I left Agua Prieta at 7:00 this morning, and am now sitting in the Phoenix airport waiting for my flight home; sorting through everything I’ve experienced over the last two weeks. As I was speaking with some of the other volunteers over dinner last night about my mixed emotions, the only analogy I could come up with is that leaving CAME after 13 days of working feels just like leaving summer camp. For two weeks I have known nothing except what is inside the bubble of volunteer work, I’ve made deep connections with people in a short amount of time, and I’m returning home completely exhausted, yet oddly reinvigorated. It will takes weeks, if not months to completely unpack everything, especially since I am bringing home more questions than answers. I will continue to think about the families I met; wondering how they are adjusting to their new lives, and praying that they are granted asylum.
Yesterday’s chain of events unfolded into a complete picture of the challenges legal migrants face, and the importance of organizations like CAME and Frontera de Cristo. Mary and I walked into arts & crafts with a plan, but quickly realized we would need to correct course as the number of children at the shelter had doubled overnight. Halfway through a group of 12 Cubans, mostly young men, arrived at the shelter. They had been waiting in a nearby town for months as their names inched up the waiting list, and had finally been called back to continue their asylum process. So there we were; 2 volunteers, 12 Cubans, and about 15 children under the age of 10 crammed into a small room.
Later that afternoon we started our shift at the resource center, and were greeted by yet another large group of Cuban migrants who had just arrived into town after waiting for 3 months in Ciudad Juarez without any progress. They were devastated to learn that there is a wait in Agua Prieta as well, and concerned for their safety due to a recent interaction with a taxi driver. You see, in recent weeks migrants in Agua Prieta have become more frequent targets of cartel threats and violence. In fact, many hotels and taxi drivers will no longer accept business from migrants out of fear for their own safety. It is heartbreaking to send people back into the street because the shelter is full, knowing that their lives are a risk.
Luckily, the day ended on a slightly better note. One of the young men in the tent (La Cueva) turned 28 yesterday, something we were made aware of the day before. He is traveling alone, ahead of his wife and child, and told us he was not looking forward to his birthday. One of the most important jobs of volunteers along the border is providing moments of hope and normalcy, so we sprung into action with cake, candles and beer for everyone in the tent during their afternoon break in the center. As we were walking them back, he pulled me aside to express his sincere gratitude, and in his broken English told me that being able to celebrate his birthday brought back happiness, which he had been missing for weeks. By the way, this young man wants to join the US Army.
I’m returning home with so many stories; some good, some not. I’m still waiting to hear from new friends who crossed into the US a few days ago to make sure they are safe. They are currently in a detention center while their initial paperwork is processed, and will not have access to their phones until they are released to their sponsors. But I also know that a family who crossed last week is already safely in New York.
In a perfect world no one would have to seek asylum, but we’re far from that world. It’s not the fault of Mexicans that their government can’t solve cartel violence. It’s not the fault of Venezuelan’s that their country is in a civil war. It’s not the fault of Cubans that they continue to live under an oppressive regime, so while we continue to figure out how to best improve those places, we also must remember that they are people, just like us, who will suffer extreme consequences if they stay. It is unfortunate that the topics of immigration, migration, and asylum have become so tense and divided in our country. While I do not expect everyone to agree on solutions, I do expect us to hold ourselves to a higher standard of empathy and acceptance.
Walking enthusiast, and kitchen experimenter currently living out my dream in Mexico City, Mexico.
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