Shannon Renee Dawson-Neubauer is well-known among border-crisis volunteers and many friends passing through Tijuana seeking asylum in the U.S. from her work early in 2019 running the kitchen at the World Central Kitchen. She remains deeply engaged in working with migrants and asylum seekers. This is the third of three parts of her reflections on her work in the past year.
Shannon Renee Dawson-Neubauer
I was connected to a new LGBTQ shelter that had opened in Playas less than a mile from where I was living. I was brought in to do energy work on the property as well as on seven severely traumatized people living on the property. I built relationships with people in Playas who were also humanitarians and activists, and started working with them as well. I met a man who was running a pizzeria on the boardwalk and had hired some of the people at this LGBTQ house.
Two of his workers had their numbers called, were in the hielera, and couldn’t work. He reached out to me to see if I would be able to fill in and help him and his team.
It was there that I met Jay, a twenty-three year old Guatemalan LGBTQ man, the same age as my son. He walked in to see if he could be hired on as a server. The only problem was that he didn’t know how to read or write very well. He remembered me from my visit at the house, and asked me to help him.
At that point, he didn’t have a phone or access to communication with the outside world, so I handed him my phone and helped him connect to his Facebook account so that he could contact his family and friends. I bought him a bottle of coke and gave him a plate of food to eat. I helped my friend manage the front of house as well as do some prep work so that he wouldn’t be too behind.
I continued to work on my friends’ cases, talking to congressmen, making calls, taking calls from my detained friends, working with their sponsors on paperwork and learning the complicated asylum processes, all while I was continuing my own painful healing process.
A few weeks had passed, and after much persistent hard work, “M,” the first guy who entered the system, was finally granted parole with bond. Working with his sponsor and other advocates, I agreed to cross the border and pick up “M” at the ICE drop off point in San Ysidro, and accompany him to his sponsor in Eugene, Oregon.
I worked with an amazing woman at Al Otro Lado to get his $2500 bond paid using their revolving bond fund. Families Belong Together stepped in and covered airfare for both “M” and myself, and a woman from New Sanctuary Caravan donated hotel room points so that we had a place to stay while waiting for our flight the next day.
I remember seeing my friend free for the first time in more than three months, and gave him such a big hug. I took him to eat the first real food he had in months, and then we ubered to our hotel for the night. I helped him ground into being on out and in the United States with an ankle monitor attached to him like a criminal. He is not.
We went on his first airplane ride to Eugene, and grounded into together in his new temporary home. We went to his first ICE check in and met with his ICE officer. I helped ground him into his new household and family. That was the first week of May. I flew back to Tijuana to await the next release, coming up soon.
On May 22nd, I was called to the LGBTQ house again for another clearing and energy work session on one person in particular who was having anxiety because he was getting ready to present himself for asylum the next morning. I arrived at the property, played with the children, and shared a delicious Guatemalan meal that the cook of the house graciously served me.
I was then guided to the young man in need. It was Jay, the young man I had bonded with at the pizzeria! We had an energy session and then I gave him the lowdown. I told him every single bit of information that I had learned about the process and asked him if he had a sponsor. He did not. I asked him some other basic questions that I thought he would have the answers to. He did not. So I did what I’d had to do before, and I took a permanent black marker and wrote my name and phone number on the back of his forearm so that he didn’t have to worry about memorizing any numbers.
CBP takes everything away from you once you enter detention, and most of the time, you do not get it back. How can you make your first call when you don’t have a number memorized? Or what if after being in the hielera for so long, you forgot because of trauma and anxiety? I made sure that I would be his first phone call.
I knew that without his “A number” – the unique number assigned to each open asylum case – it would be very difficult for me to locate him in the system, and if I cannot locate him, how can I help him?
I made sure that he knew that when he made his first phone call to me (that was the only free call), that he give me his A-number and any account numbers so that I could add money to his phone and commissary accounts. And he did. Melvin presented himself on May 25th.
The woman from Nicaragua, “R,” was granted parole with bond to be released to her sponsor, and on May 31st, I once again crossed the border with all of her belongings that I had been holding onto for the previous four months, as well as with my luggage, and arranged to pick her up in San Ysidro.
As we waited for paid flights to be booked for us, we stayed in San Diego for a few days spending time resting, eating well, and balancing out energy as much as possible before heading to Eugene. More donations helped us during this time.
We arrived in Eugene in the beginning of June. Both “M” and “R” were staying in the same house, and I was asked to stay on a bit to help sup upf a foundation that would help sustain them. I was asked to stay longer to help create a foundation for both “M” and “R” as they were both staying in the same house; for the time being and the woman who was sponsoring “R” was very busy with work and needed the help.
I helped navigate mental health evaluations, dental and eye exams, physical health evaluations, ESL classes and tutoring, learning the bus system and teaching it to one person who knows how to read and one person who does not. I cooked food for them and gave them love just as I had done in Tijuana, only this time, it was done from a grounded and safe place to be.
During this time, I also worked with other Central American immigrants who were living in other households in Eugene, and served as a counselor to the asylum seekers as well as their sponsors.
Eugene started building an asylum-seeking-friendly environment, first centered on Syrian refugees and continuing to include Central American refugees, and others. While I was in Eugene, another family of refugees had arrived from the Congo; in conjunction with the sponsor, we hosted a dinner for nearly thirty people, and I cooked food inspired by The Congo, Syria, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
While I was in Eugene, I finally received a call from Jay letting me know that he had been in the hielera for seventeen days and was now in Otay Mesa, the same detention center that “M” and “R” had been released from. I was grateful that he was at least in the state of California where his chances of receiving parole are far greater than say someone in detention in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Florida.
I immediately opened his phone and commissary account and collected donations to deposit money. I have put the word out for potential sponsors and pro bono lawyers, but have not yet had success.
For reasons unknown, my calls were blocked from Jay for almost three weeks. Because I was in Oregon, visiting him was not an option. I wrapped up my time in Oregon and caught a ride down to the Bay Area to visit friends and potentially pick up work as I lived in Berkeley for nearly six and a half years. A ride back down to Los Angeles presented itself so I took it.
I left Mar Vista and my thent-wenty-two year old son on December 26th, 2018 for a week long volunteer opportunity in Tijuana, and finally made it back on July 10th, 2019. I still have my place in Playas de Tijuana but am here for the time being. Because I am far from the border, I am not able to visit Jay, so I arranged for a friend to visit. During the three weeks that I could not receive calls from him, he had his Credible Fear Interview and passed which means that he will be granted an opportunity to go through the asylum seeking process.
He still does not have a lawyer or a sponsor and I have not had luck finding anyone as of yet. As I mentioned previously, the system is overloaded and there are simply not enough pro bono lawyers available. The only organization that I have had luck with for “R” was the Jewish Family Center in San Diego. A friend reached out to them, and they will now be going to visit Jay at Otay for a consultation. Timing is very important here. He has a court date coming up soon, and he does not have the ability to properly represent himself.
I am looking for a family, preferably in the Los Angeles area, willing to sponsor this amazing young man and if possible, pay for an immigration attorney. Jay is a sweet and kind young man who deserves a chance to be in a safe home while he attempts to save his life and the lives of his family.This is where I am at in the story.I have many ideas as to how we can help other immigrants in this very broken system including transitional housing, and mental health care.
If this is an area that you or anyone you know are wanting to be of service in, please reach out to me as soon as possible.If you would like to find out more about the work I was doing in Tijuana with World Central Kitchen, please read the following
Thank you for your time and energy.
Shannon Renee Dawson-Neubauer