Contributor: Twila Bird, TSOS
Photographer: Twila Bird, TSOS
Here’s another story from our partnership with Their Story is Our Story. After escaping gang violence in their home countries, enduring long and difficult journeys up through Mexico, and being released from dreadfully overcrowded detention centers, something as simple as bubbles can bring back joy for children seeking asylum with their families.
Bubbles—floating, soaring, then bursting and splatting all those beneath with dribblets of syrupy liquid—provided a needed diversion for Central American children spending their first hours of relative freedom in America.
The children and their families are seeking asylum in the U.S. after fleeing gang violence and poverty in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. They stepped off a U.S. Department of Homeland Security bus only hours earlier when armed ICE agents dropped them off in the parking lot of an Arizona church not far from the border. The asylum seekers had been held for days in a U.S. border detention center where conditions were abysmally grim.
At the border, families were separated; men and teenage boys were grouped apart from women and children. Some had been held in conditions so crowded there was no room to sit or lie down. Their close proximity to each other provided needed body warmth in icy cold, windowless rooms. Water was limited to one bottle per day. Daily food rations were often a single, uncooked frozen burrito. The only bathroom facility was one toilet in full view.
Whether families crossed the border illegally or lawfully presented themselves at a port of entry, ICE is required by law to accept asylum seekers. The government must then determine whether they have a credible fear about returning home. Homeland Security simply can't hold all those who are awaiting hearings and appeals, which can take months. So last fall, ICE began to release asylum-seeking families by the busload in cities within a few hours of the border.
When the passengers pictured here exited their bus at the receiving church, they had little or no money, didn’t know anyone in Arizona, and had nowhere to stay the night. All each person owned fit into a backpack. They were heartened by church and community volunteers who welcomed them with food, mobile shower facilities (on specially designed trucks), clean clothes, and assistance with travel arrangements to their next destinations. The newly arrived families were hesitant, humble, and grateful. They expressed their relief for the unexpected help after long, arduous journeys up through Mexico and dreadful detention center incarceration.
Within hours (or sometimes a few days) the next portion of their journeys began—travel by bus or plane to sponsors scattered around the country.
Despite news of America’s increasingly unwelcoming government policies, the families moved forward with the hope that what lies ahead can’t be worse than what they left behind.