God granted me a 24-hour trip to San Diego and Tijuana on December 4. I was met on the San Diego side of the border by Amanda and Carly of American Refugee Committee from Minnesota. They were on “assignment” to find religious sisters working with the Caravan and refugees in Tijuana. With them, I was able to visit both Casa de los Pobres, run by Sister Armida and Instituto Madre Asunta, run by Sister Adelia. Their ministries were similar to what we would know as St. Joseph Center and Alexandria House in Los Angeles; both are inspiring women on a MISSION of service with hungry and lost adults and children in the border town of Tijuana. Because of the upsurge in refugees since the arrival of the Caravan, Sister Adelia has noticed that the “light in the women’s eyes has gone out,” for those at her shelter. Once hopeful to seek asylum, they now wait for their ICE number to come up with fear and trembling. One had #1326 and another #1531.
Later in the day, we visited the new site of the 5,000 people in the Caravan, 11 miles east of downtown Tijuana. It’s a stadium-type area with a covered space for the families. Others, mostly young men, had camping tents scattered all over the concrete public area. As three white women, we entered the area freely, talked with adults and played with children. We met 21-year-old Nelson, who wants to come to the USA, as do all. He was raised Catholic. He shared how monjas/nuns accompanied them all through Guatemala, sharing that they did so in case anyone fell along the wayside. “No one should die alone,” said the nuns.
Some international service agencies appeared to be available under tents, like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, World Vision, Red Cross, and UNICEF, but the lines were more prominent as cars drove up offering blankets or clothes. There was a hot food distribution area with a very long line. We left around 5 pm as the clouds were coming in for the night storm. Where is hope in a foreign land when returning home means death? Their hope lies in God, who will not abandon them. We heard that over and over.
The next morning we met at a San Diego shelter, former retreat center, with 100+ cots in the gym area. The San Diego Organizing Project (SDOP), part of the PICO National Network, runs this new emergency shelter where 30 to 50 people arrive each day from a bus sent by ICE. Soon they will run out of room, but their “command central” is key! It is a room filled with computers and transportation volunteers helping each arrival get to their designated U.S. location for their immigration or asylum court hearing. In the meantime, they need to be fed and cared for. Volunteers are needed for everything, including driving to bus station or airport. Spanish speakers inquire within!!!
Our St. Joseph Workers are going this weekend to do “all that woman is capable” and Sister Patrice Coolick is planning on a month-long stay over the holidays where her nursing and bilingual abilities will be invaluable! My admiration for San Diego Organizing Project went way up when I learned that our Sister Maureen Evelyn Brown is its Co-Chairperson. We are everywhere!
May people of faith and hope respond to this emergency with full hearts!