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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/10/18

Citizens Along the Texas-Mexico Border Help Refugees

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I joined the Grannies Respond group at their last stop -- at the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas. Caravans of grandmothers, grandfathers and friends from the north, east and west of the United States converged in McAllen on August 4 after eight days of travel by some of the group, stopping in communities along the way to discuss conditions at the border and what citizens can do to change the policies of the Trump administration.

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On the evening of August 4, as many as 100 of Grannies Respond walked a few blocks from Archer Park in downtown McAllen to the Greyhound Bus station. Each evening ICE releases persons who have been in detention/prison in a facility somewhere in the Rio Grande Valley.

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Each evening Luis, a retired fireman from McAllen, has gone for the past six years to the bus station to help persons who have been released from detention and permitted to go to their sponsors -- sponsors who may be located anywhere in the United States. Luis is in a motorized wheelchair as he is an amputee from injuries suffered at the end of his 25-year career as a fireman in the Rio Grande Valley.

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Upon notification that their family/friends have been released, sponsors must reserve bus tickets from McAllen to wherever the sponsors live. All of this is done very quickly as those who get released do not know for sure if they are going to be released and when.

Elizabeth and Megan, residents of McAllen and evening volunteers at the bus station said that they have talked with persons who have been in detention for as long as five months and others who were detained for only a few days. The volunteers in McAllen have not been able to figure out ICE's rationale for the timing of release of the detained persons. They said that the staff at the Greyhound Bus Station in McAllen has been very helpful and recognize the trauma individuals and families have been under.

ICE drops a busload of people off and tells them to walk two blocks to the bus station -- many times they are not told what city they are in nor given any information other than "Get off the bus, you are released." Adults have to wear ankle alarms. If reservations for bus ticket for a person or family have not been made and paid for, or if the person is released so late in the day/evening that the bus on which reservations have been made has already left, volunteers help the person get a new ticket and help with shelter for the evening.

Catholic Charities has a "Respite" facility two blocks from the McAllen bus station. Persons who need to stay overnight and get their buses the next day are brought there for showers, clean clothes, a hot meal, put in touch by phone with their relatives/sponsors and helped book/rebook tickets.

Catholic Charities needs Spanish-speaking volunteers -- the next day at the hotel where we were staying, we met a Spanish-speaking woman volunteer from Austin who has been coming to McAllen for the past two years to help. The Grannies walked to the Catholic Charities "Respite" and sang songs for those who were waiting for their buses.

Families, young people, older people who had been in detention and who had finally been released came out of the facility to listen to our songs. We had a chance to talk with some. I spoke to a young man named Pablo from Guatemala. It had taken him two months to get to the US. He had been robbed twice and had been detained for four months before his release about two hours ago. He would be joining family in Florida.

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The next day, we went to the Presbyterian Church in Harlingen, about 30 miles from McAllen, to help fill backpacks, some of which would be taken to Catholic Charities to be given to released families there and some of which we took to the Brownsville-Matamoros border crossing another 40 miles south along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The small backpacks contained several bottles of water, toiletries, snacks, writing paper and pen and a toy for the kids.

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There are three U.S.-Mexico border crossings at Brownsville. We went to the Brownsville-Matamoros crossing as the group organizers had heard there were refugees camped out on the bridge waiting to be allowed to come into the U.S., go into detention facilities and wait for a court date and release to their sponsors.

We paid $1 in quarters to cross the bridge by foot. Perhaps this is the way ICE raises funds for its operation? I think the Israeli government helped design the US crossing into Mexico. It looked very similar to the checkpoints in the West Bank and the Erez crossing into Gaza.

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Ann Wright is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran, a retired United States Army colonel and retired U.S. State Department official, known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She received the State Department Award for Heroism in 1997, after helping to evacuate several thousand (more...)
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