The human side of immigration
There is a human side to immigration at the United States and Mexican border. Thousands of migrants are crossing the border of the United States experiencing despair on their journey to our country but still remaining hopeful upon their arrival. From my perspective, there is a humanitarian crisis on the border; many volunteer organizations provide for immigrants in the United States and Mexico.
During August, for three days, I volunteered at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. When I first entered the respite center, I felt overwhelmed with hundreds of families sitting on chairs waiting to leave for their own families in the United States. There were many volunteers helping. The Humanitarian Respite Center was run by the Catholic Charities in McAllen, Texas. It was a respite center run by the Catholic Church for immigrants who were in detention at the McAllen Detention Center in Texas. The immigrants traveled at least a month to reach the United States and frequently were robbed and paid exorbitant fees to cross into the United States. At the McAllen Detention Center, belts and shoe laces were taken from immigrants, and they were sleeping on the floor. Most of the immigrants coming to the respite center were leaving Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador. They included children, infants, and pregnant women.
The respite center was across from the bus station at McAllen, Texas, where the immigrants were dropped off. First there was an orientation in Spanish where the immigrants learned about the routine at the center. Most immigrants stayed one or two days.
It was amazing to see the extensive help provided to immigrants and the kindness and respect shown toward them. At the respite center, there was a place to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Various groups from the community brought in meals during the day. In addition, there were facilities for showering. There was a call center where arrangements were made for the immigrants to travel by bus or plane to a member of their family in the United States. In addition, there was a clothing bank where immigrants received clothing and shoes. Volunteers distributed various hygiene products. For the children, there was a large television for them to watch children’s programs and arts and crafts activities to keep them occupied. If a family member was sick, the respite center provided medical volunteers daily to help the immigrants.
When it was time to leave, the immigrants were given food and water. People were taken to the bus station with an envelope which identified them in English. Typically, a bus ride was 30 to 40 hours to reach their destination in various parts of the United States. If a family waited for a bus for the next day, then they must sleep on a mat. There were no beds.
I listened to the immigrants in Spanish. They walked for weeks to escape extortion, violence, and joblessness. Many were robbed of everything.
Prior to coming to the respite center, the immigrants were in detention and sleeping on the floor at the detention center. They said that they were in detention only for a couple of days. Before crossing the Rio Grande River, they traveled for weeks in order to reach the United States border. I listened to stories of immigrants being robbed of everything and paying coyotes (people who traffic immigrants across the border). Many immigrants though were very happy to reach the United States where they believed they wouldn’t have to fear for their lives anymore. It was also evident that some of the immigrants were sick from their journeys. There were respiratory problems and rashes on children with migrants being very upset about these illnesses. It was very fortunate that this respite center existed for the migrants; before there was no assistance for them.
Volunteering at the respite center impacted me by helping to understand the serious life-threatening issues immigrants experience and their need for humanitarian assistance. This summer I also attended an international conference in England and met Dr. Eva Moya who is a social worker and distinguished scholar and advocate for immigrants. Dr. Eva Moya, from the University of Texas in El Paso, will speak at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at Price Auditorium, Lock Haven University. She has extensive experience in Mexico and the United States, advocating and doing research with immigrants. Dr. Eva Moya has lived in El Paso, Texas, and truly understands the issues around immigration in El Paso and the border town in Mexico, Ciudad Juarez. This outstanding educational event will be an opportunity for the public to further our understanding of border and immigration issues.
Dr. Steven Granich is associate professor of social work and counseling at Lock Haven University.