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No one leaves home until

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
-Excerpt of “Home” by Warsan Shire

There is a misconception about migrants along the border. Many believe the thousands of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees waiting to enter the United States are simply seeking a ‘better life.’ 

Somewhere couched in the warm term ‘better life” are our US fantasies of greater wealth and opportunity–the American dream, but for many waiting for their opportunity to immigrate into the United States, it is a necessity, not a want. No one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear”

Robert Vivar, Diocesan Migration Missioner, has served on the Tijuana side of the fence since 2014. Robert knows the plight of the migrant personally.

Whether migrants are fleeing political persecution, drug cartels, flooding, drought, or war, most are running for their lives. Vivar said, “When you’re vulnerable, people take advantage of you.” Many arrive with nothing, everything they fled with was stolen en route to the border. Many are beaten or raped. run away from me now / i dont know what i’ve become”      

In 2013 when Robert was deported, the fear, the danger, and the grief all came at once. Robert said, “You have to find a way to become a member of the community–of the neighborhood…of Tijuana.” Those looking to immigrate to the United States must first find a way to live in their current environment. 

Robert describes it as the only way to stay out of trouble, “If you do not find a way to be a member of the community, the streets find you.”

He found a community in Tijuana while he waited to return to the United States legally, but his time in Tijuana helped form the relationships now needed to help those in desperate situations. Robert later received a court decision that allowed him to reenter the United States legally. He is now a permanent legal resident of the United States. 

El Chaparral Plaza, Tijuana

Steps away from Robert’s Tijuana-based office is El Chaparral Plaza, where asylum seekers line up to receive their interviews to enter the United States. The plaza is clear now, but just a year ago, as many as 2,000 people were living in tents, waiting for an opportunity to meet with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  

On the edge of the plaza, a young family sat waiting. Robert pulled a piece of candy from his pocket and gave it to a young boy while he chatted with the young mother. To Robert’s surprise, they were lucky enough to receive an interview time within ten days of arriving in Tijuana. Many families wait months, even years until they receive an interview date.

As recently as January 2023, the immigration process changed to utilize a cellphone application for requesting an immigration interview. CBP One, the new app, was constantly criticized by all the local shelter leaders we met. While Robert and I visited Pro Amore Dei, a shelter for women and children, Celeste, a college intern serving at the shelter, called it “Horrible.”

Each day, at 8:00 a.m., people all over the world hover over a cell phone, refreshing the screen, hoping to be one of a limited number of applications accepted each day.

Each person enters their information, biometric scans, and waits. If you’re a family, it takes longer.  

By 8:05 a.m. the application queue is closed for the day. Like entering the lottery, all one can do is hope.  

The barriers of technology, connectivity, and family size are daily struggles for people who arrive traumatized and lost–with literally the clothes on their backs.

As the process gets more difficult, a dangerous and illegal crossing becomes more of an option. As lives hang in the balance, the dangerous decision to approach a smuggler becomes a pathway to safety. “…but i know that anywhere / is safer than here.”   

And the future does not look bright for those struggling to enter the United States. On May 11, the Trump-era Title 42 pandemic regulations concerning asylum seekers will no longer be active. Local shelters are anticipating a huge uptick in the number of people wanting to enter the U.S. 

The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego is committed to helping our neighbors, including those in Tijuana. As we prepare for a potential humanitarian crisis along our southern border, please consider using your skills to aid those in deep need.

The Diocese is seeking Spanish-speaking volunteers trained in psychological trauma and recovery. The need for psychological aid is paramount–the trauma of migration can be seen in every shelter. Spanish-speaking legal professionals can aid in immigration processes. And financial donations can help bring food and toiletries to immigration shelters where people wait for months for a chance at an interview. 

In June, EDSD will be continuing its year of service by caring for refugees and immigrants. A number of opportunities on both sides of the border will be announced in May.

If you are interested in volunteering or learning more about Border & Migration Ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, click here.

If you would like to make a financial donation supporting immigration shelters in Tijuana, click here.


Category: #Advocacy, #Migration

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One reply to “No one leaves home until

  1. Anne Tumilty | on April 12, 2023

    Excellent! Thank you for this…this helps keep mw aware, informed and committed.

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