Volunteering at a Migrant House in Mexico February 2012

Maryknoll Affiliate Pat Bader shares his recent experience volunteering in Tijuana, Mexico.

Three miles from the US/Mexican border in Tijuana the Scalabrini Fathers welcome migrants to their Casa Del Migrante. With a capacity of over 100 men, the Casa offers meals, sleeping dormitories, clothing, medical care, and help for those trying to put their lives back together after being deported and separated from their families in the US.

Set up over 25 years ago for migrants either going to or returning from the US, the Casa guests are now almost exclusively people deported from the US by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In many cases, the undocumented Mexicans have been picked up for some infraction such as expired driver's license, driving without a license, DUI, a "burned out" tail light, etc. In other cases, the offense may be more serious.

Many of those arrested have lived in the US for many years (some since they were babies) and consider Mexico to be a "foreign" country. Many have a wife and children (and even grandchildren) in the US. Their children are usually US citizens (and often their wife as well). So the decision to remain in Mexico with extended family or return to the US to be with their immediate family becomes a very difficult (and dangerous) one.

During my volunteer time here, I have talked to a number of migrants. Here are some of their stories:

Oscar lived 45 years in Fresno since he was a child. He worked his adult life in construction. His wife and adult children still live there. At 50 years old, he has a difficult decision whether to try returning to the U.S. to his family, or live in Mexico, a country he knows very little about.

Luis worked at a fish processing plant in Seattle for seven years. He was stopped for expired license plates and arrested because he didn't have "papers." He lived in the US for over 20 years since he was a baby. He is single and has decided to stay in Mexico.

Miguel at age 60 had worked in the US for 29 years until his deportation last week. His adult kids and grandkids live in the Los Angeles area. He has decided to stay in Mexico near the border so his family can visit him. He said he is too old to risk returning to the US and, if caught, possibly facing prison time.

Carlos worked in a Mexican restaurant in downtown Seattle for five years. He had surgery recently and was arrested when being released from the hospital. He spent two weeks at the ICE Detention Center in Tacoma before being flown to San Diego and escorted across the border. He doesn't have family in Seattle so plans to reconnect with family in Mexico.

Roberto was brought to the US as a two year old by his parents. He grew up in the Los Angeles area, completed high school and did sheetrock work for five years. He was stopped for a “burned out” tail light. Since he didn’t have “papers,” he was taken to the ICE Detention Center (three in L.A. area) and then deported. His parents and siblings are all in the US. He has only extended family in Mexico and considers it a foreign country. He is even having problems getting his Mexican birth certificate.

These are a few of the many stories the migrants related to me. I have a better appreciation for the challenges they face through my volunteering at Casa Del Migrante in Tijuana.

The Casa’s website is www.migrante.com.mx. Contact staff member Gilberto Martinez at sadelmig@yahoo.com or at Facebook about short-term volunteer opportunities in Tijuana.