Personal account of helping to reunite migrant families
Immigrant families reunited in El Paso, TX.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ruben R. Ramirez via El Paso Times
While we’ve all watched in horror as the government ripped families apart at the border, non-profits have been hard at work reuniting migrant families and cleaning up this terrible legal mess. My sister is working with a great organization in El Paso, TX that has been providing hospitality services to migrants and refugees for over 40 years. They are currently one of the main organizations receiving the hundreds of recently released separated families. Here is her personal account of the work she’s been doing to help correct this great injustice:
“On July 10th, 2018 I was sent by the Santa Fe Dreamers Project to the border in El Paso, Texas to assist with the migrant family separation crisis that resulted from Trump’s “zero tolerance policy.” As a recently returned Peace Corps Guatemala volunteer, the idea of showing up in a new place, not knowing exactly what I was going to be doing or what the situation would be like was not foreign to me. And yet this experience was unlike any other I had had before.
I arrived on a particularly busy day, the day of the court-ordered deadline for all children under five to be reunified with their parents. A press conference was held at one of the shelters and there I met the first of what would soon be many parents I’d speak with who had their children forcibly taken from them upon crossing the border. His name was Pablo and he was reunited the previous night with his three year old son Andres. He was from a town in Guatemala not far from where I recently spent over two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. I used the little Quiche (his Mayan dialect) I knew to greet him and make him feel more comfortable as we waited for a translator to arrive. He shared with me pieces of his story, of being handcuffed and taken from his son, and of the heartache and depression he experienced in the detention center, not knowing for weeks where his son was or when and if he would see him again. I was especially affected by Pablo’s story and those of his fellow Guatemalans (the majority of our guests) because of the stark contrast with my own experience of being so welcomed and accepted in his home country.
But these feelings of sadness, anger, and injustice are what motivated me and the rest of my incredible team to work day and night towards our three goals: to get every separated parent Released, Reunified, and Represented (RRR). While my first week was focused largely on assisting released parents with the overly complicated process of reuniting them with their children, my second week consisted of preparing for, coordinating, and carrying out a rapid response effort to ensure that each of the over 300 reunited families that were sent to the shelter that week were connected to pro bono attorneys across the country, especially the many families trying to seek asylum. We also collaborated with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services to get each family connected to social services like food, clothing, and healthcare at their final destination. This was no easy task, as information from ICE was sparse and inconsistent, and shuttles of families began arriving at the shelters at all hours of the day, with little notice. It was chaotic and messy, but with the help of many dedicated volunteers that week, we were able to speak with 323 reunited families (before they were quickly flown out to their sponsors), getting the information necessary to connect them to free legal and social services nationwide.
While Pablo and the three hundred plus families that passed through the shelters that week have fortunately been reunited, many parents remain detained and separated from their children and there is still much work to be done.” ~ Tina Galante via the Santa Fe Dreamers Project