I’d been sporadically helping out at the Greyhound Bus depot in Phoenix as asylum-seekers came through, dropped off by ICE by the busload. All have sponsors waiting to help them on their way to new homes in the US where they’ll wait for formal asylum hearings – often months or years in the future. But these sponsors seldom know they’ve been released, and the migrants usually have little or no money, little or no English, and no clues for how to navigate their next hurdles.
Volunteers come to the depot to offer migrants cell phones to call their sponsors. We give food to hungry travelers, share toys with children and provide blankets to cold passengers. We call local organizations to find overnight hosts and we arrange rides. When a new depot policy barred migrants from entering the building, we moved our efforts outdoors to the depot parking lot
I’d heard the rumors that Greyhound management was threatening to ban ticketless refugees from depot property altogether and I’d read the news stories from other US cities about asylum-seekers abandoned by ICE at city parks. I’d heard, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to experience.
One morning a friend who was the backbone of the Phoenix depot support group at the time called to tell me that an ICE bus was on its way and the asylum-seekers it carried would not be allowed onto Greyhound property. They would be dropped at a nearby street corner.
I jumped in my car and was on my way to 24 St and Buckeye Rd. Minutes later, as the ICE bus pulled away, I was standing in a dirt ditch on the side of the road, face-to-face with over 50 people, plastic bags in hand and searching expressions on their faces. I was emotionally overcome, wondering how in the world, with my limited Spanish and my single phone I was going to even begin helping these folks who needed so much. After closing my eyes and taking a breath, I put on a pretend-smile, looked up into expectant faces and said ‘Hola, bienvenidos.’ And thus the ditch work began!
Within a few hours other volunteers showed up, resources materialized and by evening everyone had connected with their sponsor or had a warm bed for the night. Over the next couple months many groups and individuals would come together to assist in the ditch. We’d have trying days and be pushed to seeming limits which only made us more resourceful. It was a time when strangers came together to provide for other strangers in need, when comfort and solutions materialized out of the thin air of ingenuity and sheer grit. It was a time when I was proud of my community and thoroughly awed by the courage of our refugee friends.
(photo from the Arizona Republic)