A trio of county elected officials visited on Monday the immigrant transition center and heard firsthand from volunteers about the work being done there.
Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez invited Justice of the Peace Pct. 1 Roberto Castillo and Justice of the Peace Pct. 4 Hilda Lopez to join him on a tour of the transition center, located in one room of the Chihuahua Center on Las Vacas Street.
Sandra Fuentes, who is a co-chair of The Border Organization and a private citizen, also joined the group.
At the center, Martinez, Castillo and Lopez met with Janeene and Shon Young of the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, who spoke about various aspects of the work being done.
“We’re working on changing our hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to make it a little more manageable, instead of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” Janeene Young said.
“The transportation out of here is a big deal. If we don’t have transportation out of here, there’s nothing we can do; you’re just going to sleep here, so there’s really nothing we can do. Greyhound leaves at 11:25 and 5:45, and the planes leave at 6:15 and 2:25,” she added.
The Youngs said the coalition is always seeking volunteers, especially those fluent in Spanish, since many of the asylum-seeking immigrants came from Central American nations like El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
More recently, French speakers have been in high demand with the arrival of asylum seekers from nations in central Africa.
But even volunteers who don’t speak anything but English will be put to work, Janeene Young said, noting there is always cleaning and organizing to be done, as well as assisting the immigrants in selecting a single change of donated clothing.
“We try to give them all a welcome bag, which, right now we’re down on and need more made. We’re constantly remaking them. We try to give one to a family, but when you get 30 in, 15 families, we go through them really fast. It has a hygiene kit, a snack and a water bottle. It has a t-shirt,” Janeene Young said.
She added the center has been called a “processing center,” but added that appellation is incorrect.
Young said the Border Patrol processes the asylum-seekers, then delivers them to the Chihuahua Center, where the coalition works to transition them out of the community as quickly as possible.
“We were calling it a processing center, but that became very confusing, so now we try to not call it that,” she noted.
Young said they try to have as few people stay overnight in the Chihuahua Center as possible.
She said the coalition has other needs as well.
“Constantly we need shoelaces. Constantly we need underwear and socks, nothing extra large, mostly small size; women’s, men’s, kids’. Shoes. We go through a lot of shoes. Toothbrushes, we go through a lot of toothbrushes. Our kits have one toothbrush, and we only give one kit to a family, so we give them extra toothbrushes,” Janeene Young said.
She said the transition center also needs hair ties, as “everyone wants to tie up their hair.”
She said the most up-to-date list of the center’s needs can be found on the group’s Facebook page.
“We try to keep that updated, and we also have an Amazon wish list for other stuff that we need,” she said.
Young spoke about the history of the coalition, which began forming in early April. She also recounted how the group worked with the city to open a transition center.
Lopez asked if all of the immigrants were going to a particular town.
Young said all of the immigrants from Del Rio are being taken to San Antonio. Most will make their way from the Alamo City to their final destinations.
“A lot of them are going to Maryland, a lot of them are going to the Newark, N.J., area. A lot of them are going to Louisiana, Houston, but we’ve sent them off to almost every state,” Young said.
Young said a group of Air Force spouses stenciled a map of the U.S., with outlines of the states and a red dot indicating the location of each state’s capital, on one of the center’s walls. A dot on the map shows Del Rio, along with the phrase, “Estas aqui,” you are here.
“They don’t understand how far away these places really are. They think, ‘We’re in the United States now, so we’re going to get where we’re going really quickly.’ A lot of them still have as far to go as they’ve already traveled to get here,” Young said.
She added most of the asylum-seekers from Africa – reportedly evangelical Christians fleeing an unfriendly new regime – are traveling to Portland, Maine, and Buffalo, N.Y.
“They are trying to go where some of their people are already living. They speak French and Portuguese, and it’s hard to fit into society,” she said.
Other Congolese, the Youngs said, are heading to Canada.