Amid national publicity on Central American migrants – from pro/con protests to faith-based assistance — the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona stands firm. JCRC has long been involved in border issues, says director Bryan Davis, noting that Jews were once strangers dealing with tough immigration issues.
On June 25, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson held a meeting of local faith-based and government leaders to address the plight of women and children arriving daily from Central America. Davis, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, City Council members Regina Romero and Steve Kozachik, representatives from the Congressional offices of Reps. Ron Barber and Raul Grijalva, and others attended the meeting to form a team of local organizers. At that meeting, says Davis, “Jonathan [Rothschild] looked at me and said, ‘JCRC,’ and I said, ‘JCRC, yes!”
Following the June 25 meeting, “We got a lot done very quickly,” he says, including finding overnight housing for some of the migrant women and children and securing an Americorps/Vista volunteer for a two-year stint in Tucson. “JCRC took on the role of coordinating the coordination. We’re trying to avoid redundancy,” says Davis.
U.S. Immigration and Customs officials have been dropping off several hundred of the women with children who cross the border into Arizona every week at the Tucson Greyhound bus station, expecting them to find their way to cities across the country to report to immigration offices there. These are families who have been processed by ICE and are awaiting deportation hearings. They are legally in the country pending those hearings.
National news media were conflating these women and children with the approximately 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children who were flown in from Texas and housed in a Nogales, Ariz., warehouse, says Davis.
Each of the migrant women dropped at the Greyhound station has relatives in the United States who have purchased bus tickets for them to join them, says JCRC member and volunteer Jill Rich. Around 6,000 women and children, many from war-torn and drug-ravaged Guatemala, have arrived in Tucson since October.
More than 200 volunteers from Project Mariposa and the Pio Decimo Center, both part of Catholic Community Services, have been helping the Central American migrants find an overnight place to stay while awaiting departure to their relatives’ cities. The volunteers put together travel packs and meet the women and children at the Greyhound station, often taking them to their own homes.
Over the July 4th weekend, Temple Emanu-El served as a shelter for 14 of the women and children, Rich told the AJP, adding that Temple will continue to be available if needed. “We give them culturally appropriate foods, which I make,” she says. “They sleep on cots with new blankets. We show movies in Spanish, have toys for the kids and [try to have] one person available who speaks Spanish.” The Guatemalan women speak a Mayan dialect but Spanish is their second language.
JCRC has provided more than 50 pairs of new shoes because “their shoes were shredded” after walking to the border, says Davis. “We’ve also provided baby slings for mothers with multiple children.”
“We have a lot of gently used shoes,” says Rich, “but they’re inappropriate because they’re too big. These are very petite women. They were very nervous young mothers who wanted better lives for their children. I was impressed with the bravery of these women. There were some amazing women there. They still have five or six days to go on buses with their children to meet up with their relatives and will have to go to some immigration proceedings.”
On July 23, Davis was invited to talk on a national Hebrew International Aid Society call about the role the Tucson Jewish community is playing in providing services to immigrants crossing into Arizona from Mexico. The discussion, he notes, included comments on “where they are in D.C. and where they need to be” on immigration by U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).
At last month’s JFSA Northwest Rosh Chodesh gathering, Humane Borders Executive Director Juanita Molina spoke to a rapt audience, Anne Lowe told the AJP. One of Molina’s stories was about an 11-year-old boy from Honduras who arrived at the Tucson Greyhound station and didn’t want to trade his long-sleeve shirt for a cooler T-shirt, says Lowe, Northwest Division director.
“Finally, Juanita learned it was because in Honduras he had refused to join a gang, so they set pit bulls on him. His arms and shoulders were covered with awful scars,” says Lowe. “He was embarrassed for anyone to see them. That’s why he and his mother other children left to come to America.”
Says Lowe, who has been volunteering to help Central American migrants, “If this isn’t a case for sanctuary or refugee status, I don’t know what is.”
” JCRC will remain intimately involved in immigration issues,” says Davis. “I see a deep historical resonance because of our Jewish history and values. We need to be at the forefront of supporting this very vulnerable population.”