On our last day in Texas, RAICES invited us to the San Antonio Greyhound bus station to assist with sending off women and children who had recently been released from the immigrant family detention center in Dilley, TX. These women had received positive credible fear determinations, and were departing San Antonio by different buses to finally join the friends and family members with whom they originally came to the United States to live. Although their immigration cases are far from over – a positive credible fear determination simply entitles a person to stay in the United States so they may fully present their asylum claim before an immigration judge who can still deny them asylum and order their deportation – they can at least now fight their cases while living with their sponsors instead of inside the dispiriting confines of immigration detention.
After a detailed orientation from the RACIES staff who explained that our role during the "send-off" was to provide a legal intake and orientation to each mother, we headed to the Greyhound station. There we were to inform mothers of critical information about their rights and ongoing immigration cases as well as provide a list of immigration legal service providers near their final destinations. While we were waiting for the mothers and children to arrive, we had the opportunity to meet volunteers from the Interfaith Welcome Coalition of San Antonio, an incredible organization that is at the bus station daily to orient the mothers on the details of their trips and provide basic medical assistance. Each woman receives detailed instructions about any transfers she and her children will need to make and a map showing her travel route. The list of each day's destination cities always spans the entire United States, from Seattle and Boston in the north to Los Angeles and Miami in the south. We were told that some of the travel routes would be very long and indirect due to the impact of Hurricane Florence.
We soon saw a dreary bus arrive at the Greyhound station, and a large group of women and children began disembarking and lining up across the street in their different colored sweatshirts which had been issued by the detention center. Some women were carrying their infant children and various bags while their toddlers or slightly older children walked by their sides. All were somehow able to take their belongings and children across the street to the bus station on their own, which was not surprising given that their journeys to the United States were a thousand times more challenging and dangerous. Once the women were settled in the designated area we had set up, the various volunteers began reviewing their trips, conducting legal orientations, and passing out food, medicine, toys, and other supplies. After the essentials were taken care of, and as the mothers and children sat around eating their meal, making phone calls to their sponsors, and talking amongst each other, the volunteers had one last gift to pass around. Handmade with love in Guatemala, we handed each child and mother a small butterfly made with tiny, colorful beads. In the immigrant rights movement, butterflies have become the symbol of migration and freedom – a visual image to represent the dignity and resilience of migrants. As we handed these butterflies out, we hoped they would serve as an inspiration for the remainder of their journey, but also as a reminder that there are many who care about them and welcome them with open arms.
After three hours of nonstop activity, all of the women had received their individual orientations and some had already departed on their buses for their respective destinations. As we walked away from the designated area, we heard some commotion behind us. The women who were still waiting for their buses were making it a point to get our attention so they could again express their appreciation for the simple act of helping them understand the next steps in their cases. With our hearts full of happiness for these women and their children, we waved goodbye and wished them luck on their difficult journeys ahead. They still have a long road ahead of them – both in terms of their travels and their immigration cases – but we have faith that the strength and perseverance that have brought them this far will continue to serve them well. Their smiling faces and enthusiastic waves ended our memorable week with a profound sense of hope and a lasting visual image of the beauty of migration.