McALLEN — Sitting next to his daughter here inside the downtown bus station, he looked over the items in a small care package he received while waiting for the bus.
The day after Americans celebrated Father’s Day, a man The Monitor will call Carlos Mejia for his protection, looked inside a care package provided to him by members and volunteers from La Union del Pueblo Entero, a local immigrant advocacy organization.
To mark Father’s Day, members and volunteers of LUPE handed out care packages to Central American immigrants at the bus station and those arriving at the respite center that included items such as a pair of socks, deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a hair comb.
While basic, they were a blessing, Mejia said in Spanish.
The 35-year-old Honduran man was one of about 20 to 30 Central Americans inside the bus depot Monday morning that received a package.
“It’s a blessing from God. I’m a good person, and I’ve felt God’s hands during this journey,” Mejia said. “I’m grateful for LUPE and honestly very surprised, because in Honduras we celebrate Father’s Day in March.”
Marta Sanchez of LUPE said bringing attention to the struggles Central American migrant parents face spurred the idea to provide care packages to immigrants who had just been released from the detention center.
Sanchez said the gesture is a continuation of other similar efforts the group makes in conjunction with other entities in the Rio Grande Valley.
Also spotted at the bus station Monday were members of the Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley, members of the American Civil Liberties Union, and other notable immigrant advocates, who were helping in a myriad of ways to support the immigrants headed to their next destination.
In April and May, respectively, LUPE met with children and handed out materials for them to draw and color with; passed out books and read to them during Children’s Day, or Día del Niño, and then again handed out care packages for women on Mother’s Day just last month.
Beginning in May, Sanchez said they received monetary donations from members of the community for the items that ultimately went into the more than 300 care packages that were destined for the bus station and the newly opened respite center across the street from the bus station.
She said the idea came about when they realized these mothers, fathers and children were so shocked following their long journey to the U.S. and their time at the detention center, that many were unaware and unconcerned with what day was being celebrated.
“When I talk to the people (at the respite center and at the bus station) they don’t even know. It’s not even on their minds because they’re so busy, so preoccupied with so many other issues. But I think it was a good opportunity to engage our community, because we need to keep that compassion going,” Sanchez said. “Second, for the people that we’re trying to serve, that they’re remembered, that we remember them as human beings … forget about all your troubles and just remember that you are being remembered on this special day.”
Outside the bus station, Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities, welcomed a large group of people who had just been released from the detention center.
Pimentel, who just marked five years since the original respite center opened its doors during the first wave of unaccompanied minor children arriving to the U.S. in 2014, smiled as she led the immigrants into the center, where the majority of the care packages were headed.
Mejia and his 13-year-old daughter Anna Nicole, who made the precarious journey from their home in Honduras more than two weeks ago, were tired but excited Monday following more than a week-long detention spent at U.S. Border Patrol’s Central Processing Center.
“You suffer a lot to get here, to be able to cross Mexico,” Mejia said in Spanish. “It’s very dangerous, there are a lot of organized criminal groups. There’s a lot of evil.”
Mejia waited for a bus that was set to leave late Monday, making two stops, one in San Antonio and one in El Paso, before heading to his final destination in Los Angeles, where he hopes he can settle in with his sponsor family and get his daughter enrolled in school.
Before he left his home, he worked as a commercial business man, but routine extortion and death threats finally led him to try for the U.S. with his daughter with him, he said.
“The death threats in our home country, daily protests, a lot of corruption, they have privatized education, privatized health care, we are families of low income, there is no employment — all of that makes you look for better horizons,” Mejia said. “And, well my daughter, I could no longer provide her an education. That is why I came in search of an opportunity, maybe not so much for me, but for her.”
Samantha Gonzalez was one of the dozens of people who put together the care packages, and one of more than 10 folks that helped hand them out.
The 22-year-old San Juan resident and full-time mom said she’s been volunteering her time at international bridges, helping hand out food and other items to immigrants since last June, during the zero tolerance period in which children were separated from their parents.
Gonzalez said she really began helping out in earnest after President Trump was elected.
“It’s unfortunate that I didn’t see (the problems) a few years ago, because I would have been on the frontlines helping then, but I see it now,” Gonzalez said inside LUPE’s office in San Juan just before she traveled to the bus station. “I mean, I don’t plan on stopping the help, they need it, and if we all chipped in a little bit it would make a huge difference.”
To Gonzalez, helping provide these packages to mark Father’s Day means showing appreciation to all the parents who sacrificed a lot to make the long journey, away from their homes.
“It’s a special day to show the other half of us, because our fathers are the other half of us — how much they mean to us, especially in (the immigrants’) situations,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez’s unrelenting and compassionate attitude toward helping immigrants locally is one that Sanchez and others affiliated with LUPE and other immigrant advocate groups hope will take hold — so that this event, and many like it, continue to take place.
“… For me it’s just affirming the dignity and efforts of these parents. This is just a little something to make them feel a little dignified, because we know they’ve been struggling since they left their country,” Sanchez said.