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
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.
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.