I’m going to the border and I need your help.
A few weeks ago, at the height of American anger about immigrant children being separated from their families and held in cages, I connected with the CARA Pro Bono Project. CARA is the combined efforts of four nonprofit immigration organizations: Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The CARA Pro Bono Project is run by and for volunteers to support the efforts of these organizations.
Earlier this year, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for immigrants who enter the US without authorization. As part of this policy, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are detaining and incarcerating immigrants rather than releasing them until their court date. Because of a prior court decision known as the Flores Settlement, children who immigrated with their parents must be released within 20 days. To get around this, ICE separated children from their parents and then labelled them “unaccompanied minors” which allows the government to hold them until a guardian can be established. This resulted in nearly 4,000 children ripped from their parents’ arms in an unknown country, many not speaking any English. Public outcry is forcing a change in practice but there are still thousands of children who need reunited with their families.
I’ll be going to Texas at the beginning of October for a week to help on the ground. When I first contacted CARA to volunteer I thought I could help with psychiatric evaluations. Unfortunately, they require a state license which I don’t have. I asked if there was anything else I could do to help and they told me that they did have a need for administrative support but that it might just be boring office work.
In some ways, boring administrative work will be a better way for me to serve. I have often been lucky enough to have had exciting or intellectually stimulating volunteer opportunities. But that’s not what volunteering is about. It’s not for me—it’s for others. Sometimes it serves a secondary purpose of providing experience or meeting new people but my primary reason for volunteering is to give my time away. To do that I will sometimes be asked to do things that aren’t fun. They’re just necessary. Running an organization involves tedious tasks—photocopying, faxing, keeping spreadsheets, transcribing notes, data entry. Even the refugee camp that I worked (which felt exciting to me) required dull but vital work—organizing hygiene items, chopping onions, bagging groceries, separating clothes by size.
When I was the volunteer coordinator for the Women’s March in London, I spent a lot of time trying to think about how to motivate people to give their time to us. I tried to think of ways to make the work seem exciting, glamorous, something that would make a good story. The Bridges Not Walls action that we partnered with was easy to recruit people for: standing on a bridge holding a giant banner, and posing for a picture. But there were other things that Women’s March needed that were less sexy. They were low profile and monotonous: looking on Google maps to create a spreadsheet of businesses in the area, inventorying all the accessible bathrooms on the march route, picking up trash after the march. We did find the people who were willing to do those things but it wasn’t easy. Now when I volunteer, I offer to do what’s needed—anything that is needed.
That is what I told CARA. Use me. Give me the most boring, repetitive, uninteresting job you have. My goal is to help, not to be entertained. I asked if there was anything I could do from afar (CARA is based in Texas and I am in Philadelphia). I was put on a list of data entry volunteers. I now start every day by data entering hand written intakes into a database. As I read the stories of the women who have escaped violence in their homes, their streets, and across their country I feel that an hour a day is the least I can do to support them.
In October I’ll go down to Dilley, Texas about 80 miles outside of San Antonio to offer whatever administrative support I can to CARA. Because it is a volunteer run project there is no funding for volunteers. Everyone must pay their own way. All the money that CARA has goes to providing services—not paying for labor. But there are of course costs for the volunteers—plane flights, car rental, a week of hotels, food. When I went to the refugee camp in France I asked for financial support. I ask again for donations to cover the cost of my week in Dilley, estimated to be $2000. If you give more than I need to cover my expenses the remaining amount will be donated to CARA Pro Bono Project. Please help me get on the ground in Dilley to support the work being done there to reconnect children with their families and protect women seeking Asylum in the United States. Thanks to all who choose to contribute!
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist