While the number of unaccompanied minors who are arriving in the Nogales, Arizona, detention center reportedly is decreasing, that’s not at all the case for the number of women and children who are being dropped off, destined for the Tucson Greyhound station every day.
That human tragedy continues right on our doorstep.
The families being dropped off at the Tucson intake center are being ministered to by volunteers who simply want to touch these troubled lives with the compassion the residents of Tucson are known for. The volunteers of Project Mariposa come from all walks of life, all ethnicities and all ages. It’s gratifying to be working with this group to touch and offer some healing to the broken spirits of the women and children we see each day.
Guatemala is still the largest source of the families we’re seeing. While more than 80 percent of the people being dropped here are Guatemalan, we’ve also seen Hondurans and Salvadorans. The stories we hear are consistent. These women are in fear of life and limb, both for themselves and for their children. In their home countries they have suffered domestic violence, abandonment and abuse. The children are subjected to gang threats up to and including dismemberment and death. The young girls are raped and otherwise physically abused. These are the conditions from which the mothers we see are fleeing. Any parent would do the same.
When I hear our politicians suggest that the solution is to simply “send them back,” my question is, “Send them back to what?” We know from firsthand accounts that sending these women and children back to their home countries is little more than a death sentence. That has not been our response to other groups who arrived here seeking refugee status. Neither should it be for this group.
Certainly, the Central American leadership bears an obligation to do its part in taking care of these families. When they arrive in Tucson, they have been processed through our Immigration and Customs Enforcement system and are being allowed to travel to next of kin and await their deportation hearings. Up until recently, the Guatemalan Consulate’s office has employed a single individual to assist with the Project Mariposa work. It is shameful that the consulate’s office has stopped paying its own representative to work with these families. The message that sends is “America, it’s your problem.” That is an act of abandonment of their own people.
And neither the Honduran nor the Salvadoran consulate offices have offered any relocation or transition assistance to their own people once they arrive in Tucson. Their message is that the Project Mariposa volunteers can carry that burden. That too is shameful.
We will continue to do what we can with the resources we have to assist these women and their children through to their next destination. In doing so, we won’t solve the border crisis, nor will we solve the economic development issues that exist in Central America. What we will do is to show the Tucson face of compassion to those who arrive here after having gone through personal trials that we can only imagine. But for them, it’s not imaginary. It’s real. And politicians from both north and south of the border appear willing to simply allow the Project Mariposa volunteers to carry the burden of touching these lives.
We will continue to do that.