Agua Prieta: Life Before The Line

– Ruth Noel and Faith Garlington, accompaniers in Agua Prieta, Sonora
Entering a new context means building new relationships and learning new language. You’ll see some terms in this report that might not be familiar to you yet. CAME is the Centro de Atencion al Migrante “Exodus,” a migrant shelter based in a Catholic church in Agua Prieta. The CRM is the Centro de Recursos para Migrantes (Migrant Resource Center), a building two blocks from the Port of Entry where travelers can use the bathroom, take showers, do laundry, and find respite from the heat. “The line” refers to the space just to the east of the Port of Entry in Agua Prieta, where people are waiting for their numbers to be called from “the list” so that they can cross into the U.S. and present themselves to Customs and Border Protection to petition for asylum. “The list” exists because of the current administration’s metering and delay policies.

Go here to sign up to find out more or volunteer for future accompaniment in Agua Prieta.

The work of accompaniment is faith in action, in protest, and in active solidarity.

Families seeking asylum typically spend about a week waiting in the line at the wall, and before that, most of them are hosted at CAME, a church shelter. As dire as life at the line may appear to volunteers who go home each night to their own private home, staying at CAME or the line gives the people there a sense of security that others are still seeking.

One aspect of life at CAME and the line is to make sure that only residents of CAME have access to the space and resources (food, water, accompaniment, etc.) designated by this system created by the community. For the past day or so, there has been a group of 20 people outside CAME asking for help. First they visited CAME and were added to the list before being sent to a hotel that turned out to be full. We all know CAME is over capacity with a waiting list, so these families were added to that waiting list. When they approached us at the Migrant Resource Center (CRM), one of them asked if we at least had any cardboard. It was painful to watch this group walk away carrying a measly cardboard box as the best we could offer. But turning to a woman currently staying in the line gave us strength to remember that our focus and energy is on the residents of CAME and the line — HER. If she can keep a positive, grateful attitude through all of this upheaval in her life, then we the least we can do is support the people we’re here to accompany.

That resilience and absence of anger, frustration or exhaustion is the first impression when you enter CAME. Most people appear relaxed and in good spirits.  We haven’t heard complaints. Yes, people make simple requests when they need something. But when we give them what’s available or explain a lack of resource, gratitude is the persistent response.

At CAME, roll is called every day. Everyone knows where they are on the list— how close they are to moving from CAME to the line and how many people are ahead of them on the list.  When a family arrives at CAME, they are assigned beds and receive linens based on the number of adults and children in the group. One room off the courtyard has bunk beds while the other, larger room has mats on the floor. There are rules posted on the wall. When a family arrives, they are expected to read and accept the rules the night of their arrival. During the day, no one is allowed in the sleeping areas, except to move through to the bathrooms. There is a small section of shade in the courtyard where men are usually playing dominoes or cards. Walking to the office, we notice a couple of teenage boys lounging on the bottom shelf of a large, sturdy table. As we read books to the younger children, they come and go as interest shifts.

Families live in community at CAME, sharing responsibilities and looking after each others children. Their intake interview identifies skills, e.g. teaching or cooking, and the potential viability of each family’s asylum case. They are invited into leadership roles such as welcoming and distributing supplies to new families, based on their abilities. The families in the two rooms alternate lunch responsibilities. A few regular volunteers come to make breakfast. A prepared dinner is brought in by local churches and organizations.

Go here to sign up to find out more or volunteer for future accompaniment in Agua Prieta.