By Jennifer Bergantz
It is 1,500 miles from Guatemala to the US border. She left the rural village she loved with her two children after the gangs had burnt down her house, and she began her harrowing trek north to a land she thought would give her children a chance at a safe life. After her children were separated from her at the border and then reunited, they took a bus to Baltimore where they knew two people from their village, now thousands of miles away.
When I met her in Baltimore County, she wore an ankle bracelet to monitor her movements even though she posed no threat. She has applied for asylum in the US, but she is not legally allowed to work until the government issues her a work permit. How are you supposed to survive and care for your children when there is no way to support them and nothing to go back to in your home country?
This is where the many asylum relief organizations and their volunteers can mean the difference between life and death. Through my organization, Maryland InKIND Network, I have been volunteering with Immigrant Families Together for the past eight months to care for “G” and her family. I am just like many of you: I have no background in immigration, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t even speak Spanish. But as a mother, I find the situation unbearable to accept, and so I volunteer, and I protest with acts of civil disobedience in between.
Every two weeks, sometimes more often, I meet G at her apartment and bring her a two weeks’ supply of groceries. Depending on the needs, I also bring her children clothes, art supplies, school materials, and shoes. I manage that feat week after week only because of the generosity of my friends and neighbors. I have found that a lot of people don’t have the money necessary for multiple monetary donations to the many organizations in great need, but that they still want to make a sustained effort to support change. The easiest way to accomplish this is to spread the load through an organized team effort. Through my group, I coordinate people to add one or two small things to their carts when they are out shopping for themselves, and most people can handle an extra bag of apples or an extra box of pasta with little impact of their budget.
Currently, G has been in the US for almost 12 months. Every day is scary because we never know when the rules will change, but every day, I wake up and renew my efforts to keep her and her children fed. Other volunteers with Immigrant Families Together give her rides to her ICE check-ins, doctor appointments, lawyer visits, moral support, and any assistance we can offer to help increase her chances of being one of the few in need of asylum who are actually granted it.
So what are some ways you can help right now in Maryland?
TIME: If you have the time, volunteer with organizations like Immigrant Families Together, CASA, Asylee Women Enterprise, and the Esperanza Center.
MONEY: If you can donate money, bond funds are essential to get families reunited. A good organization for this is Immigrant Families Together.
RESOURCES: Join me in feeding families who cannot feed themselves. If you would like to see how my group is organized, please feel free to join at https://www.facebook.com/groups/MarylandInKINDFamilies/. Or start an in-kind item drive with your friends or church for items desperately needed by humanitarian services at the border right now. This includes: socks, underwear, shoelaces, soap, individually packaged snacks, and more. A few of the organizations on the border that I support with in-kind donations are listed below, but there are many more.
HOPE: Support our representatives who do want to affect change, and let them know that we need them in this fight.
Below are just a few of the organizations that need monetary and in-kind donations at the border. Please do not send impractical items, as this just takes time to sort and throw away (prom dresses, heels, and plus size clothing are not appropriate).
The Respite Center (run by Catholic Charities) in McAllen (111 S. 15th Street, McAllen, TX 78501);
Loaves and Fishes shelter (run by a group of local ministries) in Harlingen (514 South E Street, Harlingen, TX 78550);
Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville (run by Methodist Ministries; 1254 E. Tyler, Brownsville, TX 78520),
La Posada Providencia in San Benito (run by Catholic Sisters of Providence; 30094 Marydale Road, San Benito, TX 78586).
For more information on Immigrant Families Together, visit https://www.facebook.com/ImmigrantFamiliesTogether/.