The majority of clients sheltered at La Posada arrive as referrals from immigration attorneys and U.S. Immigration officials. Generally, these clients are seeking asylum or other legal residency in the United States. They stay with us as their cases adjudicate before the Immigration court. Lengths of stay vary and are case-specific. Some clients stay with us for a few days, while others can stay for several weeks, months or up to one year.
Since the end of last year, however, La Posada’s staff has been experiencing a deviation from what has been the norm for arrivals. We receive frequent calls from Immigration officials requesting showers, clean clothes, overnight accommodations and transportation to either the airport or the bus station for documented immigrants released from detention. These requests also entail helping the new immigrants coordinate their next resettlement steps, e.g. complete forms, coordinate moneygrams from family already in the U.S., make travel reservations, etc. Attending to these needs can be time consuming and especially difficult on staff because there is no established schedule allowing time to prepare and plan for the short-term stay arrivals.
Often, the short-term clients have been detained for days, even weeks, with only the clothes on their backs in small rooms without windows. More recently, women and children have been arriving after spending nights in cells with no beds, sleeping on cold, hard floors and having been without facilities to shower and brush teeth. Many of the women are pregnant. Once arriving at La Posada, they are welcomed with compassion and hospitality.
The new instances of short term stays have been simply overwhelming. Since January 2012, La Posada received 47 young women from China, Central America, and Brazil. These women needed showers, clean clothing, overnight accommodation and transportation to the airport the following day – approximately 900 miles in round-trip transportation to the airport or bus station alone.
Then there are the stories that come with the arrivals. “We hear a lot of stories about traveling to the U.S. and staying in the detention centers,” says Program Director Zita Telkamp, CDP. “The call from Immigration can come at any time, day or night, and even on the weekends. We do our best to respond because otherwise, these people would simply be released on the street. For example, recently we received a call to pick up a young woman from Cuba at 11:00 p.m. on a very stormy night. How could we refuse to help her?”
On another day, Border Patrol brought a four-year-old Peruvian boy to La Posada who needed a shower and clean clothes. The little boy, Jhon, was accompanied by a total stranger to him – a woman and her three-year-old son from Honduras. All the while Jhon was at La Posada, he cried, “Mi Mama!” The only time he stopped was when Sister Zita gave him a dish of ice cream and when he petted the shelter cat, Bijou.
“We wondered whether he was a victim of trafficking. When I initially asked the Border Patrol officer why Jhon was crying, his response was, ‘He’s been giving us a hard time all day. He was separated from his mother, who is in Mexico,” recalls Sister Zita. “I remarked over his response, ‘He has every right to cry, how would you react at age four had you been separated from your mother and found yourself in a strange place among strangers?’”
Whether someone is released to La Posada for a few hours or several months, staff provides a peaceful and welcoming home for those seeking legal relief in the United States. It is in this act of compassion that God’s Providence is made visible each and every day at La Posada. And, it is with the support of generous donors that we can continue meeting the demanding needs of this very vulnerable population.