News from the Border

December 06, 2018
By Avi Rose

During the past year of government-sanctioned kidnapping at the border under the Trump administration’s family separation policy, we at JFCS East Bay have looked at ways that our Spanish-speaking mental health staff might help traumatized families as they reunite. Given the haphazard dispersion of children and parents, along with the uncertainty of their reunification, it has been hard to determine where to intervene. But we have kept our eyes open.

Then in early November, we heard alarming news from our colleagues at Jewish Family Service of San Diego. In late October, ICE suddenly suspended their “safe release” program, which helped incoming asylum seekers make plans after being processed, and began to dump these refugees out on the street. They each had a future court date, an ankle bracelet, and maybe a small bag of belongings—and that’s it. JFS and other organizations began to gather people off the street and offer them temporary shelter. In six short weeks, this has evolved into an impressive operation that has so far served over 1,500 people, providing food, shelter, showers, clothing, health screening, legal screening, and assistance with traveling to relatives and friends all over the country.

Last week, I traveled to San Diego with Rebecca Rice, one of our therapists, to see how we could support this critical effort. We jumped into the work of creating a place of safety, welcome, respect, and support. The goal: to help people travel to their own families as quickly as possible, making room for the next wave of people, now being dropped off directly at the shelter by ICE buses.

The atmosphere of the shelter is busy yet calm, purposeful yet cheerful. Along with our amazing JFS colleagues, there are staff from several other agencies and volunteers from all corners of the community. I was struck by the resilience of the asylum seekers, tired yet patient, appreciative of being helped. As I did my various tasks—making copies, serving lunch, sorting clothes, driving people to Greyhound, going out to buy oranges or staplers or the right size of underwear—I experienced waves of emotion: hopefulness, sadness, exhilaration, anger. And incredulity: these are the people being characterized as “invaders”? This group of exhausted adults and children who fled their homes out of fear, seeking some chance of having a better life, as was true for my own grandparents? I’m sure they are not all angels—what group of people is?—but it’s stunning to reflect on how they have been vilified and continually lied about. It’s a shanda. A disgrace.

Since I came back from San Diego, I can’t get the shelter out of my head, even in the midst of the busyness of work and family life. I may go back next month with my family to volunteer during the winter break. Meanwhile, I invite you to join me in this holy work. There are three ways you can do this:

  • If you’re interested in volunteering at the shelter, you are welcome to contact at JFS San Diego. Please note that the shelter is asking people to volunteer a minimum of three days, with at least a week being preferred.
  • If you’d like to donate essential items to the asylum seekers, check out this Amazon wish list. The list should be updated frequently and the items you purchase will be delivered directly to the shelter.
  • The coalition of agencies that is operating the shelter is also seeking financial donations, which can be made here.

And wherever you are, please continue to join us in speaking up for immigrants. Our voices matter.

Many thanks for your compassion and generosity.


*One more note: As is always the case, there are others who need our resources and support at this time. Please also consider helping the victims of the Camp Fire. Some people are traveling up to Chico to help out; some are contributing to various funds, including one set up by the North Valley Community Foundation.