no tolerance policy

No Human Being is Illegal: A Letter from the Border

El Paso was in the news this week, with crowds attending Beto O’Rourke’s March for Truth to counter a Trump Rally across the street. .The El Paso Times reported big crowds for both but untruths for Trump and toned down crime talk in light of a new Congressional deal. Annunciation House volunteer Jo Romano’s letter back home  cuts to the heart of matters.

El Paso was in the news this week, with crowds attending Beto O’Rourke’s March for Truth to counter a Trump Rally across the street. .The El Paso Times reported big crowds for both but untruths for Trump and toned down crime talk in light of a new Congressional deal. Annunciation House volunteer Jo Romano’s letter back home cuts to the heart of matters.

On Friday, Sally, Abby and I arrive in El Paso to see the city’s sights, and also to volunteer.  Our goal is to welcome, feed, clothe and help refugees, arriving daily with their next destination somewhere in the United States.  On Sunday we begin orientation with Annunciation House. Because a new site to receive immigrants has just opened at a hotel, Annunciation House asks us to travel Sunday morning to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We three are up for the trip, 45 minutes away from El Paso.

 We arrive shortly before 50 immigrants do, mostly from Guatemala, some from Honduras and El Salvador. There’s no time for our orientation! Fifty people arrived by bus and sit outside on sidewalks and curbs in the hotel parking lot, mostly small, young families, usually pairs, a mother or father with a child.

 We learned about their journey. They cross over the bridge from Mexico to El Paso. They are taken to a detention center to be registered. They are given a thin metallic blanket and must sleep on a cold hard concrete floor, one blanket for two of them. The air conditioning is turned up high, the people kept very cold, not what they’re used to. Adults are given one frozen burrito three times a day.  The children are given a juice box and animal crackers, three times a day. When each adult and child is registered, they are given a date for legal action.

 A thick, heavy, black ankle monitor is put on the adult, programmed with the address of their sponsor, while they wait for the immigration court proceedings to unfold. It is a stark and frightening experience for them, on purpose, we are told.  The officials at the holding center are directed to make the stay very unpleasant in hopes they will decide to ‘self deport’.  A fair number of these people develop sickness, colds, fevers, and upset stomachs during their 2-5 day stays.

 You may have read about this in the news. Currently there are 30 people in one detention center in El Paso that are on hunger strike because of the conditions.  They are force-fed by a tube that is put through the nose and down their throats. The government officials at the detention centers refer to the immigrants as “bodies,” and when it is time for them to eat, they say, “It is feeding time,” as if they were animals on farms, not human.

 I am furious and very disturbed, hearing the experiences confirmed. Often a new site needs to be opened at a hotel to meet the need, as happened in Las Cruces when we arrived. There are 300-400 people arriving daily in El Paso seeking asylum from poverty and violence in their home countries.  The Detention Centers call Annunciation House Director Ruben Garcia daily to say how many they are releasing from detention. There is a tremendous amount of coordination going on to make this system flow daily. Thus the need for local and faraway volunteers like us.

Nearly all the refugees have someone in the US who will sponsor them.  The destinations of those I’ve worked with so far included Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Atlanta, Washington D.C., upstate New York and New York City, Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, Florida, California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and even Vermont.  The receiving family member, friend or sponsor pays for a plane or bus ticket, trips that take one to three more days of travel.

 What do we do as volunteers? Each mother and child, or father and child (sometimes there are 2 or 3 children per adult) is welcomed by the site coordinator, and told they are safe, there will be food to eat, and enough water to drink, and medicine for those that need it. They will be warm here, respected and supported to complete their journey to their sponsor. 

 Volunteers are introduced, so families know who can help or answer questions. They then are escorted, family by family, into “the central office,” really two hotel rooms, where four Spanish-speaking volunteers complete intakes. One volunteer writes down the full name of the mom or dad, the name and age of the child(ren), where they are from, and where they need to get to next.

 Then the family moves to another table where another Spanish-speaking volunteer begins to make transportation plans.  They call the receiving sponsor in the US, and the sponsor and volunteer arrange for plane or bus tickets. Usually the parent and sponsor talk on the phone to ensure both parties understand the plan. Forms are filled out and pinned to complex whiteboards, delineating next steps by date—today, tomorrow, or the next day, by bus, plane, or pickup, if very local. 

 On those occasions when the destination address changes from the one programmed into the government’s ankle bracelet, it’s a real problem. Then arrangements have to be made to take the adult back to the detention center to get permission, and to reprogram the ankle monitor!  

 (Editor’s note: The Associated Press reports that early in 2018, immigrant families were separated as part of a “zero tolerance” program. But after a presidential executive order reversed that, families are often detained, then issued ankle monitors and released while they go through sometimes lengthy court proceedings. Inquiries into costs and suppliers and whether these monitors are effective remain unanswered by ICE—but that they associate immigration with criminality is clear.)

 After intake, the family goes to Annunciation’s next station, where I am serving as a volunteer who coordinates and assigns a hotel room number. That sounds simple, but keeping track of the rooms, and where everyone is assigned, is a feat.  There’s a large matrix on the wall, filling in who is where, with colored sticky notes, color depending on the day they arrived, and making sure that parent roommates are matched by gender, and by children with a matching age and gender. Yes, it is complicated!

