To shed light on the situation at the southern border of the U.S. and the refugees seeking to cross it, the Penn Yan Action Coalition sponsored a community event featuring volunteer Ann Meyer-Wilbur Saturday, March 2 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Penn Yan. The organizers were astonished that their maximum planned attendance of 80 was exceeded by almost 50 percent.
The event began with a dinner prepared by learners in the English Language and Citizenship Class offered by Literacy Volunteers. The Central American dishes were met with great appreciation by the guests. After deducting the cost of the groceries, the donations to support for Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas totalled over $2,000.
Following the dinner, Meyer-Wilber gave her presentation with slides from her recent experience welcoming immigrant families in El Paso. For 3 weeks, she volunteered at Annunciation House, a resettlement agency. She helped welcome immigrant families seeking asylum in the U.S. after they were brought to Annunciation House after having been processed at border control.
“Annunciation House, the residents of El Paso, and the many volunteers who serve there are doing an incredible job of managing, as best they can, this situation that our government is, as Marjorie (a fellow volunteer) says, ‘grossly unprepared’ to deal with. People are stepping up to help, as they have been at Annunciation House and in El Paso for four decades now.”
The American Uber driver who picked her up at the El Paso airport denied the reports of violence from refugees in their city, and stated that the city’s merchants need the immigrants who come there with money, while the Americans make purchases online.
Meyer who speaks almost no Spanish and had no idea what she would be asked to do, was put to work immediately arranging beds for entire families in 65 rooms of a local motel, the Mesa Inn; one of 10 such housing sites that accept refugees from all over Central America. Each family was allotted one double bed and one towel with two families per room. But Anne declared that no one complained. In fact, they were thrilled to have hot running water available to them.
The refugees come to the border often with the help of “coyotes” for thousands of dollars, but must cross on their own. Once there, they present themselves to border control as refugee applicants, and sometimes spend days caged as their case is processed and their family connections in the U.S. are verified. Anne described one woman who came after her husband sent money, crossing the Rio Grande with her children. Anne demonstrated the crowded 3x6 ft. cages that contained as many as 11 adults, plus young children. The refugees could only manage by taking turns sleeping in shifts on the floor. But one of the AH volunteers stated, “Do you know what these people went through to get here? This is the easy part.” Some had walked thousands of miles with no money just to have the safer life expected here.
Border Patrol agents are now cooperating with Annunciation House by bring the refugees to them. Formerly, they were often dropped at a bus station with no money or information. AH volunteers arrange travel plans, clothing, and food for the journey; sometimes more than three days by bus. Volunteers in El Paso are remarkably generous, preparing hundreds of meals per day, month after to month to help the families. Donated clothing helps them make the transition from their tropical origins to some of the coldest cities in the U.S.
Anne was struck by the immigrants’ bravery in their journey, and how thankful they were for any help. All the families worked to make the resettlement facility work with so many people in need. Anne says the experience has renewed her faith in humankind.
Anne plans on using her experience as a retired teacher to help in the future at a another resettlement house organized by a Jewish charity in San Diego. This is just a continuation of her long time work as a social justice advocate. She previously served in Peace Corps in Haiti, and is a member of Our Lady of the Lakes Social Ministry Committee. She is a coordinator of Grandma’s Kitchen, and has volunteered for area Hunger Walks, Baby Bottle Collection for Pregnancy Care Center, is a parish representative for Penn Yan Council of Churches, and volunteers at Keuka Comfort Care and Milly’s Pantry.
Future presentations are planned. If you missed Anne’s talk, you can see it at the following dates -
• 6 p.m. Thursday, March 14 at United Church of Christ in Bristol (Lenten supper included)
• Sunday, March 24 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Penn Yan following 10 a.m. service
• 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 10 at Keuka College
• An Immigration Celebration for Adelante Student Voices’youth fundraiser will be held at 7 p.m. April 12 at the Cracker Factory on Lehigh St. in Geneva. A conversation with an immigration attorney and a peace activist will be followed by live music, salsa dancing, and a traditional Salvadoran Meal will be served throughout. Tickets are $25, available by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
About Annunciation House:
From its beginnings, Annunciation House has sought to serve the poorest of the poor in our El Paso-Juarez border community. Over the years, we’ve come to understand that many of the most vulnerable are people from south of the border, who can’t receive services from most established social agencies. They can be identified by their undocumented immigration status and the poverty, injustice, and oppression that are so much a part of their reality. These migrants and refugees have become the primary constituency of Annunciation House.
The Penn Yan Action Coalition (PYAC) was formed during the summer of 2017 to address immigration and other issues of concern to residents of Yates County following the detaining of, and subsequent deportation of a Yates County resident and friend, Gilberto Reyes-Herrera.