I spent my 2016 Xmas at a Refugee Camp
For the fourth time, I went as a volunteer to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX. Don’t be fooled by the fancy name. It is a private prison, contracted by the US Government to detain women and children in some of the most horrific conditions you can imagine. These families are here seeking asylum from even more horrific persecution in their home countries. So much so, that they appreciate where they are now, even though it is a total human rights violation. It is nothing more than a Baby Jail. A refugee camp inside the USA.
The families are held in 12 x 12 rooms with 4 bunk beds. There are communal bathrooms. The rooms are in a series of trailers that are connected in a minimum security setting. They are forced to wear t-shirts and jeans. I point this out because many of the women are from indigenous areas where women usually wear their traditional garb and almost never pants. The rooms are kept very cold. It is very difficult for the women who are from warmer climates and are not accustomed to air conditioning. In addition, many of them have braved the elements and arrive sick. The cold conditions do not help them recover from some very serious medical conditions. While I was there we identified 911 emergency cases.
I work with a group of volunteers. Each week a new group arrives to provide whatever assistance we can to help the women get out of there. We provide legal advice, legal representation, help them find their families in the US or if they have none we can help find host families, advocacy with the administrators of the facility regarding medical services, food, education for the children and a whole host of other things.
The women recount stories of how gangs (trained in the US) have usurped governments in Central America. Children are forced to join gangs are be killed or their families get killed. They tell me about domestic violence to the level that the men act as if women are chattel to own and abuse. They tell me about governments that have failed to the point that the police are ineffectual and do not protect, cannot protect the populace.
I keep going back because I am a mother and a grandmother. I am an aunt. I imagine “what if that was me?” What would I do? What would it take for me to grab what I can rouse my three children, my grandbaby, all my nieces and nephews and run the heck out of my country. Never looking back. A country that I love. A country that has failed me. A country that is whispering in the wind “go, I cannot protect you.” What would it take for me to leave and never look back? I don’t know the answer.
I do recognize the lioness instincts in all these women to protect their cubs. These women are so brave. I like to think I would do the same thing. Crossing mountains. Bearing the elements. Crossing rivers, even though I am afraid of the water and cannot swim. Cross deserts with little water, no food and no shelter. Dodge human traffickers and drug cartels. Running through one country after another until I found myself safe with the ones I love. With these women I find a sisterhood that is inexplicable.
I know what it is like to do anything to protect my child. Any sacrifice is worth it when your life is on the line and your child. Because your child is like your own heart that beats outside your own.