(1st leg of the trip back home to Pittsburgh: McAllen TX > to > Dallas.)
I spotted a family of 3 asylum seekers traveling to NJ, and we began talking.
You can easily identify traveling migrants by their yellow envelope and the shopping bag they carry their stuff in.
I emptied my backpack, and offered it to them, along with my blanket. They thanked me.
I asked my new asylum seeking friend how long they have been traveling.
– Thirty-Two days she said.
Her name was Ivy, and she is traveling with her husband, and their 1 year old, who’s tired, and seems to be running a little fever.
Ivy is an engineer. She worked for 4 years in a company that processes sugar, the sugar used by Coca Cola.
They also owned a video game business.
Basically, they owned multiple TV’s hooked each to a video game consoles, such as Xbox, Wii, or others like that; and charge hourly to whoever wants to use them, providing locals with the opportunity to play a game that they can’t afford to own.
I worked most of my college years in internet parlors that used the same concept, so I’m familiar with this system.
She said they were thriving, until a few months ago when the local gang realized they were thriving, and the extortion began. Gang members started coming to their business, and charging a toll for people to come in. A man was murdered outside their little business, and after that, people stopped coming. — Nobody wants to play in an unsafe environment like that, she said.
So their little business died.
A few months after, both she and the husband got laid off, and despite their efforts, they couldn’t find a new job.
Unfortunately, the local gang didn’t understand they no longer had money, and started persecuting them.
Their aunt who lives in New Jersey suggested trying to immigrate and offered to help them. That is how they decided to embrace the journey, where she said, that she found 1 good samaritan for every 5 bad people.
This is the reality of immigration: you need someone to stay with, who can financially support you throughout the immigration process.***
Part I — The travel
Ivy, and her husband traveled from Progreso, Honduras to the border on buses.
In one of the houses they stayed along their journey, a hoard of “encapuchados” (men covering their faces) broke into the house with machine guns and took everything they had. They took all of her money, which she had for the rest of the journey.
This is the reality of immigration: the journey is extremely dangerous, this is why despite the dangers of moving forward, they can’t go back either.
Part II— The Arrival.
Once at the port of entry, they were taken to the detention center. A jail, with no windows, and where people spend day and night in cells with fluorescent lights that never shut off.
She said the time at the detention center was one of the hardest, because it affected their minds. You never know what time it is, or what day. Her baby would not fall asleep, and as a result, she kept crying, and getting sick.
They woke us up every hour. The guards are mean. Not all, she emphasized, but the majority, especially the women.
They would come every hour to wake us up, yelling “Wake up, you didn’t come here to sleep, this isn’t a vacation…”
Every hour they count them, and every hour they pass list.
Days at the detention center are long and stressful. Bathrooms aren’t sanitary, just a dirty porta-potty, and showers are not freely available. They are only allowed to shower when they are called, the guards have a list, and although it is technically every 2 days, she was there for 4, and wasn’t allowed to shower at all during that time.
The food is repetitive, they eat every day the same: a tortilla with meat (which they call tacos) for lunch, a cheese sandwich at night, some fruit, and sometimes 1 cookie for breakfast. She said quantities were not abundant, so they actually go hungry.
I asked her about the children’s diet, since she carries a 1 year old. She said everybody eats the same, even children, but they provide milk for children under 5.
Children under 12 remain with their moms in their cell.
Children above 12 are separated, and they are not allowed to see their parents at all. This is hard, for both the parents and the kids, but more for the kids.
Cells are divided between male and female, and between countries.
All the Hondurans like them were together in a cell.
All the male with children below 12.
All the female with children below 12.
All the children above 12.
Her husband said there was a Chilean guy with his kid at the detention center. My stomach crunched, as I am also a Chilean.
She said, at first, they are placed in a cell with nothing, and they are sat on the ground with a metallic looking blanket for a day.
Then they call them one by one to an interview, and once they are interviewed they are taken into the cells.
At night, they are allowed to roll out the gym-style mattresses on the floor, and all sleep together there, in the same cell, with the lights on.
“They wake them up at 5am, and they are forced to roll back the matresses. Then they count us, pass list, and then they clean”, she says.
The average is 6 to 10 days.
If the detention center can confirm their documents, and that they have a legal relative in the United States they are allowed to enter the country and present their case in front of a judge within 10 days.
This is the reality of immigration: Up to this point, nothing is illegal. This entire process is 100% percent legal.***
PART IV — Land Of The Free?…
Suddenly, their names are called, and without knowing what time of the day it is, they are taken into a room where they return their paperwork and are told to go outside and get on the bus.
At no point they are informed of where they are going.
Some think they are going to be taken to another facility, but end up back into Mexico, without explanation.
She finally got the courage to ask them, and they told her she has been temporarily allowed to enter the United States.
Once on the bus, Ivy was finally able to see her husband again, whom up to this point, she had only seen from afar.
The bus drove to McAllen’s Respite Center, which is a step up from what it used to be.
Thanks to the generosity of Sister Norma, a nun, who saw that migrants like Ivy were dropped at the bus station, without a phone, food, or money, and without knowing the language or where to go, and at random hours of the day or sometimes at night. She asked the local priest if she could borrow a room at the local church for a few days where she could provide them with some help.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and now into years, it has been built into the Respite Center I witnessed today, a facility where traveling migrants are provided first of all with a smile and a necessary dose of humanity and compassion, during a process that takes away their dignity.
There, they are also provided with their basic needs: a shower, a hot meal, clean clothes, medical care, information, and an opportunity to contact their relatives in the United States, who purchase the tickets to get them to their destination.
The Respite Center also makes sure they have all their documentation, puts it in a big yellow envelope, gives them instructions, and drops them at the airport or bus station, depending on where they have to go.
Part V — Worth Manifesto
Ivy asked me if I traveled there often. I responded that it was my first time.
She then asked what was I doing there.
I wasn’t sure how exactly to respond, so I tried to keep it simple:
– I brought donations to help migrants like you, I looked down, and then I smiled at her.
I explained to her that people in my city were generous and I had organized a drive for toiletries and makeup bags. We transported 6 pallets of donations to 3 different organizations, including the Respite Center
– Oh I got one today! she said.
(My heart exploded right there.)
– Really? I responded.
– yes! (she said)
Mine had deodorant, a hair tie, and a card.
(insert all the heart eyed emojis right here, while I made my biggest effort not to burst into tears)
Part V — Immigrant
In the case of my new friends, they still have a long road ahead. Years of applications and thousands of dollars until they can be allowed to become full residents, if they let them, of course. I know this, as an immigrant myself, I went through the same, and my process took 8 years.
Sometimes relatives do not meet the criteria to sponsor the asylum seekers. Sometimes they need another type of sponsorships.
I personally advised my new friend to see if she could validate her engineering degree and see if she could get the sponsorship that way.
Again, none of this process is illegal.***
My first flight has landed, now I have to rush to my next flight.
The airport has a Spanish speaking person waiting for the traveling migrants to help them navigate the airport.
I’m grateful for this. Traveling an American airport is intimidating, especially without money and without knowing the language…
My friend Ivy and her husband ran back to give me a hug.
I dug my nose in her black thick hair,
– “Best of luck”, I said,
“God bless the rest of your journey.
Now, you are safe here.
Now hurry up, your next flight is in 30 minutes. RUN!”…
Learn more about Worth Manifesto, and it’s mission to empower women in vulnerable situations.