Do you know any present day Good Samaritans? Not just nice people, but those who drop whatever they’re doing to help strangers who are injured, even at great cost to themselves? Besides Enrique, I met two more such people as my peacemaker study group continued our immersion experience, The Immigrant Story, last Sunday. (See last week’s post to catch up!)
After hearing about Border Angels we ourselves then crossed the border into Tijuana. The change in the moving view outside the car window was pretty immediate: Tijuana is more crowded, with more traffic, shops, houses, and people than San Diego. It feels a bit louder, more energetic, a bustling city. It was not my first time across the border by a long stretch, but I still notice these differences.
Our next stop was at Casa del Migrante in Tijuana. It is a Catholic mission, one location of seven whose purpose is to care for migrants regardless of their circumstances or reasons for needing help. As their website describes, most of their clients are men deported from the US; others are from Central or South America, often escaping violence in their home countries. Sometimes women and children arrive at their door as well, and are housed separately.
We met Tiger, a pastor and new staff person, in the bright courtyard. He described their work, and how it drew him from being a volunteer to an intern and then permanent staff. Their mascot, Daisy, was a big hit with the kids in our group. 🙂
Their care has expanded from simple shelter and food to counseling, addiction recovery, legal help, and job search skills. Tiger said each migrant’s story is different; every person arrives desperate and discouraged. All of them have left a home and community, either because of high unemployment (ie, no way to provide for their families), or the violence of civil war or drug cartels. One heartbreaking example was a mother fleeing with her daughters after a death contract was put out for each of her girls as retaliation for the husband (whom they had already killed) leaving the cartel. Despite such stories, Tiger had a quiet energy about him, a hope and lightness. When I asked what he had been surprised by over the years, he said they try to ask the migrants what they need and provide that, rather than assume what is best for them or stick with a set approach; some of those needs have surprised him– like safe phone service. He said that migrants are often targeted by traffickers and extortionists, even kidnapping them for ransom. One ploy is to offer the desperate migrant the use of a cell phone to call his family to let them know he is OK; but that gives the trafficker all the phone numbers to use to demand money. Providing a safe means to contact anxious loved ones is another way Casa del Migrante protects and serves their clients. I thanked Tiger for the life-saving ministry he is a part of, and wondered to myself how people like him didn’t crack under the weight of it all. What would it be like to offer this dear brother soulcare? How did he tend his connection to God?
Our next stop at Las Playas in Tijuana brought us to a famous stretch of the border wall, where it extends into the ocean. You may have seen pics of it before:
Being a Sunday, we also got to see something I had only read about: Border Church is a ministry of the Methodist church in San Diego and Tijuana who hold a joint worship service that spans the border– with some worshipers on the Mexico side and some on the US side.
There was music, singing, prayers, all shared via loudspeaker. There was “passing of the peace” where we were encouraged to link our little finger with the other person (aka “pinkie peace”) to reflect the experience of families separated by the border wall who can only touch fingertips together at certain sections. It was thrilling to witness. I wish I could have spent more time with them but our next speaker was waiting for us.
Yolanda Varona is a deported mother who has not seen her US-born children in seven years.
I was shocked to hear that because her kids are citizens, she could not legally bring them with her when she was deported, even though they were minors. Her children went into the custody of Child Protective Services before eventually being placed with other family members. I learned there was a history of domestic abuse from the father. But instead of being a victim, Yolanda has started a nonprofit that helps other deported mothers like herself. Her intent is to educate them on their civil and legal rights, and to help families stay together instead of being torn apart like hers has been. Tears formed in my eyes even as questions formed in my head. Why hasn’t she seen her children? What drew her to the US in the first place? Where did the law fit in? Does deportation and separating mothers from their minor children fit the crime of being undocumented? Is there a legal pathway for her to be reunited with them or is that theoretical at best? How do immigration laws need to change to preserve families and prevent trauma? Is there leeway in how the laws are enforced?
We left with far more questions than any answers. We also left realizing that Yolanda and others like her are articulate, determined, resilient and resourceful despite what has happened to them. I was impressed that she has not given up and is in fact pressing in to help other families rather than passively waiting for change from the outside.
Unfortunately our conversation with US Border Patrol fell through, but will hopefully happen in the near future. With one more site to visit, I was already feeling my heart and head reaching maximum capacity. So much to process! But I also knew that our last stop would likely be my favorite, as it featured my new superhero Samuel Perez and his use of gardening to heal trauma. I’ll write about that in my next post!