 I give families their room number and escort them to the next station where Sally is volunteering, and they get a small packet of toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb). Sally takes them to meet a “runner.” Abby is serving as a “runner,” taking the adult and child(ren) to their assigned room, and speaking enough Spanish to help them get settled in their room.

 She tells them how to open and close the door, how to work the shower, makes sure they know to flush toilet paper inside the toilet, rather than put it in the trash can, as they did back home. She explains they cannot use the hotel phone and only have one key for two families, shares the schedule for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and explains that while they are free to come down to the lobby, they must not leave the building, and can come to the office any time with any questions or medical needs.

 Families then can relax—or sometimes not!  Rooms are limited.  I often have to reassign a family to another room at a moment’s notice.  Abby then goes to them, and asks them to relocate to the room I reassign.  Abby says they are all so accommodating— “Sure no problem, and thank you.”

 Other Spanish-speaking volunteers work on transportation plans, time and flight, and find and assign a volunteer “transporter” to take the family to the airport or the bus station. I took one family to the local bus station in Las Cruces and made sure they got on the bus, but people are being transported to buses or planes throughout the day, morning or night, every day. I am amazed at the coordination it takes for all these volunteers and all this responsibility—and then there are the missed buses or connecting flights that have to be solved.

 There is a room assigned for medical help and supplies.  Today, there was a mom and three-year-old daughter, who had a rash. The nurse practitioner was called in to look at it and he determined it was scabies. So a prescription was called in, and a volunteer had to go to pharmacy in El Paso to pick it up, etc.

 At any time during their short stay, families may choose to go to the “clothing room” where Sally, Abby and I also volunteer, organizing and sorting donated clothing.  Each person is provided one new pair of socks, one new pair of underpants, a pair of pants, a blouse or shirt, and a winter coat if needed for a cold destination. 

 Local churches volunteer to provide lunches and dinners for our hundred people, which consists of rice, pinto beans, corn tortillas, sometimes shredded chicken, and when there is a lack of volunteering, pizza is brought in. When the moms and dads and children leave, they are provided with a bag filled with food.  If leaving on a bus, a family of two traveling on a three-day bus trip requires 18 sandwiches. 

Sally, Abby and I are pretty busy from 7:00 AM into the evening, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packing destination bags with fruit and snacks. We smile and comfort these folks, many of whom are frightened. It is our honor to greet our neighbors from abroad with empathy, compassion and a smile.  As the mission of my home Unitarian Church says, we welcome all, as we build a loving community, to honor each person’s spiritual journey, to serve human need and protect the earth, our home.

Love, Jo Romano

Interested in helping? Find more about Annunciation House and volunteering here: https://annunciationhouse.org/volunteer/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 On Friday, Sally, Abby and I arrive in El Paso to see the city’s sights, and also to volunteer.  Our goal is to welcome, feed, clothe and help refugees, arriving daily with their next destination somewhere in the United States.  On Sunday we begin orientation with Annunciation House. Because a new site to receive immigrants has just opened at a hotel, Annunciation House asks us to travel Sunday morning to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We three are up for the trip, 45 minutes away from El Paso.

 

We arrive shortly before 50 immigrants do, mostly from Guatemala, some from Honduras and El Salvador. There’s no time for our orientation! Fifty people arrived by bus and sit outside on sidewalks and curbs in the hotel parking lot, mostly small, young families, usually pairs, a mother or father with a child.

 

We learned about their journey. They cross over the bridge from Mexico to El Paso. They are taken to a detention center to be registered. They are given a thin metallic blanket and must sleep on a cold hard concrete floor, one blanket for two of them. The air conditioning is turned up high, the people kept very cold, not what they’re used to. Adults are given one frozen burrito three times a day.  The children are given a juice box and animal crackers, three times a day. When each adult and child is registered, they are given a date for legal action.

 

A thick, heavy, black ankle monitor is put on the adult, programmed with the address of their sponsor, while they wait for the immigration court proceedings to unfold. It is a stark and frightening experience for them, on purpose, we are told.  The officials at the holding center are directed to make the stay very unpleasant in hopes they will decide to ‘self deport’.  A fair number of these people develop sickness, colds, fevers, and upset stomachs during their 2-5 day stays.

 

You may have read about this in the news. Currently there are 30 people in one detention center in El Paso that are on hunger strike because of the conditions.  They are force-fed by a tube that is put through the nose and down their throats.

The government officials at the detention centers refer to the immigrants as “bodies,” and when it is time for them to eat, they say, “It is feeding time,” as if they were animals on farms, not fellow humans.

 

I am furious and very disturbed, hearing the experiences confirmed. Often a new site needs to be opened at a hotel to meet the need, as happened in Las Cruces when we arrived. There are 300-400 people arriving daily in El Paso seeking asylum from poverty and violence in their home countries.  The Detention Centers call Annunciation House Director Ruben Garcia daily to say how many they are releasing from detention. There is a tremendous amount of coordination going on to make this system flow daily. Thus the need for local and faraway volunteers like us.

