Internship Experiences

UMass Sociology student Rosalie Miller is currently interning with Border Angels in San Diego.

Sometimes it feels like the biggest challenge to writing a blurb is being able to adequately capture an experience in words. so often its just not the case.
The earlier part of this week was spent working on grants and planning events in the office. On Friday however we did day labor outreach with a high school group from Northern California, and did things a little bit differently than usual. Last time that we were at the Home Depot, one of the men brought it to our attention that he and about seven other guys were living behind the store. I hadn’t gone back to their site yet, but Enrique saw it and spoke with them and decided that it would be helpful to bring them some tents and whatever else we may have to donate. I bought some tents the day before and brought them with us, and two of the guys led us back there. If you walk along the road that leads to the store, there is a cutoff that takes you into a swampy bog creek area, where they have made small fort type dwellings out of collected trash, cardboard, tarps, boxes, etc. Two of the guys already had tents ( a lot of the homeless people in San Diego, of which there are about 10,000, live in tents along the side of the road) two were living in box type forts, two were lving under tarps and plastic hung from the trees, and one newly arrived guy just had a dirty mattress with no shelter. They said that they would make sure that he got one of the tents, and together we walked around the area with some trash bags to help clean it up.

There’s a difference between the general homeless population, and the homeless migrant population. While not always the case, in general the circumstances that have led them to be homeless are pretty different, but the situations they find themselves in while homeless are the same. Earlier on that day I had a long conversation with a young guy, the same age as me, who is from Jalisco. He told me about how his entire family is back in Mexico, and they sent him here to work. They sold their family truck to pay the coyote to guide him across, three days in the desert, and now he waits for work each day at the Home Depot, which is hard to come by and maybe if you’re lucky you will find work once a week if that (this month has been much slower). You can’t really do much in the outside world for fear of an interaction with law enforcement or the migra, who patrol certain neighborhoods, like his, rigourously, so a lot of time is spent indoors when you’re not looking for work. For the most part we see a lot of the same guys when we visit, and they are all really great people.

It’s scary to think about a raid happening, which happened recently at another Home Depot, or about someone getting deported or disapearing, which also happens, with limited options available to hold a search or go to the police for help. Most of the time when someone gets deported, they will try and cross back in again, but I was happy when Eddy told me that if he got deported he would stay in Mexico, because I hated the thought of him crossing the desert again.
On Saturday, Pam, Sofia (BA worker), and I went to Tijuana with Micaela Saucedo who is a good friend of Border Angels and runs a migrant shelter down there which is essentially a partner with Border Angels. The shelter was started a few years ago during the famous

Elvira Arellano

case of Elvira Arellano ( who Enrique and Micaela worked closely with. Casa Refugio Elvira, which Micaela runs, is a shelter for deported migrants, often times women and children, often times all men. When someone gets deported, they basically just get dropped off at the border. Sometimes their family is in a totally different part of the country which is hard to get to, sometimes their family is all in the United States, sometimes they dont have any family to go to, but usually they need a place to stay. This is one part of the picture that I hadn’t spent much time thinking about, and is actually crazy when you consider that there is now in Mexico essentially an entire class of people that are strangers in their own home.

There are multiple migrant shelters in Tijuana, most of the people there hope to cross back into the states, and have tried multiple times to no avail. A lot of them grew up in the states and are more American than they are Mexican, and lots of them have spent many years in the states and have American children and wives who they haven’t seen now for who knows how long. At Micaela’s shelter we talked with 4 guys, two of whom had been kidnapped and held for exorbant ransoms by the coyotes. They both have families in the United States and one of the guys we talked to had tried to cross four times in the past two months, he showed us a rope ladder device he had made for throwing over the fence. One of them was younger than me, and was kidnapped by the coyotes while bringing his four year old daughter across to be with his family. Somehow she made it to Utah and is being watched by his father, while he waits in Tijuana and his wife is stuck in Southern Mexico.

We visited another shelter that day, which is bigger and houses about 50 men, all in similair situations. They have run out of beds so some of them sleep on the ground (which is concrete) and some sleep outside. This isn’t a shelter in the way we think about it- they have to pay a daily fee and the conditions are hardly comfortable. I seriously doubt if they get fed, and there is probably one bathroom. We talked to a lot of guys there though, and it is really like a bad dream the situations a lot of them. One of the guys I spoke to grew up in California, had a good job as a chef, and his entire family is in America. When you get deported, 1) there are no jobs in Mexico, 2) you need specific documentation to work in Tijuana, 3) the jobs that most of them are able to find are essentially slave labor wages washing produce in the market. In his words, to wake up and find yourself deported in Tijuana is like, “Que Paso? What Happened?”Additionally, like there is a stigma in America about being undocumented, there is a stigma in Mexico about being a deportee, they are seen as outsiders by a lot of the population, and are treated as such.

After the shelter, we brought blankets to some migrants that live in the canals. I’ve traveled in Nicaragua, which is the poorest country in our hemisphere second to Haiti, but I have never seen living like this. There are men (and women) that literally live in the sewer system, next to a stream of dirty water amongst trash heaps and mangy dogs and cats with no eyes. There are panels in the canal wall that look like garbage truck doors, that are activated when it rains and the water levels rise, which seem to have some sort of bucket on the inside, and this is where they sleep. It is impossible to describe in words, and especially in writing, but all I can say is there was one man that was clearly drunk, and I was shocked that anyone could live in those conditions sober, as many of them seemed to be. I dont want to sound snooty, I know that our standard of living is in many ways equally obscene, but its just so far from what a human being deserves as a basic standard. Micaela said that sometimes she spends whole days down there hanging out with them, she is an incredible lady. She invited me to come and stay in TJ for a week or two to focus on improving my Spanish, and I’m hoping on taking her up on the offer!
ok, till next time!

To read more about Rose’s internship, see previous posts here, here and here.