For asylum seekers, crossing the border is certainly significant, though still just one phase in their epic, if not harrowing, journey to a semblance of normal. What happens once they get here? And how is Voices From the Border (VFB) assisting migrants who are now in the U.S.?
As we continue to provide medical and related immediate assistance to migrants in Nogales, Sonora, our activities have expanded considerably. We started paying rent and utilities for five apartments in Mexico last year. Donations to VFB have purchased furnishings, heaters, and household goods. On any given day, some 50 people, among the roughly 200 currently we assist, live in these apartments.
Recently, on my birthday, I had the privilege of spending time with folks in these de facto shelters. After distributing books, toys, personal hygiene kits, and a large suitcase of stuffed animals (so many adorable kids!), we were invited in for pupusas. Made from scratch, these fried tortillas are filled with frijoles and cheese, smothered with sauce, and served with cabbage salad. Delicious! This meal, followed by a tutorial in making pupusas, a session of English with the young ones, and a full round of parting hugs, comprised a most treasured birthday gift.
Meanwhile, between these delightful visits, VFB board members now spend a great deal of time online and on the phone helping migrants with the initial stages of life in the U.S.
First, a migrant needs a place to land as his/her case winds through the courts. While most live with family or friends, some have been taken in by volunteer sponsors who agree to provide hospitality and services to their guests for at least six months to a year. VFB has helped one family make its way to Valley Neighbors, a sponsorship community in rural Montana.
Next comes locating the basics – food, clothing, ESL classes, school for children, legal assistance, public transportation, etc. – all within walking distance of the migrant’s residence, and all for free, incidentally. Asylum seekers are not allowed to apply for a work permit until 365 days after their case is filed.
And then there’s the paperwork. It’s all in English. It must go to the correct offices within the established deadlines. If a migrant changes addresses, he or she must let ICE and the courts know within five days or deportation looms.
VFB is helping people navigate all of this. We’ve developed spreadsheets. Our expenses have increased.
Yet, after all of this filing, adjusting and settling in, deportation is still the likely outcome for most of those who seek asylum in this country. The bar for asylum is high, the burden of proof demanding.
VFB has always been a humanitarian aid organization, focused on helping people in their time of need. The stories we’re told about why people seek asylum are often difficult to hear, sometimes horrendous. I’ll save roots of the violence, persecution, and extortion most have suffered for another article. Suffice it to say that, but for the grand lottery of life, we could all be in a migrant’s shoes. The least we can do is walk with them, at least for a while.