“You going on a picnic?” the Kroger employee asked me as I threw multiple pre-made sandwiches into my basket.
“No,” I laughed and then told her that I was going down to a bus station in Downtown Dallas to meet immigrants on their way to family and friends after being separated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They are being released from detention centers with nothing. An organization is helping them purchase bus tickets and handing them a bag of toiletries, but that’s it. So, Immigrant Families Together is doing a needs triage at bus stations in Dallas and Houston, catching people as they deboard for bus transfers and giving them food, water, coloring books, blankets, diapers, etc.
We talked about what a long, hard road these people have had to endure. She paused for a moment and said told me to wait. She ran off and had a hurried conversation with another woman who works in the bakery/deli area. She ran back and said, “We have so many sweets that we throw away everyday. Let us bag some up and give them to you to pass out.” I thanked her profusely and told her that I would return after picking up some protein bars.
After I checked out, I wandered back over to the deli and Wanda and her co-worker, Blanca, were loading three giant cases of water into a shopping basket. Blanca explained that she is from El Salvador so she knows what these people are going through and she wanted to buy this water for us to give to these weary travelers. It was amazing. It has been really easy to focus on the terrible things that humans do to each other lately. This was a refreshing reminder of how lovely people can be to one another.
I went home to regroup and collect the coloring books I had purchased at Dollar General and then headed downtown to the bus station. Thankfully, I got a parking spot right out front and, although the bus terminal was really busy inside, I was able to spot the lady with a clipboard pretty quickly. She was talking to a group of three men and a gaggle of children. They had already run out of supplies. The sandwiches were claimed immediately so I ran back out to my car to restock with Takis and my stash of coloring books.
I cannot tell you how excited these kids were to have something to do. They rushed my Marvel and Dora the Explorer coloring books and immediately got to work. If you have children, have been around children, or were a child, then you know how difficult road trips are for kids. Multiply that times 1000 for a freezing cold bus that has a million stops with no food or water or blankets after a traumatic experience and you’ll understand that those coloring books were worth their weight in gold.
One mom had run completely out of diapers for her baby and so I ran out and emptied The Baby’s diaper bag. She said the buses were freezing and they had no blankets so I ran out to my car again and grabbed a blanket I keep out there for emergencies. These were people- regular kids who were jazzed about eating junk food (or any food), fathers and mothers who were tired and weary and ready to be safe.
The worst part for me was realizing that we can identify these families getting off the bus by the f*cking ankle monitors that ICE fitted the adults with before releasing them. That’s right- ankle monitors, like criminals on house arrest. Aside from the obvious understanding that someone is making a literal ton of money selling the government ankle monitors to track people who aren’t dangerous, it is infuriating to see an exhausted mother who literally just wants her children to be safe tracked like a criminal. It’s no Star of David pinned on their clothes, but it is pretty damn close.
We are better than this.
These people are doing what most of us only have to assert we would do. They are moving heaven and hell for their families. How many times have I seen middle-class white women hook their thumbs in their belt loops and say, “I’d do anything for my kids”? These people are LITERALLY following through with that promise. Whatever they are fleeing from must have been pretty bad for them to come here, knowing that they risk incarceration, abuse while being incarcerated, being branded a criminal, separation from their children, being tracked by a system that hates them, and maybe doing it all for nothing because they’ll be deported anyway.
Arguably the most important thing we can do for these people is push for systemic change. After all, if we didn’t have xenophobic immigration policy that lays its foundation on being suspicious of black, brown, and Muslim people, then there wouldn’t be a steady stream of people with no money, no belongings, and a heap of trauma moving through a Dallas bus station. Systemic change is important work. Calling your senators, lending your voice to the chorus saying, “THIS IS NOT OKAY” is important, vital work. Demanding (not asking) change is vital, important work.
But that kind of work is also exhausting. It is roadblock after roadblock. It is writing your senators a heartfelt email about immigration reform and getting an email back from them saying, “Thanks for your email. I wrote a bill that will keep dangerous illegals out of the USA!” It is being ignored over and over again. It takes courage and strength and unlearning that politeness is the most important thing that you can do.
Systemic work will burn you out real fast.
And that’s why I think it’s important to do things like what I did yesterday- to go and look into the faces of the people that I’ve been outraged on behalf of this summer, hear their stories, be moved by their need. It reminds me that this is not a problem that exists for some faraway people in a mystical land. This is happening to people who are sitting in a bus terminal 15 miles south of my house. This is happening in my state, paid for by my government, endorsed by people that I voted for. There are real people behind the outrage on social media. This is not an issue that you can try to intellectually justify because it’s abstract; we are talking about the lives of real people.
One of the things that I love most about Jesus was his ability to see people that other people ignored. Jesus saw Zacchaeus, Jesus saw the bleeding woman who touched the edge of his coat, Jesus saw the lepers, Jesus saw the demon-possessed man, Jesus saw the Roman Centurion, Jesus saw the poor fishermen, Jesus saw the children.
Over and over and over again, Jesus saw people and showed them that they had value, that they were welcome in God’s kingdom.
If anything, the past several years have taught me that seeing people who are invisible to those in power (or who are shat on by those in power so they can stay in power) is holy work. It is holy to look into the eyes of someone who has been told over and over by our government that they are not welcome and saying, “Te vemos. Te queremos aquí. (We see you. We want you here.)”
To be clear, we do this not to be saviors, but because it’s the right thing to do. Yes, we need to push for policy change and laws to change and we need to vote for people who are better than who we currently have. But if you’re not careful, all of that work can disconnect you from the people you’re doing the work for in the first place.
These are real people; their oppression is real. There is holy work that needs to be done.
Let’s get on with it.
DALLAS AND HOUSTON, WE NEED VOLUNTEERS AT BUS STATIONS. Night shifts (11pm-4am are the most needed shifts in Dallas) See the post below for the sign up link. You’re inside the whole time; older kids could definitely participate.
**If you are not in Dallas or Houston but want to help with these efforts, contact the Immigrant Families Together organization and let them know. They have networks of people wanting to help all over. You might get an email saying, “We have a family arriving in Nashiville at 4:30 that will need a phone and some diapers.”
Dallas! The Live Free (mass incarceration) and La Red (immigration) teams of Faith in Texas have joined forces to bring attention to the incarceration of Black and brown people. There’s a rally next Tuesday evening, 8/7 at Frank Crowley Courthouse. If you’re new to understanding the whys and hows of systemic change, this would be a great introduction. Contact me with questions.