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Indiana women travel to Mexico border to work with migrants

February 6, 2019

GARY, Ind. (AP) — Candida Rinconeno-Torres and her co-workers guided the people coming through the border as much as they could.

They helped people get bus and plane tickets, explained how a layover works and told them what to expect as they traveled from Southern California to their destinations across the U.S.

Later, when the phone calls and photos from grateful families poured in reporting that their relatives had made it safely, Rinconeno-Torres and her co-workers knew their efforts had paid off.

“Going to the border was real eye-opening,” Rinconeño-Torres said.

From Dec. 9 to Dec. 17, Rinconeno-Torres, Mayela Zegarra and Karla Govea, who work for the Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Gary, volunteered with Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego at San Ysidro on the U.S. border with Mexico.

The three women regularly work at the East Chicago office for the Diocese’s Immigrant Support and Assistance Center, helping people navigate their way through the legal immigration system, including DACA, green cards and citizenship, among other services.

At the border, their job was to help migrants and asylum seekers crossing the border reconnect with and travel to their family members already living in the U.S.

Rinconeno-Torres said she was amazed by the “masses of people” waiting for days to be seen and come through the border.

“There were people from different parts of the country,” Rinconeno-Torres. “People assume that, oh, they’re Latinos. There were Hondurans, Guatemalans, Africans, Vietnamese, Haitians, Indians . We were just amazed.”

The job was “very rewarding but it was very overwhelming,” as they worked 10- to 20-hour shifts, Rinconeno-Torres said.

“It was constant because there were hundreds of people,” she said.

Rinconeno-Torres said “you realize how many borders they had to cross.” Sometimes people came from so far that she would ask, “And how did you get here? And through Mexico? Really?”

“I was just amazed, the determination of these people,” Rinconeno-Torres said. ”...They’re just in desperate need of our help. You can just see it.”

Once the migrants made it through the border, “it’s a whole new package of emotions” as they figure out what to do and realize “it starts all over again,” she said.

That’s where Rinconeno-Torres, Zegarra, Govea and the other helpers came in.

“That was our job, making those connections and getting them back to their family members,” Rinconeno-Torres said.

They went through a series of questions and steps with each person.

“You need help purchasing the tickets? OK, let me walk you through. Do you have internet? Do you have a computer? No? OK, can you Facetime me? No? OK, let’s see what we can do,” Rinconeno-Torres said.

They explained to the people taking flights about TSA and what that process what would be like, Zegarra said. They went over how a layover works and how to find things they may need, such as what a sign for a bathroom looks like.

“We can only take them so far,” Zegarra said.

Once the migrants took off, the volunteers called the family members to tell them what route their relative’s bus was taking, where they’d be stopping and who to call to make sure they made it.

“It wasn’t just, oh, hi, how’re you doing? Great to meet you. Here’s the bus ticket. Bye. It was follow up. And then in the end when the family member would call you back, thank you, thank you. We’ve got them. They’re here,” Rinconeno-Torres said.

Some families, though, worried that the calls from the volunteers may be scams, as they talked about money and buying plane and bus tickets. It was sad to see these families had been so traumatized that they had to be cautious when people tried to help, Zegarra said.

“It was really emotional,” Govea said. “There were families that were so drained.”

Zegarra said, “I saw some happy faces. I saw some sad faces.” Children often looked confused, she said.

A lot of the families had picked up some English or Spanish, which helped as the volunteers explained the process, they said.

Rinconeno-Torres remembered a family from Vietnam that came in one evening. None of the volunteers spoke Vietnamese, and the family didn’t speak English. They scrambled to figure out what to do.

“You can see in the family’s face, they felt very lost. They felt afraid,” Rinconeno-Torres said.

Rinconeno-Torres brought the family over to where she was sitting and grabbed a notebook and a pen. She signaled for one of the family members to write what he wanted to say.

Rinconeno-Torres then typed what he wrote into her computer and translated it. She wrote a response in English, translated it back and wrote it down for the man.

“His eyes just lit up. It’s like, oh my God, somebody understands,” she said. “We were able to communicate that way.”

By the time organizers at the shelter told Rinconeno-Torres they had found a translator, she had already sent the family on their way.

“They’re already on a plane. Look, they even sent me a picture,” Rinconeno-Torres said.

Rinconeno-Torres, Zegarra and Govea stood in the lobby of their East Chicago office in January as they talked about their memories from their trip. It was the first time they each had volunteered at the border, they said.

But all three agreed they would want to go again.

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Source: Post-Tribune

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Information from: Post-Tribune, http://posttrib.chicagotribune.com/

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