San Antonio Tragedy

Early yesterday morning, 38 individuals were found dead or near death in a big rig trailer parked in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas. They were discovered by an employee after a man had approached him begging for water. Thirty of these individuals were taken to nearby hospitals in critical condition with signs of heat stroke and dehydration after being locked in the trailer without water or air conditioning in the crippling 100+ degree heat. The other eight were found dead on the scene. A ninth and tenth died after arriving at the hospital.

The number of individuals who had already been taken from the trailer is unknown. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus stated, “Checking the video, there were a number of vehicles that came and picked up other people who were in that trailer.”

These individuals–all of whom were between the ages of 15 and 40–were victims of human trafficking. An investigation is underway to confirm the nationalities of these individuals, but it is suspected they may be immigrants entering from Mexico. The origin of the truck is still undetermined.

This isn’t the first time in recent months that a similar situation has been discovered along the US/Mexico border. In fact, earlier this month, Border Patrol found 72 Latin Americans in a trailer and 44 other individuals in the same situation in June.

With the recent emphasis being placed on reducing the number of immigrants living in the country illegally, raids on suspected illegal immigrants have become more frequent. These are the same policies making it more likely to make it more difficult to prevent, identify, and stop human trafficking. This is due to immigrants being fearful to approach law enforcement, despite San Antonio’s policy of not asking about the immigration status of those with whom they come in contact.

A vigil was held to honor the victims of this horrific tragedy. The Interfaith Welcome Coalition and RAICES were present alongside other agencies involved in immigrant rights and Daughters of Charity living in San Antonio.

Since hearing about this incident, I am deeply shocked about what I’ve read. How can we treat other human beings this way? These migrants were likely fleeing violence, gangs, and cartels in their countries of origin, desperate enough to be smuggled into the United States. Please join me in praying for them and their loved ones.

You can read more and keep up with the multiagency investigation here.

Tornillo: America’s Newest Tent City

Tornillo, Texas is a city located 35 miles east of El Paso on the Guadalupe pass. It is home to one of the newest “tent cities” in America, opening in November 2016.

A tent city is a temporary processing center for immigrants entering into the United States. The need for this particular site was created by the large–and growing–number of migrants entering from the Mexican border. Most of these refugees are coming from Central America with a few arriving from Haiti and Brazil. While the majority are mothers along with their children, there are cases of fathers coming with children.

When Border Patrol picks up the migrants, they are bused to Tornillo. Here, the refugees are processed and given the opportunity to shower and put on clean clothes. They are given food, but no dietary restrictions are considered. For example, there is no alternative to milk if some happen to be lactose intolerant. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) eventually arrives and gives each migrant an ankle bracelet. Each individual is allowed to make a phone call to their family members, many of which are already in America. Everyone sleeps on a cot in one large tent guarded by armed guards. Within a day or so, the migrants are moved to more permanent sites in Philadelphia, Florida, San Antonio, or El Paso.

Many of the refugees come to the site in need of medical attention. Medcor staffs each temporary site, including Tornillo, with EMTs who work 12 hour shifts for 30 days straight. These EMTs are licensed to give only over-the-counter medicines to those who may be suffering. However, it is not uncommon for the migrants to need more than that. So, Medcor contracts with doctors and nurse practitioners, including Sister Doris Clippard, D.C.

“We mostly treat earaches, bronchitis, scabies, and gastroenteritis, but have also had some more complicated cases such as children with chicken pox or women who have been raped,” Sister Doris says. “If it is beyond our ability to care for them, the guards will take the migrant to the Emergency Room.”

While tent cities are a temporary situation, these refugees appreciate having a place to clean up, sleep, and receive medical treatment after the long trek from their homeland.

The Importance of Casa RAICES and the IWC

Night after night, staff and volunteers at Casa RAICES find themselves housing new individuals seeking asylum, sometimes adding up to more than 800 refugee children and mothers every month.

Why are so many people finding themselves here? Case RAICES is the place where thousands of families stay after being released from one of two nearby immigrant detention centers before traveling elsewhere, often to meet up with other family members or friends already in America. Many women and children spend weeks, sometimes months, in these centers after fleeing their homes, enduring months of migration, and seeking asylum from gang violence, domestic violence, or abuse back in their home countries.

Casa RAICES is a part of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC), an organization designed to help immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. The IWC was started by Kelly Allen who brought together churches and other groups who were interested in making a difference for these refugees. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) take women and their children from the detention centers to the bus stop and airport. When IWC learned that some of these families were staying overnight at the bus stations, volunteers began taking immigrants into their homes. Allen and the others quickly realized this wasn’t a temporary situation and, together with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), formed Casa RAICES.

Casa RAICES is run by RAICES and receives support and volunteers from the IWC. Volunteers work day and night to make the immigrants feel welcome. “We really emphasize making them feel at home. They’re coming to us after being treated with disrespect on both sides of the border,” says Daughter of Charity, Sister Denise LaRock. “We try to do the little things like give them a hot meal and a made bed…But we also do bigger things like prepare backpacks with snacks, water, toiletries, coloring cooks, crayons, etc. for these women who are getting ready to travel up to two or three days or will have to sit at the bus station for a long time.”

Sister Denise LaRock, who has been serving with the IWC and Casa RAICES for roughly a year, recently received the Kelly Allen Service Award for her “gracious and willing spirit [which blesses] the IWC and the women and children she serves.”

“I love getting to spend time with families, playing with the children and preparing the women for their trip. I try to do what I can to put them at ease about their long journey ahead, including explaining to them how to use their bus ticket,” she says.

Read more about the IWCCasa RAICES, and the Kelly Allen Service Award.