Features

Welcome to Strangers: Jaspers Without Borders

by Caroline McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

Riverdale women and two Manhattan College students found community alongside asylum seekers during their service trip to Brownsville, Texas in January. This trip, organized by Marti Michael, provided food, clothing, and supplies to migrants living in the encampment at Matamoros, Mexico.

Matamoros is home to the largest migrant camp to date, with over 1,500 people living in tents for months at a time. They are waiting for their chance to apply for entrance to the United States.

“I have been traveling solo to and across the border for the past year, helping asylum seekers,” Michael said. “I have always been a social activist and when the stories broke in the media and I saw the conditions in immigration detention and at the time last year, when detainees were released by ICE, my heart would not let me stay home and watch it on TV.  I had to go and help.”

Michael’s efforts were recognized by friends who asked to accompany her on the next trip.

Her selflessness and inspiration to serve brought together many Riverdale women, volunteers previously serving at the Overground Railroad in Ohio and Manhattan College Students Ireland Twiggs, a Senior Peace Studies and Religious Studies double major and Anna Rosario, a Senior International Studies major with minors in Spanish and Peace Studies.

Twiggs met Michael through their work at the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Center. Twiggs is an assistant at the center and Michael is on the board.

Twiggs initially became involved in this effort through a supply drive for asylum seekers sent on 30 hour bus rides with no food, toiletries, or fresh clothing. Even after reaching America, their journey still isn’t done. The people on these buses frequently have children, and still have to endure over a days commute with no living essentials.

“When Migrants are sent to their sponsors they are put on a bus for hours with nothing. So [Marti] started a donation drive, and I held a donation drive on campus for the Overground Railroad,” Twiggs said.

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The Jaspers Without Borders group volunteers. MARTI MICHAEL/COURTESY

While living with these sponsors, asylum seekers wait for their official hearing.

This drive benefitted the migrants bused to sponsors in the U.S. for over 30 hours with nothing. Twiggs called on the Manhattan College community and her own family for donations while Michael found donors in the community. Together they collected items such as sanitary wipes, food, toys for children and clothes.

After the drive, Twiggs and Rosario felt an overwhelming need to accompany Michael on her next trip to the border.

“I’m really passionate about immigration rights and the issues at the border, being hispanic myself. I led L.O.V.E. El Paso in January of 2019, and that really sparked my interest in that part of the world,” Rosario said.

During her initial trip, Rosario worked in migrant shelters in El Paso, helping those who had been released by ICE. Duties included giving them clothes, food, a place to stay and other miscellaneous tasks. For Rosario, that meant helping with showers.

“I would help women cut their pants off [before showering] because they had ankle bracelets on. They had to be monitored and it essentially looked like they were animals,” Rosario said.IMG_4069

These ankle bracelets are provided by ICE to track asylum seekers as an alternative to detention.

“When migrants get released by ICE, after they go through their weeks or months at the detention centers, after going through the legal process of seeking asylum they need to contact their sponsors,” Rosario said.

Michael also assisted in contacting sponsors and assisting migrants released by ICE last year at the Overground Railroad in Ohio.

“This experience really helped shape my adult faith,” Rosario said. “It made me want to be a warrior for social justice.”

Twiggs has also participated in L.O.V.E. trips such as L.O.V.E. Ecuador and L.O.V.E. New Orleans, and is also leading L.O.V.E. Bethlehem this March. She found similarities in her service trips through social injustice and the dangers of ostracizing people from each other.

“Bethlehem and Mexico were actually my two case studies for my Peace major because both of them have border issues and both of them have walls,” Twiggs said. “I’m exploring the idea of what a border is and how it marginalizes certain communities.”

“I think the education and the training we received from going on and leading L.O.V.E. trips really helped us with the Brownsville trip,” Rosario said.

This year, the women spent a week in Texas traveling the international bridge by foot everyday to give food and supplies to the migrants living in the camps.

Rosario recounts that it costs about one U.S. dollar to get into Mexico and about 30 cents to get back into the States.

“You get stopped halfway through [the foot bridge] for border control to check your passport. You go through, it looks like an airport area, then they scan your documents to make sure they’re legit,” Rosario said.

“We really didn’t have any issues because we had World Central Kitchen stickers on everything we were bringing with us,” Twiggs said.

Lugging wagons of food and supplies, volunteers crossed the bridge to the encampments where they worked alongside World Central Kitchen, a program primarily dedicated to serving food to those in need during times of natural disasters.

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The Jaspers Without Borders group volunteers.
MARTI MICHAEL/COURTESY

“There is no typical day volunteering,” Michael said.

 

Volunteers also spend Sundays volunteering at the school, doing chores at the refugee shelter run by the Sisters of Providence, and the teachers of the group spent time teaching refugees from the Congo who had traveled to Mexico English and Math. Some even spent a day at immigration court to observe proceedings.

“Everyone is human. We are all the same,” Michael said. “I am Jewish. All religions have a similar teaching-welcome to strangers. Treat the stranger as you would want to be treated.”