Friday, August 16, 2019

AFT in Texas

Last Tuesday I went with a UFT contingent to McAllen Texas. AFT had requested entry to the detention facility there. The US government, in its infinite wisdom, not only denied us, but also waited until the day we arrived to do so. They said we had no reason to be there. When you think about it, what possible interest could teachers have in children? AFT kept reaching out and trying to change that, but our time was very limited.

The following morning, we assembled in front of the facility and held a vigil. We were filmed by several people, including someone from Telemundo, who produced this segment.  There's nothing quite like a Wednesday morning rally on a 103 degree day. Members spoke of the unconscionable treatment of children in that facility. Several offered prayers. AFT Executive VP Evelyn De Jesus, among her hundred other titles, is an ordained minister and was in her element.

After a while, a uniformed agent with a gun came out and asked us to move to the sidewalk. After all, who the hell did we think we were, American citizens standing on the grounds of a facility that our tax dollars pay for? We didn't move. A while later he came out with three colleagues, and explained that we'd be arrested if we didn't move. They had called the police.  I thought we were going to be arrested, and wondered how the hell I would call the DOE. (I haven't been arrested since I was 19. I was hitchhiking in Syracuse. The cop fined me five dollars and told me if I didn't show up for trial my five bucks would be subject to forfeit. I had a feeling a Texas jail would be a little tougher than that.)

At that point though, we moved, along with the cameras. We were still standing with the backdrop of the government building, and it really made little difference. There were questions. How could we treat children like this? What were they doing back there? Were they being fed? Were they being taught? Were they getting adequate care? There were more prayers. We were winding up when our buddies from customs appeared again and told us we would now have to walk all the way across the street. It was kind of odd because I thought sidewalks, kind of like government buildings, were public property.

To underline their determination, the agents had not only summoned the police, but had brought their
own tow trucks. Who'd have thought that the Border Patrol actually needed their own tow trucks and kept them handy at their facility? We had three vans that they threatened to tow who knows where. AFT President Randi Weingarten told us all to get in the vans and waited until everyone was in before she stepped off the grounds. She told me if anyone got arrested it was going to be her.

We met with some high school students from an organization called Beyond Borders. They go to a Catholic Charities facility several times a week to meet with and support newcomers, largely from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. These people have typically walked thousands of miles to get here. Many end up in New York, and I've had some in my classes. I've had students who've told me stories of fleeing after family members were murdered, kidnapped, or both. (Despite what you may hear from Donald Trump, you don't give up your home and walk thousands of miles just for fun.  As a matter of fact, it is not illegal to seek asylum.)

On the left is a bus station in McAllen, Texas. This is where newcomers who have a place to go are sent. Hopefully they have money for a bus ticket, or a plane ticket, or some way to meet whatever family or friends they have in the United States. In any case, the US just drops them off there pending hearings.

Catholic Charities made it a point to move right across the street from this building, so now Customs actually coordinates with them to let them know when newcomers are arriving. (The people in Customs are very busy doing things like trying to arrest teachers and tow their vehicles, so they haven't got time to give these people showers, clothing, food or any other such trivial nonsense.)

Catholic Charities feels it's their duty to step up where the
government falls short, and we met a bunch of volunteers there, many college students who've devoted their summer break to helping these people. One of them gave us a tour of the facility.They rely completely on donations.

Our guide told us that when newcomers arrive, Customs takes away their belts and shoelaces, so they are particularly in demand.  (You have to wonder why they maintain facilities so miserable that people there, after having sacrificed everything to come here, would contemplate suicide.) We got to speak with some newcomers. One was a woman along with her 16-year-old son. Her husband was in Houston and she hadn't seen him in fifteen years. Her son had no memory of his father.

We brought boxes of belts and shoelaces, among other things. They're doing great work there and we will continue to support it as long as they have need. If you'd like to contribute, you may do so right here.

It was pretty gratifying, as we left, to see a bunch
of children playing with teddy bears we'd provided. Our guide told us children could be pretty
resilient, and often looked almost brand new after just a shower. Nonetheless, their needs are the same as all children and don't end there. This is just one aspect of a humanitarian catastrophe that we've created.

The next time someone tells you that teachers are selfish, and that all we think about is ourselves, remember who was out in the 103 degree Texas heat looking out for America's children. We did this on our own time (and we didn't do it just for fun).  And we’ll continue to work toward a more humane immigration policy in the United States.
blog comments powered by Disqus