It is now 11 PM. You have been at the bus station since around 7 PM. That is when Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) left you here. You have traveled months to get here, only to be put in a detention center for weeks. But you are finally out. Now you just need to get to your family on the East Coast. Your bus leaves early tomorrow morning. You will just have to wait. At least you are one step closer to your family.
“La estación cerrará en diez minutos.”
What? The bus station is closing? Nobody warned you this might happen. You have no money, no family in the area, no friends to call on. You are in a city you know nothing about. What now?
This is the situation that some asylum-seeking people who are looking to leave the Rio Grande Valley through La Plaza Brownsville bus station are facing.
According to volunteers with the grassroots Angry Tías and Abuelas group, unless a volunteer is able to speak to them and give them a rundown of what to expect, most are unaware and unprepared for the final announcement that the facility is closing.
Elisa Fillippone, one of the few Brownsville-based Angry Tías and Abuelas volunteer, is doing what she can to ensure immigrants, including those seeking asylum, do not find themselves in this precarious situation.
According to Fillippone, in McAllen, immigrants and asylum seekers may be able to call on the help of the Humanitarian Respite Center. In Brownsville, however, the options are much more limited.
In the past, immigrants used to sleep in the back gated-area of the bus station, where the buses usually park. Although they were still sleeping outside and thus exposed, they had some sense, however illusory, of protection. But the gate is now broken, meaning that anyone can easily enter the area at night. Fillippone says it has been broken for at least two weeks.
Since Friday, she has been making rounds at the Brownsville bus station. Her first night, she met a 30-year-old woman who had been separated from her child and was now traveling to reunite with them. She was able to engage with the woman and with the help of the Angry Tías and Abuelas obtain a hotel room for her to stay the night.
Later that evening, she says she saw police arresting two individuals. She does not know why the two individuals were arrested, but the sight struck fear in her for the safety of the individuals who without help would likely need to spend the night there, alone and exposed.
Sunday night, she almost did not come because she was tired. She was glad she did, though. That night, she encountered two other individuals. One of them was an 18-year-old woman who reminded her of her daughter. Had the 18-year-old woman not felt comfortable sleeping at a volunteer’s home, Fillippone said she was mentally and physically prepared to spend the night outside of the bus station with her.
“I was not going to be able to sleep,” Fillippone told Neta. “How could I sleep?”
Fillippone and the Angry Tías and Abuelas are doing what they can to support immigrants and people seeking asylum stranded on bridges and who are being released from the Port Isabel Processing Center, but a larger network of volunteers is needed in Brownsville.
Fillippone stressed to Neta that it is important for attorneys and organizations in contact with family members to get the word out about the complications their recently released family members may face in Brownsville. When possible, she thinks it is better to depart from McAllen.
She also thinks immediate help is needed from Brownsville residents.
“I do not want to take action when somebody gets hurt. Somebody can get hurt…I don’t want someone to get [hurt] and then react…I don’t want to find out on the newspaper,” Fillippone said.
Neta asked officials with the City of Brownsville whether they were aware of the situation some immigrants and asylum seekers were facing and what, if any, action they planned to take.
Through email, officials stated that the “City of Brownsville is committed to providing the best customer service to our patrons and residents. As the City of Brownsville does not identify individuals’ citizenship, we cannot confirm these reports.”
Individuals interested in supporting the Angry Tías and Abuelas in Brownsville can contact Elisa Filippone at email@example.com.