Last week I wrote about the beginning of my sabbatical during which I spent a lot of time by the river. This week the story continues…
In August I left the tree and flew to San Diego where I volunteered for eight days in a transfer hub for those who had been granted hearings for asylum and await their court dates. Everyday U.S. Immi-gration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) drops off a couple hundred people who have surrendered at the border seeking political asylum. After who knows how long in detention families are reunited at a hotel in San Diego where the State of California offers medical care, lodging, food and a ride to the airport so the asylum seekers can fly to meet their sponsors. The goal is to provide at most a 48 hour stay for the guests. It is an amazing operation which always seems on the verge of breaking down, but is actually very effective and efficient helping people get to their next stop in the process. Catholic Charities has partnered with the state to help with hospitality. I got involved through my friends, the sisters of Mount St. Scholastica
Monastery in Atchison, KS. I simply helped get people hygiene products, diapers and clothes that had been donated and led them to their rooms in the hotel. It was hard, monotonous, heart-breaking work. The average age of immigrants seeking asylum must be about 14. Not that there are a lot of teenagers, few actually, but most are young families near my kids’ ages with small children. I met people from Central America, but more from South America (the Portuguese on my Google Translate App got a workout), Haiti and even Russia. They really do come with nothing except a dream that their kids will have a better, safer more secure life.
This picture I took at the airport is of a group of asylum seekers. It appears to be just like any other small group of travelers waiting on flights in any busy airport anywhere. No passerby would suspect that these travelers are carrying all their worldly possessions in these small backpacks. They are wearing clothes which have been donated and are traveling with tickets bought by sponsors in far distant cities. If you look closely you might notice the mom on the right is wearing an ankle bracelet so ICE can track her.