For the past few months, the vitriol aimed at migrants has reached a fevered pitch, spurred on by Republicans pushing racist conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, they suck up a lot of air time. But, there’s another part of the story that needs to be told. It’s about people across the country who are welcoming the newcomers. From border states to localities in Illinois and New York, neighbors and local organizations have been stepping up to assist newly-arrived migrants with anything from food to clothing — even a phone recharge or haircut — as the anti-asylum Title 42 order has come to an end.
In Arizona, among these neighbors has been Luis Ames, a farmworker who has become “well known” for bringing food and water to migrants waiting to be processed by U.S. border officials, the Arizona Republic reports. For more than a year now, he’s made bringing migrants any necessities they might need a part of his daily routine, visiting the border fencing after completing supervisory duties at the nearby farm where he’s worked for four decades.
Ames started volunteering when he witnessed waiting migrants “crying out for help,” the report said. “They had been waiting there for some time without food or water. He saw many children, women, pregnant women, and elderly people among the anguished crowd.” Just this month there have been reports of migrants being forced to wait at fencing for days without any food or water. Ames told the Arizona Republic that after witnessing their anguish, he rushed to the store and came back with liquids and food. The crowd soon calmed.
The farmworker, an immigrant from Mexico, has been recognized by local humanitarian workers but credits his father for his values. “I learned a lot from my dad,” he said in the report. “He taught me to do things well and correctly.”
Migrants waiting at the California-Mexico border also “experienced lack of food, cold nights without blankets and limited access to water — until members of the San Diego community got involved to provide aid,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Volunteers have passed out gift cards, bedding, and thousands of meals to migrants, in turn also lessening the strain that often falls on local organizations that are typically the first contact that migrants make after being processed and released by U.S. immigration officials.
Volunteers in the region have also set up phone charging stations along the border. “Cellphones are a lifeline for migrants,” local affiliate KCRA noted. “They need them to apply for asylum on the CBP One mobile app and to keep in touch with family and friends.”
“I think the response of the community was what we have always known: That border communities are … very welcoming of migrants,” Lilian Serrano, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Great story from an El Paso shelter. pic.twitter.com/QZ2dLgTS8r
— Bishop Mark J. Seitz (@BishopSeitz) May 15, 2023
The expiration of the anti-asylum Title 42 order also came as many American families were celebrating Mother’s Day. For countless migrant moms, uprooting their children from their homes, friends, and communities in order to give them a chance at a better life is one of the most difficult — and loving — decisions they’ll ever make. Volunteers like Arcela Nuñez recognized their sacrifices. She told ABC 10 News that “spending her Mother’s Day helping women at the border alongside her daughter was deeply personal.” Volunteers brought water, food, and sanitary supplies.
“I’m an immigrant myself,” she said in the TV news report. “I came to the United States when I was 12 years old with my mom and six sisters. We all walked across this border looking for a better life.”
In Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, faith leaders held a Mother’s Day service for migrant families at the Bethel Temple Assembly of God. Among them were Venezuelan migrants who are among the roughly 20 migrants currently staying at the nearby Hope Church. Danire Sierra told ABC 7 Chicago that she, her husband, and two children spent weeks making the sometimes treacherous journey north from Venezuela. “We’ve been traveling for more than a month,” she said in the report. “Through the jungle, on foot, by boat and by bus. We want to give them a future, an education, food and a roof over their heads.”
CBS News Chicago reported that elsewhere in the city, barber Mark Nava was also giving migrants free haircuts. “I had a little extra time on my hands and feel it would’ve been the best way to spend it today,” he said in the report, which noted that the drive collecting air mattresses and other supplies for migrants who had been sleeping in a police station has been entirely volunteer-driven. Migrants have since been moved to an empty warehouse where they’ll likely temporarily stay before continuing on to their final destinations.
“We could not just sit and watch,” Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez told CBS News Chicago. “We can provide some shelter until, of course, the city of Chicago, the state and federal government brings support and resources to have better conditions.”
In New York, some county officials have threatened hotels that will be sheltering newly arrived migrants under a recent plan announced by city officials. “Rockland County officials said hotels could be fined $2,000 per migrant per day for allowing migrants to stay, and Orange County officials directed all hotels not to take in migrants,” Documented NY reported. “On Tuesday night, a Rockland County judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the Armoni Inn and Suites in Orangetown from accepting migrants.” But on the ground, New Yorkers are embodying New York City’s immigrant history and taking initiative to welcome families.
“At a resource drive held every Monday morning at St. Paul & St. Andrew, a United Methodist Church on the Upper West Side, more than 100 migrants, including [Ecuadorian migrant Maribel] Balseca, lined up to receive assistance at the faith center this week,” the Documented NY report said. “Inside, aid groups and volunteers helped with legal cases, health insurance sign-ups, and change of address forms, among other paperwork. In a back room, migrants combed through reusable grocery bags and racks of clothing for men, women and children of all ages.”
“If we’re not here, what happens?” Power Malu, an advocate with Artists Athletes Activists, told Documented NY. “The crisis is not because the buses are coming.”
Like we recently noted, “plenty of everyday Americans and service providers are offering real-time examples of what’s possible when we work together to meet this moment. For instance, more than 250,000 people in the United States have joined the national effort to sponsor refugee newcomers through Operation Allies Welcome, Uniting for Ukraine, the parole process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, and the Welcome Corps.”
While some in power use their position to further demagogue, ordinary people are stepping up to welcome our new neighbors. If you would like to help newly arrived families, click here for a list of organizations.