If deportation is a moment of incredible stress and confusion, it is also a time of extreme material poverty. When migrants arrive at el comedor, some carry only a Department of Homeland Security issued plastic bag with their few belongings. Others arrive just with the manila envelope of deportation paperwork and the clothes on their back.
In that plastic bag or manila envelope the migrants carry what is most precious to them. One migrant showed me the pictures that he had of his two kids and his wife in the US. Another had a sheet of paper full of songs praising God. Yet another only carried his Bible. Often migrants carry rosaries or images of saints that have helped them pray along the journey.
But besides these few items, they are deported with next to nothing. Some migrants were caught crossing the desert in June and served for months in prison for the crime of reentry so they do not even have a sweatshirt when they are deported in November. And almost every migrant who was deported after attempting to cross arrives with a dirty shirt and ripped pants from the journey through the thorns and dirt of the desert. Even those who were deported internally arrive only with a shirt, pants, and detention-issued shoes as they wait for their family in the US to send them a few more belongings.
Thanks to the generosity of area churches and supporters we provide migrants with basic necessities. When they arrive shivering in the morning, I search through the boxes to find a sweatshirt that might fit. And we make every effort to give each migrant at least soap, razors, a new shirt, and a pair of socks.
But one of the most difficult parts of working here is when we simply cannot give them what they need. When a man came with pants ripped from his journey and said “I was supposed to be travelling for the American dream. I can’t go back to my family like this – it would be shameful.” But we did not have pants his size. Or when I see someone come in with flip-flops or shoes with an almost detached sole and we simply don’t have shoes in their size. It makes me humbly reflect on the two suitcases of clothing that I brought for my use this semester. Or all of the old running shoes that are sitting in my closet in Denver and are perfectly functional for the migrants here.
Fortunately, I have good news for those of you who have been reading my blog for long enough to desperately ask, “Ok Joanna, I understand the suffering – but what can I do?” At least those of you in Denver. For Thanksgiving, my parents are coming from Denver to Nogales and planning to bring a few suitcases of clothing donations. Most of all we need backpacks, men’s sweaters and jackets for the winter, men’s pants from sizes 30 to 36 and walking shoes – ideally tennis shoes – from sizes 6 to 9. If you or any one that you know in Denver happens to have these items gathering dust in a closet, please contact me or my parents. I would absolutely love to be able to give them to a migrant and see him walk away a little less preoccupied by the cold or his torn pants or his worn-out shoes.