Last week, I had the true honor of going to Reynosa, Mexico to see the work of The immigration Coalition (TiC). TiC’s mission is to provide clean drinking water, food, and essential items to Immigrants, Migrants, and Asylum-Seekers along the Southern Border. Rondell Treviño, our Executive Director, organized a trip for two of the board members (me and Bob) to come down and see work that TiC and their partners on the ground are doing. I am very grateful for the chance to go, to see what conditions are like at the border, and to help.
Our first stop was at a neighborhood, focusing on a school where we provide food and water The neighborhood was unlike any I have been in in the United States. Home had dirt floors, no windows, and makeshift roofs. Some of the homes didn’t even have four walls – some had three walls and then a piece of fabric. There wasn’t any indoor plumbing. TiC provides giant water containers to supply an outhouse bathroom and sinks.
While we were there, some of the students’ moms brought a stew they made for the kids’ lunches. TiC provided the ingredients and let me tell you…that stew smelled amazing! Most of the people we met here will stay for an extended amount of time. They’re not necessarily looking to come to the US to ask for asylum, but they have set-up life here along the border.
Our second stop was a community right along the Rio Grande. This encampment was predominately Haitians. I don’t know the stories, but these are people who made the difficult journey from Haiti to Mexico and presumably who have a desire to come to the US and ask for asylum. With asylum processing rules changing, people sometimes wait months before they’re given an appointment to talk with a CPB officer about their fears to return home. The housing set-up was much more temporary – hardly anything had a solid wall. TiC provides water and food for this migrant community. They were also able to help get a new stove where people can make their meals.
This community was right along the river. One of the things that struck me is that while we were right along the river, there was no barrier to prevent people from crossing (the other side is still far from a border checkpoint and the terrain isn’t safe. The community actually built a wire fence along their side to keep kids from falling into the water. You don’t hear that in the news – how the migrants themselves are building walls!
The third and final stop was at a gated shelter. The people we met here were from all over – Central and South America, Mexico, Haiti, and many other countries. They are mostly waiting to move on to a CBP post where they can seek asylum. About 1,000 people live here and it’s split between one giant tented area and individual tents.
TiC does water and food here a few times a week and sometimes they’re able to provide extra treats – like this past weekend, they provided bags of candy to the kids in celebration of fall. While we were there, though, we handed out bottles of water and slices of pizza to the residents. People smiled and were kind as I practiced my middle-school level Spanish! There were so many kids. I met an eight-year old girl from Honduras and her two younger brothers…I wonder where they will be next year or in ten years. Will they have the chance to go to high school?
I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like living in these conditions. The individual tents are hard enough to imagine – the extreme hot and cold, but at least there’s privacy. But what about the people in sleeping bags under the one giant tent? What must life have been like in a home country to make this a better alternative?
The end of the day left me with a lot to process. Here are my top takeaways –
- People are inherently kind. From the volunteers to the people we met, we were greeted by genuine smiles and hugs.
- There is poor and there is desperately poor. I grew up without a lot (the church donated food to our family a few times when I was kid), but we had enough and we had a home. What we saw last week was another level of financial need.
- There are angels walking around. The church that TiC partners with does the hard work of shopping, cooking, and distributing. They do this because it’s the right thing to do.
- There is no mad rush to get to the border and apply for asylum. People are following the rules (as convoluted and as discouraging as they are).
- I appreciate my clients’ stories of coming to the US even more. Seeing people in the middle of their journey, not settled in Georgia, was powerful. No one does this journey without extreme hardship.
I am so grateful to have had this experience. But I’m more grateful for TiC and their mission to simply provide the bare basics for survival – food and water – for people who are striving for something better. TiC is always in need of donations – if you are in a position to help (especially as the weather turns colder and people need coats and blankets), please consider giving.