What we saw at the border — encountering families seeking asylum at the US Southern Border — Part 1

…a continuing story from CFC on immigration services at the US border

Welcome to Casa Alitas, Tuscon, AZ

During the summer of 2019, our agency received an invitation from our parent agency, Catholic Charities USA (“CCUSA”), offering to sponsor volunteer border deployment teams from Catholic Charities organizations from around the country to assist those organizations at the border in providing direct assistance to migrant families. They shared that they had been sponsoring teams since March 2019 and over 15 Catholic Charities agencies have participated so far. The call was for teams of volunteers to spend a week with the local Catholic Charities agency at one of the US-Mexico border crossing the individuals, children and families being permitted to enter the US.

Sidebar from Laredo, TX: How a Catholic Charities shelter on the Texas border is coping with the influx of asylum seekers, May 2019, J.D. Long-García, America The Jesuit Review. https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2019/05/24/how-catholic-charities-shelter-texas-border-coping-influx-asylum

Under the program terms laid out for us, 3 volunteer teams of staff and family members signed up for a week-long assignment during the month of August. More were requested to return in September, which we are currently making arrangements to send. Following is a series of stories and photos* from our staff, who were deeply moved to share their experiences. But first, here is an outline of why and how this program was set up to help:

*photos and stories shared with permission; due to privacy considerations, no photos containing children will be shared

What is the situation?

Migrant families, mostly from Central America are arriving to the border seeking safe haven and protection in the U.S. For many of those families detained at the border by Homeland Security and released into the U.S., they find themselves without resources and basic needs support. Our Catholic Charities sister organizations located at or near the southern border have opened assistance centers for migrants as an act of charity and compassion providing dignified shelter, food and assistance before they make their way further into the U.S. However, due to the tremendous numbers of these families, these agencies are overwhelmed and have asked for volunteer assistance from the wider CCUSA network.

Casa Alitas team members: CFC peer counselor, Znovia, Sister Rachel; CFC case manager, Carmel

What did CCUSA propose?

CCUSA sponsored volunteer border deployment teams from Catholic Charities organizations from around the country to assist those organizations at the border in providing direct assistance to migrant families. CCUSA would pay the team members’ airfare, lodging, rental car and parking expenses and provide a small per-diem. Aside from this per diem, meals were not included. CFC volunteers were employees, and in some cases family members over 18, and all committed a full week of personal vacation time to this assignment.

What were these teams asked to do?

The primary task of team volunteers was in assisting migrants in connecting with their relatives already in some part of the U.S. Volunteers helped arrange communication with relative sponsors and coordinate the family’s travel to their destination, helping to find best / most economical travel options and in the booking of bus tickets. Filling out paperwork was significant need, as well as helping families find bedding, clothing, food and health services; navigating shower times and monitoring shelter areas overnight.

Volunteers at work assembling boxes to be used as tables, chairs, desks, etc…

Other tasks included general help in the maintenance of the shelter and working in food provision and clothing sorting. Tasks would be specific to the location of the deployment.

Spanish speaking ability was definitely an asset, although all hands and hearts were welcomed. Not speaking Spanish simply limited the type of tasks the volunteer could do, in areas such as furniture assembly, clothing and food pantry organization, laundry and cleaning, meal prep, etc…

What did volunteers report?

So many profound and life changing stories, many of which we will share. Long hard days. Witness to the situation at the border — chaotic and the numbers overwhelming. Volunteers were given some initial orientation and direction but expected to show initiative, be able to work independently within boundaries, but with minimal supervision. A lot of time on your feet, little rest and many tasks required lifting and general manual labor.

CFC sent 3 teams of 6 in August (1 to Laredo, TX and 2 to Tuscon, AZ) and will send at least another one team of 6 in September to Tuscon. One of our volunteers stayed for two weeks, and provided some overlap to our staff, as well as her primary gift, assisting in all areas requiring bilingual support.

Read Part 2: Why we were assembling chairs and bedrooms in a Tuscon, AZ youth detention center

See more of our photos on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/CatholicFamilyCenter.Rochester/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10157193326812819

**Learn how you can take action and support these local efforts at the border. 100% of your donation will help our agencies along the border meet basic needs and ensure that children are being treated with care and kindness. https://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/border-crisis/

**Watch our internationally acclaimed and award winning series, See Their Stories, a campaign created in effort to bring clarity to the mistrust and misunderstanding of the refugee story. A series of short video-story vignettes have been created to illustrate the personal journey of refugees. www.seetheirstories.org

** Support to Rochester’s immigrant community has been a cornerstone of Catholic Family Center’s work since its founding in 1917. Over the past 35 years, over 15,000 refugees have resettled to Rochester, NY with the help of Catholic Family Center and our many partners. Learn more about our Refugee & Immigration Services at https://www.cfcrochester.org/our-services/welcoming-refugees-and-immigrants/

Catholic Family Center is the largest provider of family services in #ROC, addressing issues of need across all stages of life. See more: www.cfcrochester.org

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