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From the border

BY REBECCA MORIN | AUGUST 25, 2014 5:00 AM

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More than 40 sets of eyes, including mine, stared out the old Greyhound Bus windows as the man outside stood waiting in the scorching late-May Texas heat.

Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead as two Border Patrol agents stood a few feet away, hidden in the shade of the bus,  discussing the — incident.

Our bus pulled to the side of Highway 281 at the Border Patrol checkpoint just 15 miles south of Falfurrias, Texas, which is about 85 miles north of the United States-Mexico border.

The checkpoint was one I had passed many times throughout my life with my family as we headed north to San Antonio for a family vacation or with the school as we took the three-hour drive north to Corpus Christi.

The two agents, one male and one female, boarded our bus, asking the passengers whether they were American citizens.

Many of us had driver’s license, visas, or passports, except for one. 

He looked to be about 30, and while he stood about 5-10, wearing jeans and plaid button-down, he looked tiny once he was escorted off the bus.

And he looked tiny as I watched from the confines of my muggy, textured seat.

The two agents, both wearing the classic forest green uniforms, tan boots, and gazes that could break through glass, walked back to their subject — and the man’s stony gaze quickly crumbled.

Behind his rounded glasses, I spotted tears camouflaged with sweat as the agents escorted him to the checkpoint containment offices.

I remember his head hanging low as the bus’s doors creaked closed and the vehicle jolted forward.

The man was deported.

Everyone hopes for the “American Dream,” but for the first time in my life I saw it stripped from someone right before my eyes.

• • •

The Falfurrias checkpoint is one of dozens of checkpoints leading out of the Rio Grande Valley, which is a cluster of cities along the Rio Grande bordering Mexico.

Texas residents, as well as many immigrants, must provide proof of being American citizens or possessing the necessary documentation to be in the United States legally before leaving the area surrounding the South Texas border.

Starting in May, an increased number of undocumented women and children began crossing the Texas-Mexico border.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, 10,579 unaccompanied minors and 12,774 adults with children traveled to the United States in May. In June, those numbers rose to 10,628 unaccompanied minors and 16,330 adults with children crossing the border.

But since July, the numbers have decreased to 5,508 unaccompanied minors and 7,410 adults with children were counted for the month of July.

In the Rio Grande Valley, an area about 15 to 30 minutes near the U.S.-Mexico border, Border Patrol agents work to process undocumented individuals crossing the border — a two-to-three day ordeal.

Then, they are assigned a court date with immigration judges.

However because of the several months’ wait to meet with a judge, any individuals with family in the United States are provided a bus ticket to stay with family on the condition they return for their court dates.

Almost every day, Border Patrol agents drop off the undocumented men, women, and children at McAllen Central Station to make their trek.

• • •

Only two blocks away from the bus station in downtown McAllen, Catholic Charities, an organization that aims to reduce poverty, support families, as well as empower communities, opened a refuge center for undocumented immigrants at Sacred Heart Church.

When I arrived on a Saturday, the church’s Parrish Hall was filled with more than 25 volunteers, some who were not older than the age of 10. Others couldn’t speak a lick of Spanish, and some came from North Texas and even out of the state.

Piles of donated clothing, including old American Eagle shirts, jeans, and even sweatshirts and T-shirts from local high schools, filled most of the room.

Water, soup, fruit, and sandwiches were given to the refugees — the word the volunteers used instead of undocumented immigrants.

As one volunteer, Mayra, helped a woman who looked about 35 find new shoes to wear, around 15 other volunteers brought in more donations and five other volunteers rushed to help organize the new supply.

The female refugee — a new pair of shoes in her hands, was taken to rest in one of the large tan, air-conditioned tents outside the facility.

She would take a nap until it was time to go back to the bus station.

Across the room, a volunteer doctor was called over to assist another family, a father and his young son.

The father, wearing a sky-blue shirt and a brightly colored blue backpack, held his son’s hand as the doctor took them to sit at a small table at the back of the room.

“Plátano,” the doctor chuckled. “That means banana, right? Well, it will help with diarrhea,” and she pointed at the man’s son and then handed the banana to him.

Despite the language barrier, they understood each other.

The man ate soup as the little boy mostly played with his banana instead of eating it. Both the man and the doctor laughed.

The boy — who looked no older than 51 — did not even look up. Squashing his banana took all of his attention. 

• • •

Before the refugees left, they were given a drawstring bag of food: granola bars, sandwiches, fruit.

There was enough food to last them for at least four or five days, which was how long some of the journeys were. Some refugees were allowed to travel to places such as Las Vegas, but they had to come back to meet with immigration judges on their specific dates.

Once it was close for the families to leave, they were dropped off down the street at the bus station to begin their next part of their journey.

They boarded the bus and were allowed to take off red paper wristbands that they had to wear while at the center.

Sitting in the uncomfortable bus seats, families held manila folders, which served as their only golden ticket past the Falfurrias checkpoint.

Once past the checkpoint, they were homeward bound into a country often just as scary as the one they had fled.


Immigrant Center

Beginning in June, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which is located in South Texas, began offering services to undocumented immigrants traveling to stay with family members as they wait to meet with immigration judges.

Undocumented immigrants are offered an opportunity to shower, eat, as well as rest until they continue with their journeys.

Many Texas residents, as well as individuals across the county, have donated a variety of clothing including shirts, shoes, pants, food, as well as their time, said Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

“This is just not around the [Rio Grande Valley],” Pimentel said. “The whole United States is one way or another connected to this. It has been daily that we’ve had people donated items and their time. People at large have all united and come together so we could provide care for the families.”

The organization at first received 200 individuals, then increased to serving approximately 300 undocumented immigrants.

However, numbers have dropped after the number of undocumented immigrants coming over the border has declined.

Starting in May, more than 10,000 unaccompanied minors and more than 12,000 adults with children traveled to the United States.

Those numbers rose in June, but fell to a little more than 5,500 unaccompanied minors and approximately 7,400 adults with children in July.

Donations were stored at the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley due to the large amounted donated. A truck came at around12:45 p.m. to deliver more supplies as needed.

The individuals are given a drawstring bag of food for the rest of their travels. They are also provided with a small bag of shampoo, toothpaste, body wash, and other toiletries.

Despite the decrease, Pimentel said, as long as the center’s services are needed, it will continue.

“We’ve continued to do this and will continue to do this as long as we’re needed,” Pimentel said.


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