A Work Day with Espacio Migrante

Volunteering in San Diego/Tijuana

Oren Robinson
Dec 18, 2018 · 3 min read

Last week, my friend Emi invited me to join a work day with Espacio Migrante, a binational nonprofit based in San Diego-Tijuana, fighting for migrants’ human rights and empowerment.

Moving cinder blocks and transporting a pile of toilet paper from Costco was the easy part. Grappling with the scale of the humanitarian crisis was harder.

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The Main Shelter, where about 3,000 people are staying, with a handful of showers and no running water.

The Shelter

We had about an hour to walk around the main shelter, housing about 3,000 people, mostly in tents strewn everywhere. We asked someone if it was true there were 16 showers. They laughed and said “No, there are three.”

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A tent inside one of the buildings in the Main Shelter.

It looked like a zombie apocalypse movie. But while I expected to see despair or desperation, I was surprised to feel among people with incredible spirit, gentleness and purpose. The hour was simultaneously heartbreaking and heartening.

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The area set aside for families with small children.

One person helped us direct people to best distribute the supplies we were donating. Another came up to share with our group of visitors about ways the authorities could improve conditions. One grinning teenager was busy pulling a toddler in a cart up a ramp and letting them go to slide down into an open gravel area — the kids’ area.

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The kids’ area

The Role America Plays

What maddens me is that these thousands of families have been forced to flee their homes due to disasters shaped by US policies. My own country’s policies.

This influence looks like the US-backed political and economic destabilization dating at least to the Monroe Doctrine over 200 years ago.

This influence also looks like recent natural disasters and their aftermath: Disasters fueled by the climate change that many in our government allow to speed up. Disasters where US corporations turn relief efforts into further opportunities for economic profiteering and political intervention.

We who can have a responsibility to act

Use your time

To anyone in San Diego-Tijuana, I urge you to get involved in person if you can. We currently have crises on the south and the north side of this disgraceful wall. Links below to inquire about volunteering.

Use your money

To my friends elsewhere, please consider donating to the grassroots organizers linked below. These are groups led by and accountable to the communities with lived experiences of forced migration. All the groups are active on these issues in Southern California.

(Please let me know others to include)

Use your phone

Or consider calling your representatives, like I did, to urge them to fight to expand and strengthen the TPS program which allows hundreds of thousands of Haitian, Honduran and Salvadoran families to live and work in the U.S. today:

  1. Go to https://5calls.org and enter your zip code
  2. Go to https://5calls.org/issue/save-temporary-protected-status
  3. Read the background and call your Congressperson

Every action we choose to take gives us all more hope.

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The smiles of being full of fresh Haitian cuisine

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