About a week before scheduled takeoff, we received word from the office at First UU Church's Thoreau Campus (in Richmond TX) that the folks at Catholic Charities would not be able to host us or put us to work. So the mission was officially scrubbed a few days later.
However, the supplies were still needed. At least one of the folks who signed up for a spot on the bus loaded the supplies in her truck and went on her own. I was not able to provide much of the load, but I did drive downtown during lunch hour to hand over to Melissa Sanchez a few bags of sanitary supplies that a friend had procured.
Despite not making the trip, we still learned quite a bit from an email communiqué that we received Saturday night. Until then, we hadn't heard much in the way of details concerning whence these refugees had traveled and where they were staying. I had gathered that they were not in the US, because they would most likely be in detention if they were. The current policy is to escort asylees back across the border to wait their turn in México.
Even if you know about how US intervention in the Northern Triangle has installed more-corrupt-than-usual national governments and violent drug gangs as de facto local governments, causing thousands to flee for their lives every week, you have a mere taste of the overall complexity of the refugee picture. The message we received brought home that it's even more complex than even the wokest of us know. It doesn't even mention the additional problem of how susceptible these people are to street crime. According to a piece in Sunday's Houston Chronicle, crime is an ever-present problem in Nuevo and in Tamaulipas's other border city, Matamoros. I can't find that article online yet, but here is one from a few weeks ago (paywall).
Below is the most broadly relevant portion of the message—i.e., not directly addressing those who had signed up for the trip. I have edited it only slightly for typographical goofs and glitches.
I heard back from the center in Laredo as well as the one in McAllen. They have asked if we can send a smaller group of people and perhaps send groups more than once. The first group of 5 will go Aug. 29 and return Aug. 31 (Labor Day Weekend). I am hoping to use this trip as a way to determine exactly how we can help them best and plan future trips. The volunteers will be sorting donations, preparing aid packets, fixing the snack bags that are given to the refugees when they travel, and if any refugees come while we are there -- helping them find clothes that fit and make their bus reservations.
The first load of donations for refugees was delivered to Casa Nazareth in Nuevo Laredo (Mexico) on Friday. Melissa Sanchez offered to make the drive and deliver the items straight to the refugee shelter in Nuevo Laredo. Nuevo Laredo along with Casa Nazareth and the 5 other refugee shelters in that city, have been overwhelmed since the start of the United States' "Remain In Mexico" program started. Melissa said the asylum seekers she met -- who come from all the Central American countries, the Congo, Cameroon, Cuba and Haiti -- explained that they had been given asylum hearing dates in the US but were then walked back across the bridge and dropped in Mexico. The lucky families make it to one of the refugee shelters, the rest are living on the sidewalks around the city. Casa Nazareth, where half the donations we collected were delivered, has 250 people living within its walls. The center also delivers meals and aid to refugees camping on the streets. The center was so grateful to receive the donations collected by First UU Church and other Unitarian Universalist churches in the Houston area.
Cameroonians and Congolese on the Rio Grande?
The news that the refugee contingent in Nuevo Laredo includes people from French-speaking African and Caribbean countries was an eye-popper. It reminded me of Cynthia McKinney's dispatches from when she was detained in Israel after the Israeli Navy raided an aid ship bound for Gaza: Her cell was full of East Africans who had been brought to Israel against their will to serve as cheap or unpaid labor.
Francophones without at least a little Spanish would likely have trouble negotiating the streets of Nuevo—even more so than the indigenous migrants from Guatemala and Honduras for whom Spanish is a second or third language.
I assume that "all the Central American countries" means the three countries of the Northern Triangle, whence the great majority of the migrants have fled, and possibly Belize and Nicaragua. You'd be hard-pressed to find refugees from Costa Rica or even Panamá on our southern border these days.
Stories appearing in the Chronicle also have mentioned Cuba as a country of origin. This leads me to wonder whether (a) the asylum applicants are saying "Cuba" because the US has a long history of admitting Cuban emigrés seeking asylum, or (b) the US is no longer admitting Cuban emigrés. I hope to find out more in the coming weeks; if you have any verifiable information on this topic, please leave it in a comment below.
Meanwhile, I'll occasionally pause from my routine and dream of compassionate elected leaders recognizing out loud that
- national borders are obsolete in the face of climate change (yet another factor complicating life in Central America, especially agrarian life), and
- capitalist-imperialist-extractionist policies are exacerbating the an already dire humanitarian crisis and thus must be drastically curtailed.