Today we were able to sleep in a little bit, and ate breakfast at 8:15. After enjoying a tasty meal of proteinous eggs and sausage, we played a few games as a group. Next, Pastor Rose Mary talked to us about the conditions in the detention centers in which refugees are processed. Because of the influx of immigrants from Central America, most official holding cells are unable to accommodate these refugees, so most stay in small rooms that are only meant to hold small numbers of people for only a few hours; however, refugees stay in these rooms for around 20 days. The cells are inhospitable and are kept at severely cold temperatures in order to, according to border patrol, ward off disease. Immigrants are not supplied enough blankets to stay warm, and many have blisters on their lips and ears from the cold. There are often no mattresses, and so these refugees must sleep on the cold cement; many have bruises on the sides of their bodies from sleeping on the floor. In some cases, there is not sufficient space to lie down, forcing immigrants to sleep while standing up. In June, however, the Trump administration introduced a new policy known as MPP (Migrant Protection Protocol), which aims to reduce overcrowding along the US side of the border by sending immigrants to Mexico while they await their court hearings. Many of these immigrants have no support where they are relocated and often face gang violence, sexual assault, and inaccess to proper medical care and other resources.
Pastor Rose Mary also discussed how she and her church, among other organizations, help the refugees that remain in the US while they wait for their court cases. Following Trump’s enactment of conservative immigration policies, she began helping refugees to receive food, water, and shelter, especially after seeing other churches’ unwillingness to support these immigrants.
Pastor Rose Mary talked about some of the refugees that she has met. She recounted the many immigrants that experienced psychological trauma at the detention centers, and how some of them wouldn’t come out of their rooms for days. She also discussed how she helped to heal some of this trauma through small acts of kindness, while acknowledging that these immigrants have played an important role in her own self transformation.
Next, we split up into groups and walked around Downtown El Paso. Some people went to Starbucks, others purchased candy, and some bought cheap knockoff jerseys from a store on the Main Street. We met back at the parking lot and walked over together to the scenic El Paso Locomotives Stadium.
After having lunch back at Cristo Rey, students began to arrive for the after school program. Some people worked with these children, playing games and helping with their homework, some sorted through donations for the church, while others prepared dinner for our trip to Casa Vides, a branch of Annunciation House. They made tuna and Bolivian salads. Yum!
We arrived at Casa Vides where we spoke to a representative of Annunciation House who works there. Annunciation House provides a safe place for refugees to stay while they’re awaiting their court cases, much like Cristo Rey does. They have multiple houses in El Paso where refugees stay, but we visited Casa Vides, which is the smallest of these houses. We served them the tuna and Bolivian salads that students had prepared, and students had the opportunity to practice their Spanish and connect with the immigrant families staying there. You could feel the sense of community among the refugees and volunteers, and many students were impressed by the work Annunciation House and other organizations are doing to help these refugees.
After a long day in El Paso, our leaders surprised us with a trip to Baskin Robins! There were smiles all around as we enjoyed scoop after scoop of delicious ice cream. We went to bed on sugar highs but with many valuable experiences to share.
Desi, Brickelle, and Charlotte