The silent tears flooding the border

June 20, 2019
By Tatiana Torres, CSR Regional Director

33 years in America. I love this beautiful country. I swore in 2011, that as a US citizen I would vow to protect it. With very hard work and dedication, this country has become the land of opportunity for my immigrant family. I love being a US citizen and I have deeply civically engaged in the American Declaration and dream of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. However, the America I love does not offer Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness to ALL. Throughout history this declaration did not include people of color.

In July of 2018, I flew to Aspen for the Socrates Institute and attended a two-day seminar moderated by Maria Hinojosa called “Illegal is not a noun”. During this session, I learned about an organization called the Dilley Pro Bono Project (also known as CARA). The organization operates a non-traditional pro bono model of legal services that directly represents immigrant mothers and children detained at the 2,400-bed South Texas Residential Center (the largest women and children detention center in the country, which was built in 2014). This seminar confirmed to me that people of color continue to be marginalized and framed by policies and unjust laws. It hit home: these were my own people; undocumented just how I had been.

Seeing the images, coming from the border, I knew what the current immigrants were feeling– hopelessness, shame, feeling of loss and above all FEAR. On December 15th I boarded a plane with my youngest sister to serve for 8 days as a volunteer with CARA by translating for a group of pro bono lawyers, leading the Know your Rights presentations (as we called them ‘intake and outtake’ charlas (chats), and preparing our clients for the credible fear and reasonable fear interviews before the asylum officers. Our days were about 14 hours long with 45 minutes for lunch outside of the detention center. We couldn’t bring any type of electronic devices or personal items that could be contraband (feminine hygiene products, food, medicine, etc.). We could not touch the children or their mothers – no hugs, hand holding, or even handshakes. Seeing a crying mother sitting across from you recount the way she and her children were domestically and sexually abused by her partner and not being able to do ANYTHING to console her is heartbreaking.

I was not ready for what I was going to experience. I was deeply impacted by the sacrifice these women made to leave their home country and walk for months to the USA border (their feet still had blisters). This blog cannot detail the images, painful memories, and hundreds of horrific stories we heard. However, there are three anecdotes I would like to share:

  1. When people enter our country without a visa through the border, they are placed in hieleras, also known as freezer units. In these rooms, the air conditioning is blasting on them for days. The rooms feel like a freezer because for many, this is the first time they experience air-conditioning at this magnitude. A client told me she was told it was to sterilize her of any germs. In these units the food is expired or still frozen. Then they are put in perreras (dog pounds) which are large cages before they are separated or sent to a detention center.
  2. The medical assistance consists of acetaminophen and Vick’s Vapor rub. It takes several trips to the infirmary even when it’s evident there is an infection. Most of the clients and staff were sick when I was there. Everything from stomach issues, ear and throat infections, VERY high fevers, and coughs, just to name a few.
  3. Whether it was political unrest, religious oppression, domestic abuse of all types, death threats, unfair treatment because of their ethnicity or native Indian roots, these women and (some of) their children were in the USA because going back home was not an option. It was life or death for them.

America cannot treat its immigrants this way. America has got to stop spilling innocent blood. When will we have immigration reform? Do we need to wait for 7 other children to die? There needs to be immigration reform. It is an equity, human rights, and bipartisan issue.

I have not been the same since my return 6 months ago. I am itching to go back. One can never be the same once the images television present are real and right in front of you pleading for you to help. I just keep thinking—this could have been me and my family.

The declaration of life and liberty has truly benefited many in our country but we must acknowledge that many times minorities are not part of this equation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *