On June 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to stop the separation of undocumented families at the border. On June 22 Oscar and Kelvin entered Texas through a regulated border crossing, seeking asylum. On June 27, I chatted with them in Spanish at the Catholic Charities Center 10 miles from the border. Was the dangerous trip—with separation from his wife and daughter, and possible separation from his son—worthwhile? “Absolutely,” he replied: “If we would have stayed, we would have been killed.”
Suriano spoke with ease about his experience, relieved to have made it to the United States: “The ICE officials treated us very well. They were respectful to us as they processed our paperwork and gave us food and a cot to sleep on.” Immigration officials gave him two bus tickets to New York, where Suriano’s sisters live. He hopes to arrange for his wife and daughter to join them soon.
THE ISSUES AT THE BORDER are drawing media and advocate attention, but for the Border Patrol and for local nonprofits serving those in need nothing has really changed. Every day migrants arrive at the border, some in search of asylum, many in search of jobs, many hoping to join family already in the United States.
Cesar Riojas of Catholic Charities said this is business as usual: “Nothing has changed since the zero tolerance policy went into effect. We see the same numbers of people coming in for a variety of reasons.” He said the policy did lead to more immigrants being charged criminally for entering the United States, but the practice of separating children from their parents who were being held in jail-like detention centers has been going on for years.
Riojas described a typical day at the center, past and present: Buses arrive regularly from Border Patrol/Immigration processing centers and drop off immigrants. Some already have been granted asylum, and others have court dates to continue the process of getting their visa to stay for non-asylum purposes. They shower (often the first opportunity to do so in weeks) and receive food, other necessities, and changes of clothes. To avoid lice infestation, officials at the border take all clothes except what immigrants are wearing.
Some immigrants stay overnight or for a few days. Others stay for only a few hours until they catch a bus to a more permanent destination with family or another “sponsor.” Volunteers at the center prepare them for their journey, not only with food but advice on making the right bus connections and encouragement to stay on the bus at stops to avoid confusion when navigating the bus system in a language they don’t understand.