, chiles rellenos, lentejas and, of course, my favorite capirota. The streets of Laredo seemed so deserted today since 1/2 of the workforce is off for the Easter celebrations. My little store has been empty all morning except for the silver-haired lady who stopped by to offer banana bread. Wish she would have had capirotada :P.

I’m not religious so the weekend will be spent catching up on work but… I can’t stop thinking about food. I saw the morning post on facebook from El Meson de San Agustin (FYI, they are closed Saturday & Monday – darn!). Mouth-watering:

Menu del Viernes 29 de Abril,
SOPITA DEL DIA: Lentejas, Papa y Brocoli…

Pechuga Rellena de Camarones,
Enchiladas Poblanas,
Nopalitos con Tortitas de Camaron,
Camarones Gratinados,
Costillitas de Res en Salsa Huerfana,
Chile Relleno 1 de queso,
Camarones Gratinados……

So, I figured I would live vicariously through you, few readers. My neighbor (fellow non-Christian) promised me a straight-up traditional carne asada but… I want to hear about the special meals you like during this time of the year. What are your favorite Lenten dishes?? What are you planning on cooking?

I’m sharing Presley’s Pantry version of capirotada video from 2012, for those of you who are interested. She cracks me up.

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