November 3rd, 2019
Casa Romero is one of the shelters run by Annunciation House in El Paso. It’s larger than Casa Vides, and it is situated in an industrial area. Casa Romero is located close to a detention facility for illegal immigrants that is run by ICE. There is more than a little irony in that. If I remember right, Casa Romero itself was once a detention facility. That is even more ironic.
Our group arrived at Casa Romero around supper time, so we ate with the guests who were staying there. There weren’t very many people staying at Casa Romero, mainly because of the latest rules imposed on migrants by the Department of Homeland Security. A month ago, this place would have been packed with people. Now it was nearly empty. It is very possible that, at any moment, the shelter could be full again. It all depends on the man in the White House, and changes could occur at the speed of a tweet.
Some volunteers served us dinner. We had spaghetti, garlic bread, and a salad. We sat at tables with the guests. I sat across from an elderly Mexican woman. I made a feeble attempt to start a conversation in my extremely limited Spanish, but that really didn’t work out. We could not understand each other, amid the noise at the dinner table.
Most of the people at Casa Romero were older women. They were from Mexico. They reminded me a lot of the ladies in my wife’s knitting group. None of them were typical migrants. None of them planned on living in the United States. Actually, their story was a lot weirder than that of the other guests at Casa Romero.
These elderly women were in El Paso in order to qualify for Social Security benefits. Their husbands, now dead, had worked legally in the United States long enough to entitled these widows to Social Security checks. Our government requires these women to take to extraordinary measures to collect the money that is rightfully theirs. If a widow lives in or near Ciudad Juarez on the border, she is required to show up at an El Paso Social Security office once a month. If the widow lives far from the border, she is required to show up at a Social Security office on a specific date once a year, and then stay in the U.S. for an entire month. Does this make any sense? Of course it doesn’t.
As far as we know, this rule only applies to Mexicans. As an example, I will qualify for Social Security in a few months. If I drop dead, my wife will get a check. My wife is a German national. If, after my demise, she would decide to move back to Germany, I am pretty sure that the Social Security Administration would send her checks to that country. This particular policy seems to be designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Mexican widows to get the money that is due to them. I have to admire the old ladies staying for a month at Casa Romero. They are determined to get what is owed to them.
After supper, after we cleaned up the tables and put away the chairs, Brinkley gave us a talk about the detention of illegal immigrants.
That talk was hard for me. Brinkley talked about the government’s policy concerning detention of people who have crossed the southern border illegally. Those who are arrested are almost always placed in detention for an indefinite period of time, without access to friends, family, or legal assistance. This applies even to those persons, or especially to those persons, who are seeking asylum in the United States. Brinkley spoke to us about the innumerable obstacles placed in the path of these detainees. It all sounded way too familiar.
There is a young woman in prison right now. My wife and I love her dearly. Some people in our group seemed shocked and disturbed by Brinkley’s comments. They just don’t know. I understood Brinkley’s words clearly, because I have lived them. Nothing that Brinkley said was new to me. I have seen all of this.
I asked Brinkley directly,
“So, what you are saying is that these detainees are screwed unless they have somebody on the outside to pay for their access to phones and mail and legal representation?”
There was an awkward pause, and then she replied, “Yes.”
It’s true. A prisoner is totally dependent on support from people on the outside who have money. That is not just for migrants. This is for anybody who is incarcerated in this country. A person without a friend on the outside is lost, utterly lost. I know this.
It breaks my heart.
The United States is a cold and cruel country sometimes.
It just is.