Separation anxiety on the border

To the editor,

It’s a typical Saturday morning at the entrance to the U.S. from Tijuana. We are there at 7:30 a.m. to witness, understand and support those who wait in line to either get a number or have their number called. This number process has been self-organized and somewhat efficient. They have a hand-written sign showing the latest number “1870” in one corner of this plaza next to the letters spelling out “MEXICO” running along the slats leading to the entrance to San Diego. Every number represents up to 10 people. A name and number is called, and we wait to see if someone is still there. Maybe they gave up and decided to stay in Mexico or return home. Maybe they are at a shelter and don’t realize their number is being called. Maybe they are sick and can’t come. But then someone comes to claim their number and they go and line up. This number brings some form of hope to people from El Salvador, Honduras,

Haiti and other countries who are seeking asylum – safety for their families, relief of fear of persecution in their home countries, an end to the oppression they have lived on a daily basis and an escape from fear for their lives. I stand in that plaza that is the entrance for those white folks like myself who can walk through from Tijuana to San Diego with not an ounce of resistance. But these folks don’t get to walk through ... they are taken away in vans.

I am watching the hopeful faces, the tired and weary faces of those who are seeking asylum. I watch as a woman who I’ve met through a volunteer group, World Central Kitchen, waits and hears her number called. She is excited because she has found a sponsor who will assist her once she gets into the United States – helping her with legal representation, a living situation and possible work. She hugs us all ... those who have met her, those who have worked with her at the Kitchen. The excitement and anticipation is written all over her face. I watch as another woman who is 9 months pregnant who I witnessed pass out in line while waiting, returns after being examined by a doctor, to hear her number called.

I watch as they are told to line up, to go inside a parking lot to be taken somewhere else in this process. I ask questions of the support people – volunteers, lawyers and translators who are there every day to help these asylum seekers. No, they don’t know where they are being taken, most of these folks waiting in line don’t have any idea what’s next. But I’ve heard ... detention centers, ankle monitors, being sent back. Their fate is unknown but their faces are hopeful – something better, something safer, finally.

I watch as the border agent has a small group (20 or so) of mostly women and children line up inside the border parking lot and then asks the women and children to go into one van and the men into another. And so the separation begins. I watch and wonder if they will ever see each other again. Will these fathers ever see their daughters again, will these wives and mothers ever spend another day with their husbands again? They are all so trusting that they are coming to a more accepting and better world than the one they came from. I want to warn them. This is going to be really hard, not better ... maybe worse because they may be in detention for a long time instead of free.

But then, the next day I volunteer as a therapist at what is called a “pop-up medical clinic” in Tijuana. I experience the stories of why people are so desperately fleeing their homes – disappeared children, families being kidnapped and tortured. I learn that 95 percent of women experience some form of sexual perpetration on this journey to freedom. I understand why they feel like anything is better than where they are from, where they have been. I understand the hope, but why do I feel so sick to my stomach at what their future might be?

– Joanie Trussel, Mancos