If I ever had any doubt about the legitimacy of asylum claims, La Cueva has washed them away. The aptly nicknamed structure sits on the sidewalk, bound to The Wall with rope, and is just steps away from the port of entry into the United States. It’s covered with tarps, and was built a few months ago when migrant families approached the shelter (CAME) in search of a solution. You see, the shelter is about a 10 minute walk from the port of entry, which is nice, but of no use when trying to cross legally. When there's capacity at the border to assess a new asylum claim, a Customs and Border Protection Officer takes one step outside of the gate and announces the number of spots available at that time, so if you are not within a few feet, you will never get your chance.
Hence, La Cueva.
The case workers at the shelter keep a list of the families in their care, and create a non-linear wait list. For example, families with very small children and infants usually are put toward the top, which unfortunately means that individuals and couples without children keep getting pushed back. Once families or individuals appear toward the top of the list, they are moved to La Cueva, where they may have to wait for up to one week before being called to cross.
La Cueva probably only takes up about 200 sf, but typically holds 15-20 people at a time. The inside is lined with mattresses which have been placed on plastic risers, leaving only about six inches of space between the foot of the mattress and the “outside wall”. Four times a day volunteers walk in pairs from the nearby resource center to pick up anyone wanting the restroom, shower, water, or simply a break inside with air conditioning. For the last two days I’ve been struck by the terrible odor that wafts out beyond the tarp when I stick my head to ask if anyone wants to come. Keep in mind, the average temperature this time of year is 100 degrees.
Heat + 20 people in a small space + trash = We have to do better
The resource center is a small, two-story building only 1.5 blocks from La Cueva. It is surrounded by a tall, locked gate for protection; it is not uncommon for migrants to tell me about being harassed or robbed at points along their journey. For those living in the tent, if it even deserves to be called that, the resource center is a few hours each day where their lives can be just a little bit better. Each time I have to walk them back to La Cueva I feel a little less human.
No one should ever have to live in these conditions.
But sometimes there is still a little brightness. Today when I took a group back to La Cueva after about an hour at the resource center, we were greeted by three locals, one of whom owns a restaurant. They had decided to bring dinner to those in the tent: homemade fried chicken, roasted potatoes, rice, and soda. The man told me he would like to start coming once a week.
Walking enthusiast, and kitchen experimenter currently living out my dream in Mexico City, Mexico.
Get my open diary posts delivered straight to your inbox.