Humanity and Compassion at the McAllen, TX Border

By Aly Quiroz-Perez, Program Associate

“Each of us in our own way was trying to serve the countless who came to the center with so many traumatic accounts of their harrowing journeys. I spent most of my time at the center providing clothing to each child who came in, trying to connect with them and witnessing their childhood innocence and spirit slowly rekindled after being extinguished by their experiences at the Detention Center.” – Harini Krishnan, Bay Area Border Relief volunteer

I recently participated in a humanitarian mission in McAllen, Texas, organized by Lilli Rey, the founder of Bay Area Border Relief. Lilli came to Philanthropic Ventures Foundation’s attention by way of Sheryl Young, our San Mateo County Program Director, who participated in the first humanitarian mission to McAllen when the immigration crisis began. In November 2018, I joined a team of 20+ volunteers, made up of mothers, nurses, University of San Francisco students and professors, and filmmakers, taking action to address the crisis that the Trump Administration created in separating children from their parents to discourage others from entering the U.S.

Our team of volunteers spent most of our time at the Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley Respite Center, where asylum seekers recently released from ICE detention could get food, take a shower, change their clothes, access basic healthcare, and figure out their next steps. When we arrived, there were people crowded around the front desk asking questions as they were getting ready to travel to meet up with family members living in the U.S. There was a room filled with people waiting in line to be registered; there were volunteers carrying food on trays and distributing them to the new arrivals, people wandering, standing around, or sitting on the floor looking absolutely exhausted.

We broke into smaller groups to help out with whatever was needed at different parts of the Center. Some of us assisted mothers coming to stock up on supplies for their children: diapers, wipes, pajamas, and milk bottles. Some volunteers folded and organized clothes and helped to dress asylum seekers for the weather in their respective destinations. Some volunteers made multiple trips to the nearby stores to buy things like underwear, socks, medicine, shirts, and shoelaces. Others looked after the children, leading art projects or games to entertain them for a while. I was also utilized as a Spanish translator.

When families boarded buses to go meet with their families or sponsors, we helped to clean up and organize everything to prepare for the busy evenings when the Center would be packed again with new arrivals released from detention.

“My heart felt heavy. My eyes struggled containing tears of sadness and helplessness. My spirit felt awakened and inspired by the strength and resilience of migrant families at the Respite Center.” – Daniela Dominguez, Assistant Professor and Licensed Psychologist at USF

We heard stories of people making the difficult journey from Central America to the U.S. to escape poverty and violence, both domestic and gang-related. We saw exhausted and worried parents, young men hoping to get jobs to support the families they left behind, and children. I was shocked by how many children (babies to full-grown teenagers) there were at the Respite Center. Some were so exhausted that they just fell asleep wherever they could. I saw one little boy take a nap on the floor and use a bag of clothing as a pillow to lay down his head. The rest of his body was on the cold, dirty, and hard floor.

“What I witnessed in working at the border was a profound experience of the deep, loving connection among these families that stands in stark contrast to my own country’s loveless greed, our disconnection with our own humanity that we are visiting upon them just for fleeing violence…their search for those values in us in seeking asylum.” – Pepper Black, Bay Area Border Relief volunteer

It may be a while until this immigration crisis is completely resolved, but I am hopeful that with the help of wonderful people like the Bay Area Border Relief volunteers we can at least mitigate the negative effects of the current administration’s policies. We must remind ourselves that our humanity, integrity, and kindness matter and that they are designed to build bridges, not walls.

If you would like to support the Bay Area Border Relief Fund, please click here.

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