Writing this blog is bittersweet. I’m excited and nervous about taking the next step in my journey by returning to the Texas border to continue assisting organizations like The Annunciation House in providing shelter for refugees and asylum seekers that are released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I’m also missing you and our community already. It has been a great joy to learn and grow as your intern over the last year and a half. WES’ commitment to social justice and our grounding in anti-oppression has especially pushed me further out of my shell and into this work.
I’m grateful that our Share the Plate this month is The Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas. They are a phenomenal organization. The Annunciation House, or A House as everyone refers to them in El Paso, runs a system of shelters that meet the needs of those being released by ICE. Currently, they are operating about ten different shelters. Each shelter receives somewhere between 20 and 100 refugees a day. Once they are in the shelter, people receive food, new clothing, assistance reaching sponsor families, and rides to the airport. Refugees stay with the shelter for as long as needed, usually just a few days.
One of my first jobs with The Annunciation House was to run the daily load of laundry for a shelter. Just the towels and some of the blankets. The shelter we were working for didn’t have an industrial washer/dryer, so we had to take everything to a local laundromat. It is hard to communicate the scope of that laundry operation, but I soon discovered just what a $120.00 worth of quarters looked like as we filled up every available machine there.
Most of the shelters were beyond capacity.
On Dec. 23rd, I was transitioning to work on building a long-standing protest outside the child detention center in Tornillo, Texas. Twenty organizers and activists had just arrived into town in a movement led by people of color and predominantly women. The organizers had just begun to plot the week of protests when we started hearing reports that ICE was releasing hundreds of people on the street in the freezing cold during the middle of the night.
Our group jumped into action and headed towards the Greyhound bus station where the refugees were being released. The sight was atrocious; some 200 people were out in the cold. A few were in buses. These refugees were sick and battling fevers, hungry, tired, and cold. They had been locked in cold and overcrowded conditions before being released and barely fed. The conditions nearly guaranteed that sickness would spread.
Now that they were free, the refugees were left to fend for themselves with no resources or assistance.
Luckily between an influx of fresh out of town organizers and quick response from The Annunciation, within a few hours, there were blankets and winter gear for everyone. There were bottles of fresh water. There was also medication. I never saw in my life, people so desperate and grateful for cold medication. No one can fake that level of gratitude. People were sick and weary.
In just a few more hours, The Annunciation arranged and paid for motel rooms for the refugees, so no one had to sleep exposed to the elements. There was no other space for these folks to go.
I’ve never in my life witnessed a humanitarian disaster of that level. I’ve also never witnessed such fast-acting by a nonprofit. I hate to think what would have happened if The Annunciation House hadn’t been there that night.
They’re a great organization, and I’m so glad to know that WES will be supporting them in solidarity and will be there in spirit with me at the border.
I hope that I will see you all on Sunday. I’m glad to know that I leave with your love and support. WES will always be very dear to my heart.
Zeb Green, Clergy Intern