Four Kentucky residents took a week to travel to El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico to get a first-hand look at what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border and to find ways to help with the humanitarian crisis.
Summer Bolton, a graphic designer at The WKU Store at Western Kentucky University, said the Kentucky group went to a training session with the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso on July 30. Bolton said a coordinator of that network said they could help by bringing supplies to an immigrant resettlement camp in Juarez, Mexico.
“And so we purchased things like diapers of all sizes, sanitary napkins, soccer balls, hula hoops, dolls, box fans, crayons, school supplies, markers, coloring books, Pedialyte,” said Bolton. The supplies were purchased with donations from individuals in the Bowling Green area.
The Kentucky group, including Bolton and two others from Bowling Green, former teacher and principal Cathy Severns, and owner of the Art Matters studio Teresa Christmas, took those supplies to the camp in Juarez on July 31, along with Berea resident George Brosi. They were accompanied by two translators from the Border Network for Human Rights.
"We had a wonderful time with children, but we also listened to the families’ stories of why they left Guatemala or Honduras. They fled violence, corruption, extortion. They left for the safety of their children," said Christmas. "It was very obvious how much these heroic parents love their babies. It is sickening to us to even consider that some of these sweet children could be taken to a detention center."
While in El Paso earlier in the week, the Kentucky residents participated in a July 29 protest, led by Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign, to oppose the separation of children from their families.
On July 30, the four Kentuckians went to the detention center in Clint, Texas, that was subject of media coverage in the past few weeks, highlighting the bad conditions for migrant children.
Severns said they didn't see anyone outside the Clint detention center, except for what appeared to be some employees coming or going to work. Severns said the group went to the detention center office and asked to go in, but their request was refused. Failing to gain access, Severns said the Kentuckians had some casual conversations with people they met in Clint to see how they are dealing with living near the border.
“Our overwhelming impression was that the people don’t want to talk about it. I think some of them are afraid to talk about it," said Severns. "And we heard over and over again, ‘We try to make the best of it.’ And that seems to be the line that everybody knows.”
On July 28, the Kentuckians attended an information and training session about being at the border and humanitarian issues. They were among more than 300 people, including clergy from several religions, who arrived in El Paso to participate in the 'Moral Monday at the Border' protest with Rev. Barber.
Christmas, who teaches art classes for children and previously worked with family court, said the strong showing of compassionate people in El Paso confirmed her decision to make the trip in order to protest the seperation of children from their families.
"If a trauma like this happens to a child from birth to three, it’s irreparable damage, they’ll never get over it," said Christmas. "I mean, all those windows are open for learning, and when you remove a child from their primary caregiver they go into a depression. It’s just grief. As far as they know, that mommy or that parent is gone forever. Dead. We are coming back determined to figure out what small role we might play in helping to correct the injustices that played out before our eyes."
"There is a war happening here," Christmas continued. "But it is not a war on terrorism. It is not a war on drugs. It is a war against imigrants and refugees of color. We came here. We talked with people. We saw with our own eyes. All we can do now is come home and tell people what we saw. We hope they believe us."
The group plans to return to Kentucky on Aug. 2.