There is much attention focused these days on the crisis at the border, but most folks eventually leave the border and are absorbed into new communities. And settling into new and unfamiliar communities throughout the US presents a new set of challenges for migrants.
Once people are released from detention or processing, they make their way to join friends or relatives in cities and towns across the US. Many go to the nearest bus station and head for places like North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Washington, New York, Florida, and Virginia. Places they’ve never seen and can’t spell or pronounce, headed to an address scribbled on a piece of paper or stored in their phone.
Lucretia*and her 8-year-old daughter, Rosmeri,* who are from Guatemala, were released from detention in Texas and headed first to Ohio to join Lucretia’s sister, who had helped pay their way to the United States, and then to Virginia, where they joined Lucretia’s husband and will await their court dates.
“We tried to stay in my country,” said Lucretia. “I moved from my village to [Guatemala City] to find work, but there were no jobs there, either.” Language, culture, and discrimination against indigenous peoples makes finding jobs even more difficult, particularly for women.
Life has become intolerable for many indigenous peoples in the Guatemalan highlands as changing weather patterns have led to crop failures, and farming families have been pushed deeper into poverty and desperation. Like Lucretia, many migrants seek options in Guatemala or Mexico before making the dangerous journey to the US.
I visited Lucretia on a hot June afternoon soon after she arrived in Virginia. She was expecting me and opened the door a few inches to peer out. She was hesitant to invite me inside, but once she realized I spoke Spanish, we began to build trust. Lucretia keeps the lights dim and the curtains tightly closed, and she panics if someone knocks unexpectedly. She’s fearful not only of strangers but also of her housemates, a single dad and his two small sons from Honduras. Rosmeri sits halfway up the stairs and listens to our conversations, nodding shyly and avoiding eye contact when asked questions.
Lucretia is on electronic monitoring with an ankle bracelet but she isn’t sure how it works, as all the accompanying paperwork is in English. Quiche is her native language, and she can read, write, and speak basic Spanish. She’s an evangelical Christian.
Lucretia rarely leaves her house, and when she does, she’s overwhelmed by language and cultural issues. Stores are big, Walmart is absolutely overwhelming, everything is in English, and she can’t find the things she wants or needs. She feels an urgency to “earn her keep,” but can’t find a job without a work permit. She can’t secure an immigration lawyer for her asylum case without funds to pay, and can’t work to earn the funds until she submits an asylum application. Money from her husband’s work goes for food, clothing, and rent.
With Lucretia and Rosmeri, we’ll begin the long, difficult process of helping them settle into their new community. Rosmeri has never been to school, so she’ll be starting first grade in August. We’ve scheduled a school physical and a visit to the local health department for immunizations. We’ll help fill out the paperwork. We purchased lice treatment for the family and coached Lucretia through the steps on how to use it (Rosmeri contracted lice while in ICE detention). We’re providing referrals to Spanish-speaking immigration attorneys who can help with asylum cases. We helped secure furniture for the house, are providing food, and will make sure that Rosmeri has adequate clothing and school supplies to begin classes. We’ll take them to Open House at the local school to meet Rosmeri’s teacher.
Migrants leaving the border regions breathe a sigh of relief as they leave, glad to finally be on their way to new lives in the US but unprepared for the next set of challenges. Children must be enrolled in school, adults quickly find that it isn’t easy to generate income without a work permit, and they must navigate life with an electronic monitoring device strapped to their ankle. They’re required to report their whereabouts to ICE and it must match the data on the device or they are subject to detention. They live in constant fear of doing something wrong and being detained once more.
Agencies like LUCHA Ministries are located far from the border region, but we’re committed to long-term ministry with migrants as they adapt and settle into their new homes. We’re thankful to the churches and individuals who choose to partner with us. Our goal is to walk alongside them for as long as it takes to help them settle in to our communities.
For more information, see: How Climate Change is Fueling the US Border Crisis, https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/how-climate-change-is-fuelling-the-us-border-crisis
Poverty, Unemployment, Violence Drive Guatemalan Emigration, https://www.apnews.com/0b7f28a8ab5645e58fb2d708d27e3adf