LEWISBURG — A Lewisburg-area mom and daughter who volunteered near the border of the United States and Mexico will be among speakers at an upcoming rally decrying federal immigration practices.
Shari and Catie Jacobson volunteered in late December and early January at the Humanitarian Respite Center of McAllen, Texas. They helped out as asylum seekers were on route from Central America via Mexico to sponsors.
“These are not people who are trying to sneak across, they actually present themselves to the Border Patrol,” said Shari, a Susquehanna University professor. “They have a relatively brief interview to determine if they have a credible fear of return.”
If an asylum-seeker is determined to have a credible fear of being returned to where they came from, Shari said they are put into an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facility, they are processed and get an ankle monitor. They also have to identify a sponsor in the United States.
“That sponsor is almost always a sibling a spouse, a parent (or) a child,” Shari explained. “They have to get to that sponsor, because wherever that sponsor is, they are going to have a court date for an (immigration) hearing.”
Catie said professional contractors did the task of getting trains or busses so asylum-seekers could safety reach their next stop. Work for volunteers included passing out clothes, kitchen duties, laundry folding and making sandwiches.
“Mostly I worked passing out clothes to little kids,” said Catie, a Lewisburg Area High School sophmore. “There was so much sorting that needs to get done. There was a sorting room that was literally piled to the ceiling with these giant trash bags (of donated clothes).”
Men’s, women’s and children’s clothes would be sorted, then individual bags would be assembled for distribution. The kitchen was mostly run by asylum-seekers who wanted to help out.
Shari said ICE and the Humanitarian Respite Center worked out an arrangement so that asylum-seekers could get a hot meal and some clothes. All ICE could do prior to that was to bring people to the bus station. She added that their destinations could be anywhere from New England to Oregon.
Virtually all the asylum seekers were from Guatemala or Honduras, Shari said, with a few from El Salvador.
“Almost everybody coming across the border right now is seeking asylum,” she observed. “That migration of young Mexican men of 15 or 20 years ago, looking for work in the United States, really isn’t happening anymore.”
How they got to the border seemed to vary, with some asylum seekers actually walking from Central America to McAllen. Others found rides, which also presented risks.
“If I say they came by bus, it makes sound a lot better than it was,” said Shari, who could converse in Spanish. “I talked to one man who had bought a ticket on some sort of vehicle.”
She said the man was with his 4-year-old daughter. They were both abandoned on the Gulf of Mexico by the people who sold them the ticket. He found a family to watch the girl while he did day labor to get some money to make the rest of the trip.
“They had been through the most grueling experiences,” Shari added. “They were really emotionally fragile. It was a very difficult situation.”
Catie said they had little experience with ICE agents or detention centers, but agreed the asylum seekers survived hard times.
“They weren’t welcomed at the detention center,” she surmised. “Based on what we saw and what we heard, it was not nice at all.”
Shari added that one of the nuns described the detention centers as scary places, where asylum-seekers were yelled at. One sister consciously tried to keep her voice low because so many arrivals had been treated harshly.
“You notice people coming in who have no shoelaces,” Shari added. “They are removed because ICE is concerned that people are going to try and hang themselves or something. It is really a heartbreaking thing to see.”
Catie, though angered by some of what she saw, called the experience valuable.
“I am immensely glad that I could help,” she said “I will be forever grateful for the opportunity, but it isn’t about me. It’s about children without parents, and parents who lost their kids.”
Catie also added her view of government had changed. She noted it was incomprehensible that elected officials could opt to watch people suffer.
Shari and Catie stayed at a center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which Shari compared to a conference center or a hostel. They will be joined clergy members and a State House candidate at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Beaver Memorial United Methodist Church, 42 S. Third St., Lewisburg, for a Lights for Liberty rally. It will be followed by a vigil on the Post Office grounds.
Staff Writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 and via email at email@example.com.