For some of us, armchair activism against the Trump administration’s assault against immigrants who are seeking asylum in the United States from across the Southern border isn’t enough. Yet, it is difficult to know how to help, especially for those of us who live in the Midwest.
This summer, I started working with CITA (no, not the Chicago Indoor Tennis Association), the Chicago Immigrant Transportation Assistance via the ICIRR (Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights). Volunteers take shifts at the main Greyhound station, so that we may assist those immigrants who have been released from ICE and are en route to relatives’ homes.
What I have learned thus far is as follows:
- ICE releases individuals and families without cash. Instead, they are given pre-paid credit cards or (get this!) — checks — in lieu of any money they possessed when entering a detention center.
- Immigrants arrive hungry. Many immigrants have been traveling on buses for hours or days (see above image), often starting from Texas or Louisiana. One wonderful volunteer assisted a family of three; the father had not eaten for over 48 hours and the mother and child, not for 24+ hours. CITA, which is actually comprised of several organizations, has a nearby Red Cross storage unit. From it, we are able to provide water, snacks, and meals. Often, we pass out lunches that we have on hand and then walk to storage to retrieve additional supplies. When we return, usually within ten minutes, the food has already been devoured.
- Immigrants arrive sick. We keep medicine and personal products on hand for adults and children because by the time they reach us, they have headaches, sore throats, fevers, or coughs; women need menstrual provisions; and more.
- Immigrants arrive without weather-appropriate clothing and shoes. For starters, ICE takes shoelaces during processing and doesn’t return them. We keep a supply of laces for this reason. Also, individuals who have lived in warm climates leave cold detention centers for trips on cold buses, heading north, without the benefit of long sleeves, pants, socks, or close-toed shoes. This was especially problematic in the winter and spring, I was told, with children arriving without coats and wearing sandals. We hand out clothing and shoes to accommodate such needs.
- Immigrants need directions or use of a telephone. Most immigrants do not speak English. They sometimes need assistance to get on the correct bus or they need to speak to someone at their destination location to arrange pick up. We help them to navigate the bus station, so that they are ready to board their next bus. Sometimes, we loan an individual a cell phone to make a call. If an immigrant is lost, out of money, and needs another bus ticket, CITA will help in that capacity as well.
If you wish to volunteer with CITA or cannot volunteer in-person but would still like to take part in this effort by making a donation of money or supplies, please contact Karina Lopez at email@example.com.
Other ways to help our influx of immigrants from Central America and Mexico include:
- If you are able, please consider paying the bond of an immigrant in need who is currently being held in a detention center or fostering or sponsoring a child awaiting immigration proceedings
- Volunteer for migrant service agencies in your area that help refugees to transition to the United States
- If you live near the border, bear witness.
- And, of course, VOTE!
Thank you for reading!