This weekend brings a close to my March-April 2022 volunteer time in Tucson and Casa Alitas. I return to Madison this coming Wednesday (the day before Maundy Thursday of Passion Week). This means packing in all those things on my “want to do before I leave” list. For me, this has meant a trip to wine country south of Tucson (I drank more wine that day than all of COVID time – 4 glasses), Sunday at the Greek Orthodox monastery south of Tucson (positively exquisite), and many lunches and dinners with friends (couldn’t be better – both the friends and the food). All have left my body and soul wonderfully nourished and grateful.
I think the most important lunch for us at ORUCC was with Peggy Gessner, co-lead of the clothing unit at Casa Alitas. You may remember Peggy from our last clothing drive to Casa Alitas. Peggy, delightful as always, shared the ups and downs of maintaining the Tienda de Ropa open while the surge of guests arriving at Casa Alitas has increased. She shared that the most difficult thing she had to do was close the tienda on some days when the numbers of guests was so high that she had to totally close the clothing area because we were not able to serve everyone, so served none (with a few urgent exceptions). On those days, she and her team set up mini units outside the clothing room with sox, underwear and hygiene kits, so at a minimum we could provide those basic items to guests. Peggy was thrilled to hear about the upcoming ORUCC clothing drive and confirmed that any time this summer would serve them well.
The number of guests arriving each day continues to increase as before, stretching every resource. Day before yesterday, we housed 445 people, far exceeding capacity. Out came every cot available. Two local churches agreed to house several families for a few days. If Casa Alitas says that we have reached capacity and cannot accept more, although it’s hard to believe, Border Patrol drops people on the streets or at bus stops, no money and nowhere to go. These people are referred to as street releases. It’s a cruel practice that I’m concerned is going to increase in coming months.
I am told that what is happening at Casa Alitas is also true of Annunciation House, the welcome center in El Paso, Texas. I’m also told that the detention centers themselves are also full. Couples continue to be separated as are those traveling with extended family members. At the same time, it is clear that the pattern of randomness of who is permitted to pass to our doors and who is immediately deported continues to be the case. So hard to hear those stories.
Over the last month, the majority of people arriving at Casa Alitas are families rather than singles. As I mentioned the last time, this has transformed Casa Alitas into a grand child care center. This brings all the delight and challenges you might suspect. I marvel at how young parents travel by plane with their young ones, and can’t imagine what the lives of these parents have been like in recent months as they make their way to us. We pass out bags of toys and coloring books to the children. We’re rewarded with happy smiles. I never cease to be amazed at how well behaved the children are, perhaps by force of necessity – I don’t know. In any case, I love spending time with them.
The policy that is prompting so many families to come our way is referred to as Title 42. Title 42 is the controversial policy that allows Customs and Border Protection to turn migrants away in the name of public health and back across the border without allowing them to file for asylum. Unless something changes, the policy is slated to end on May 23, less than two weeks from today. Border Patrol has already started to permit more and more people to enter the country, pre staging the repeal itself. This has all been hitting the headlines.
To me it is irresponsible to end the policy without putting in place preparations for the impact of the repeal. At the same time, I view the policy as a violation of the rights of migrants and one that puts the lives of migrants in even more danger. It’s a moral dilemma.
The government has been using Title 42 on the U.S.-Mexico border to turn migrants away without allowing them to apply for asylum, regardless of their country of origin or reason for traveling. The right to request asylum is guaranteed by both international and U.S. law.
The way it’s supposed to work is if a noncitizen comes to our border seeking asylum, they are to be put in normal immigration proceedings. One might say that migrants “should do it the right way; they should get in line.” The use of Title 42 means there is no line because you have denied them the process to proceed.
Because much of the infrastructure relating to immigration was defunded and dismantled during the Trump administration, to me it is essential that the focus of the current administration be to rebuild the capacity to receive migrants and process their claims for asylum. Easy to say, not easy to do. To date, what that has consisted of is greater militarization of the border and more Border Patrol agents, where instead what we need is funding for more welcome centers, personnel with the compassionate attitudes skills, and knowledge to greet migrants and help manage the next steps in their journey.
Three red states — Arizona, Louisiana, and Missouri — are suing in hopes of stopping the government from ending Title 42.
A sidebar to the discussions about Title 42 is the status of refugees from Ukraine. We have not received any people from Ukraine at Casa Alitas. However, a few have crossed at Tijuana-San Diego.
It is now 3am Arizona time, 5 am Wisconsin time, and I have fallen into my typical pattern of being wide attack til late into the night. It will be a busy day tomorrow. I leave you with these thoughts and a few photos to complement the above. I look forward to being home soon. Blessings to all.