 

Nearly all the refugees have someone in the US who will sponsor them.  The destinations of those I’ve worked with so far included Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Atlanta, Washington D.C., upstate New York and New York City, Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, Florida, California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and even Vermont.  The receiving family member, friend or sponsor pays for a plane or bus ticket, trips that take one to three more days of travel.

 

What do we do as volunteers? Each mother and child, or father and child (sometimes there are 2 or 3 children per adult) is welcomed by the site coordinator, and told they are safe, there will be food to eat, and enough water to drink, and medicine for those that need it. They will be warm here, respected and supported to complete their journey to their sponsor. 

 

Volunteers are introduced, so families know who can help or answer questions. They then are escorted, family by family, into “the central office,” really two hotel rooms, where four Spanish-speaking volunteers complete intakes. One volunteer writes down the full name of the mom or dad, the name and age of the child(ren), where they are from, and where they need to get to next.

 

Then the family moves to another table where another Spanish-speaking volunteer begins to make transportation plans.  They call the receiving sponsor in the US, and the sponsor and volunteer arrange for plane or bus tickets. Usually the parent and sponsor talk on the phone to ensure both parties understand the plan. Forms are filled out and pinned to complex whiteboards, delineating next steps by date—today, tomorrow, or the next day, by bus, plane, or pickup, if very local. 

 

On those occasions when the destination address changes from the one programmed into the government’s ankle bracelet, it’s a real problem. Then arrangements have to be made to take the adult back to the detention center to get permission, and to reprogram the ankle monitor!  

 

(Editor’s note: The Associated Press reports that early in 2018, immigrant families were separated as part of a “zero tolerance” program. But after a presidential executive order reversed that, families are often detained, then issued ankle monitors and released while they go through sometimes lengthy court proceedings. Inquiries into costs and suppliers and whether these monitors are effective remain unanswered by ICE—but that they associate immigration with criminality is clear.)

 

After intake, the family goes to Annunciation’s next station, where I am serving as a volunteer who coordinates and assigns a hotel room number. That sounds simple, but keeping track of the rooms, and where everyone is assigned, is a feat.  There’s a large matrix on the wall, filling in who is where, with colored sticky notes, color depending on the day they arrived, and making sure that parent roommates are matched by gender, and by children with a matching age and gender. Yes, it is complicated!

 

I give families their room number and escort them to the next station where Sally is volunteering, and they get a small packet of toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb). Sally takes them to meet a “runner.” Abby is serving as a “runner,” taking the adult and child(ren) to their assigned room, and speaking enough Spanish to help them get settled in their room.

 

 She tells them how to open and close the door, how to work the shower, makes sure they know to flush toilet paper inside the toilet, rather than put it in the trash can, as they did back home. She explains they cannot use the hotel phone and only have one key for two families, shares the schedule for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and explains that while they are free to come down to the lobby, they must not leave the building, and can come to the office any time with any questions or medical needs.

 

Families then can relax—or sometimes not!  Rooms are limited.  I often have to reassign a family to another room at a moment’s notice.  Abby then goes to them, and asks them to relocate to the room I reassign.  Abby says they are all so accommodating— “Sure no problem, and thank you.”  

 

Other Spanish-speaking volunteers work on transportation plans, time and flight, and find and assign a volunteer “transporter” to take the family to the airport or the bus station. I took one family to the local bus station in Las Cruces and made sure they got on the bus, but people are being transported to buses or planes throughout the day, morning or night, every day. I am amazed at the coordination it takes for all these volunteers and all this responsibility—and then there are the missed buses or connecting flights that have to be solved.

 

There is a room assigned for medical help and supplies.  Today, there was a mom and three-year-old daughter, who had a rash. The nurse practitioner was called in to look at it and he determined it was scabies. So a prescription was called in, and a volunteer had to go to pharmacy in El Paso to pick it up, etc.

 

At any time during their short stay, families may choose to go to the “clothing room” where Sally, Abby and I also volunteer, organizing and sorting donated clothing.  Each person is provided one new pair of socks, one new pair of underpants, a pair of pants, a blouse or shirt, and a winter coat if needed for a cold destination. 

 

Local churches volunteer to provide lunches and dinners for our hundred people, which consists of rice, pinto beans, corn tortillas, sometimes shredded chicken, and when there is a lack of volunteering, pizza is brought in. When the moms and dads and children leave, they are provided with a bag filled with food.  If leaving on a bus, a family of two travelling on a three-day bus trip requires 18 sandwiches. 

 

Sally, Abby and I are pretty busy from 7:00 AM into the evening, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packing destination bags with fruit and snacks. We smile and comfort these folks, many of whom are frightened. It is our honor to greet our neighbors from abroad with empathy, compassion and a smile.  As the mission of my home Unitarian Church says, we welcome all, as we build a loving community, to honor each person’s spiritual journey, to serve human need and protect the earth, our home.

 

Love, Jo Romano

 

Interested in helping? Find more about Annunciation House and volunteering here:

https://annunciationhouse.org/volunteer/