Out of their own pockets and at the expense of their personal safety, they visited the border bridges after dark, gathering information for migrants and launching a movement that continues today.
The Angry Tias and Abuelas is a diverse group of women who spontaneously united in June 2018 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. At that time, U.S. immigration officers were forcing asylum seekers to "wait their turn" on the international bridges. This left well over fifty people, including many small children, stranded on each bridge, waiting in the searing heat without food or water or bathroom privileges for weeks at a time. Concerned citizens from both sides of the border rushed to assist them. A number of us, all outraged Texas women, crossed paths again and again. We finally met for coffee, on Joyce's birthday and in Jennifer's living room, to decide how we could do more.
The Angry Tias and Abuelas was created that afternoon. We discussed all the abuses we were witnessing, from miserable detention conditions to the separation of families. We knew we had to stand up and fight. We joined together to give each other support, share information about ongoing problems, find supplies, and set up projects to address different emergencies as they arose. As the government policies changed, we adjusted our efforts.
All our work is carried out in collaboration with or supported by, numerous other volunteers, lawyers, writers, religious leaders, and doctors.
They are all amazing.
To date some of our actions have included:
1. Working to release the "Crying Baby Tape" in June 2018, which resulted in national condemnation of the family separation policy. We also worked to assist the ensuing reunification efforts, including acting as volunteer drivers to airports, detention centers, and attorney offices, and as volunteer assistants to attorneys.
2. When the administration began its "Stay in Mexico" efforts in the fall of 2018, our members set up support actions for the people trapped in the dangerous region of Tamaulipas. Our members purchase supplies and bring food, blankets, toiletries, and clean clothing to the small community at the foot of the Brownsville-Matamoros Bridge.
3. Upon discovering the Brownsville Bus Station was closed from 11pm to 4am, leaving migrants with tickets for the next day to spend the night on the street, our group intervened. After months of finding these stranded migrants beds for the night at friends’ homes and hotel rooms, Good Neighbor Settlement House in coordination with Team Brownsville took on the task of assisting migrants with information, providing supplies for their trip and shelter.
4. We assist migrants at the bus station in McAllen after they have first been given food, clothing and medical care at the Catholic Charities Respite Center. These refugees were initially held for days in the notorious government "hielera" or "ice-box", where they were kept in extremely cold conditions, slept on over-crowded floors, and were denied showers or reasonable medical care. When finally released many were seriously ill. At the bus terminal, we Tias sit down with each family and explain their bus tickets and layovers, and ensure they have all necessities for their trip. We explain their initial legal obligations, show them their ICE appearance dates, and tell them how to track their court hearings. We also supply information about legal and assistance groups near their destination. Most importantly, we listen.
5. As the number of asylum seekers has increased rapidly in April 2019, the Tias are now assisting churches and shelters in Harlingen, Texas to receive and support the families being released from the “hieleras” and are working to obtain needed supplies. The Tias have also formed a transport team to shuttle people from the shelters to airports, bus stations, and immigration appointments.
6. One of our members has established a support network for newly arrived asylum seekers detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center, notorious for its abusive conditions. The Tia visits them, helps them obtain attorneys whenever possible, corresponds with them, and raises funds for their commissary account, which allows them to telephone their families, and supplement the prison diet.
7. Reynosa, Mexico has one of the highest levels of gang violence anywhere. Asylum seekers have become a primary target for kidnapping, because it is assumed their family in the United States will raise ten thousand dollars in ransom monies. Migrants cannot set foot outside the shelters without the risk of being kidnapped or trafficked. For a long time one of the Tias was able to enter Reynosa and provide these persons with information about their legal rights and accompany them to the international bridge. She could also monitor the ongoing dangers and report to national human rights teams. By the fall of 2018, however, the United States pressed the Mexican government to keep all asylum- seekers in Mexico. The joint- efforts of the Tias and several others resulted in a Telemundo broadcast disclosing that the head of Reynosa Inmigracionwas kidnapping asylum seekers and holding them in the federal building basement.
8. All the Tias share their observations and information with humanitarian organizations, legal networks, journalists, inquiring political leaders, and attorneys.
For more information and to schedule interviews, please contact:
Elizabeth Cavazos at angrytiasandabuelasPR@yahoo.com