Last week, July 11, 2019, I went to a migrant shelter in Southern CA with a delegation organized by Amber Tamblyn and led by Elsa Collins and Yolanda Walter-Meade of This Is About Humanity. To be clear this isn’t a detention center or camp that you’re seeing in the news run by the US government, (we aren’t, as citizens, allowed to enter those places). We visited a private shelter run by Jewish Family Services ( @jfs_sd ), started in 1918, helping European Jews who had gotten themselves to Tijuana, cross the border. Now they are serving to get asylum seekers to their sponsors around the US. This is meant to be the job of the US government but under new policies enacted by Trump in October 2018 called “quick release”, asylum seekers are either being dropped off in the cover of night with no resources in border cities on the US side, or sent back to Mexico to wait for their hearings there, even if Mexico isn’t their country of origin. Asylum cases can take years.
There are shelters like this, privately funded and run mostly by volunteers, on either side of the border, and they give those who enter a place from which to make decisions about their lives. Here they are given a chance to act from a place of knowledge and agency. These shelters offer legal services, access to phones and internet, a cot to sleep on, showers, food, medical. Follow This Is About Humanity who work with these shelters directly.
The purpose of the trip was to listen… to learn… to impart what bit of knowledge we could glean back to you. It was also to remove this crisis from the abstract and give us the chance to encounter the humanity of the situation, to remember that this crisis is always about individuals and the way to solutions are through individuals working on their behalf.
We met people who are doing that work, lawyers and activists.
We met a woman who, through a series of events, persuaded people in her conservative Tennessee community to collectively sponsor a mother and her child while they sought asylum.
The more we learned about what’s going on at the border the more the phrase “malicious incompetence” kept going through my head.
We met a mother and daughter who are seeking asylum here in the US after being persecuted and extorted by a gang in their country of origin. The 8 year old daughter was on a scholarship to a bilingual school and this signaled to their persecutors that their family had money. They didn’t. So their persecutors said they’d settle for the dad to work for them. He wouldn’t. They fled. After crossing the US border they sat in the “the ICE box” for five days where they described the conditions we’ve all been hearing about at the camps. They were sent to Mexico, slept on the street, didn’t know a soul. On their second time through the asylum line the dad got sick with a flesh eating bacteria. He’s in a hospital now fighting for his life while his wife and daughter sit in purgatory on the US side.
Their story falls in the “lucky” category, because they’re waiting in America and getting legal assistance from JFS to help walk them through a very complicated asylum seeking process. The mom, telling the story, wearing a blue dodgers shirt, was holding so much grief, fear. You could see it in her body, her face. She was keeping it together, going through the details which will become the story of her daughter’s life. The girl, she kept smiling at us generously, said she wants to become a doctor to “help all the people”.
Of course all we could think was, “how do we help”? Specifically. How to help this family, to help the shelter, to help the law projects that came to debrief us on a panel discussion after the shelter visit. Here are a few direct actions:
SHARE YOUR SKILLS:
TRANSLATORS ARE NEEDED: people to serve as in-person interpreters (or via telephonic or skype if you aren't local) or translation of documents, which can be done anywhere (for people not in San Diego) and is also of incredible value given that the immigration court cannot accept any supporting evidence that is not in English and most asylum seekers documentation, which is critical to their case, is not in English. The need is for languages around the world.
LAWYERS ARE NEEDED: You don’t have to be barred in CA or another border town to help because these are federal not state cases. Even one pro-bono case a year will directly impact the lives a family and help relieve the overwhelmed and maxed out immigration lawyers working full time. You can help with appeals if you’re not able to take on a full case.
SPONSORS ARE NEEDED: Many people are eligible for release but cannot secure this until they can demonstrate to ICE or the Immigration Judge that they have a place to go to. If people are willing to sponsor individuals by allowing them to stay in their home for 2-4 days while they get things in order to relocate to be with friends or family elsewhere, this would enable lawyers working on their behalf to get more people out of custody.
Reach out to @ijpsandiego if you can lend any of these skills and for more information on how you can help in any of these areas…
Across the board, at the shelters and the legal projects, lack of money is a barrier.
Here’s information for the shelter we visited. Our donations consisted of (new) clothes, socks, jackets, diapers, etc…
Donations/Packages can be sent to
JFS of SD
c/o Migrant Shelter
8804 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92123
To physically go and volunteer please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Vote in the interest of human rights.
Vote in the interest of Climate Justice. The climate crisis and the migrant crisis intersect and this intersection will only grow wider and more profound.
STAY UP ON IT
Follow @sdaclu for updates on the current situation.
The first photo isn’t one we took but it’s a striking image by Ariana Drehsler for UPI of the border near where we were.
The rest of the photos were from our trip at the shelter. You see a couple from the donation room where people are able to get the supplies they need to make their various journeys to their sponsor homes across the US. If you donate supplies to @jps_sd this is the room where they’ll end up and where families will have the chance to directly take what need.
More from me to come. Love.