By Liz Bar-El, CLUE Justice LAWC Communications Liaison
Let’s begin with an acknowledgement that people who live in safe communities, with some modicum of economic sufficiency, do not choose to leave their homes, social structures, cultures, friends and family, and undertake difficult and possibly dangerous journeys to a new country.
Yet war, starvation, violence and natural disasters are driving millions of people around the world to do this now, desperately seeking a safer, better life for themselves and their families.
For some, this hope leads them to the United States, often navigating a route that moves northward through South America, Central America, Mexico, and ultimately across the US border.
The high number of desperate migrants reflects a deeply troubled world. It does not negate the fact that each person is a person, an individual with a soul, a story and the right to expect to be treated with dignity.
This is the heart of CLUE Justice’s migrant support work and why CLUE Justice is one of the founding organizations of the LA Welcomes Collective (LAWC).
Buses from Texas—A Political Tactic
During the course of the past year, the Governor of Texas initiated a policy that invests his state’s money in a program that buses migrants from Texas border areas to cities across the country in other states.
Over the past four months, more than 30 of these buses, carrying more than 1,000 asylum seekers, have been directed to Union Station, Los Angeles, CA.
The free transportation might be a lucky break for those who board. However, the Texas effort is characterized by pressure tactics, offering release from detention to those who sign a waiver to travel and giving migrants little time to make a decision about boarding.
The Texas authorities also avoid communications with destination communities, employing the “element of surprise” to create chaos.
This callous approach that uses vulnerable people to gain political capital is a shameful and immoral abuse of power.
Texas program staff do not check on their passengers’ welfare or provide enough food for a 25-hour journey when they lead them to the bus.
We have found that the majority are heading toward family or sponsors, and while Southern California may be the destination for some, most are bound for places far from LA, and it seems like many are unaware of US geography when they sign.
LA Welcomes Committee—A Humanitarian Response
Nonetheless, with logistical support from the City and County of Los Angeles, the LA Welcomes Collective was formed to respond to the governor’s actions and assure a dignified greeting for everyone who boards a bus in Texas.
Fortunately, good people in Texas, motivated by moral values and a humanitarian approach to the plight of migrants, have taken upon themselves to share information with Los Angeles community leaders, alerting the LAWC to arrivals, typically about 20 hours prior.
This has enabled the team to organize and transform the impending bus exit from confusion and desperation to support and humane treatment.
Even the few instances when Texas officials managed to keep the bus information secret, the LAWC team has been notified and responded with flexibility and resourcefulness, searching the area around Union Station to find the arrivals from Texas to bring them in for reception, food, and resources.
Who are the LA Welcomes Partners?
The LAWC is a cooperative project of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE Justice), Central American Resource Center-Los Angeles (CARECEN), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Esperanza, Immigrant Rights Project, Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef) and the Haitian Bridge Alliance.
Together, staff and volunteers from these organizations–along with staff from the office of Mayor Karen Bass and other City departments, several County agencies and LAUSD–mobilize each time a bus is announced.
LAWC’s Coordinated Response
When the call comes in, the group works quickly to identify a receiving site, usually in a church social hall within 10 minutes’ drive from Union Station.
City-operated shuttle buses are made ready to transport people from Union Station to the site. Food is ordered to provide a hot breakfast for the weary travelers, and supplies are hauled from CARECEN storage to the receiving site, including toiletries, clothes, toys, snacks and water, and backpacks.
CLUE calls local Spanish-speaking pastors to arrange for them to meet arrivals at Union Station and be present at the site, which has served to foster trust and comfort for many migrants.
About two hours before the scheduled arrival, the site is prepared: CHIRLA and CARECEN set up stations for intake, including a travel logistics station, and arrange goods on tables for distribution.
ImmDef sets up their station with a Spanish-language presentation on legal rights and requirements, which is offered after breakfast. Additionally, County health staff prepare to support migrants with health issues and offer COVID vaccines.
Communications (the COMMS Team) prepares to respond to inquiries from the press, providing information and perspective on the situation while protecting arriving migrants from potentially intrusive and distressing questions.
As the bus arrival approaches, the shuttle buses move into place at Union Station, and LAWC staff prepares to greet and transport passengers to the receiving site.
Finally, the shuttles arrive at the receiving site, and between 40 and 50 people step off.
LAWC greets them inside with smiles and “Bienvenido!” as they are directed to the social hall and served breakfast burritos, fruit and coffee on round tables for each family.
Pastors from CLUE and the LA Archdiocese speak with them to offer comfort, spiritual support and bear witness to their stories.
Everyone is able to refresh from the exhausting journey and focus on their immediate needs so they can take the next steps toward a new life.
Almost one-third of the migrants at receiving sites are children, from babies to teenagers.
As they visit the toy table and pick out their new dolls, toy trucks and cars, stuffed animals, games, coloring books and other donated toys, their eyes shine and they smile with delight.
Within a few hours, most have either been picked up by relatives and sponsors or provided with bus, train or plane tickets toward their desired destinations.
Some families with nowhere else to go are given overnight shelter and enter case management with CHIRLA, as a longer-term solution is found.
CLUE is currently working with a few churches that provide or have offered to provide overnight accommodations.
There are opportunities to volunteer for those interested in helping to prepare the sites and to assist the church staff when sites are mobilized for use (contact email@example.com if you would like more information).
The LAWC does not have an established source for buying toys to distribute at the receiving sites.
CLUE has issued a call to action, asking our supportive congregations to do toy drives, and the response has truly warmed our hearts.
The first donations received were already distributed in October. Additional toy supplies are being stored at a church near DTLA, to be transferred to LAWC as needed.
We thank all those congregations – from all over Southern California – who have participated and continue to participate in this effort.
The word from Texas is that this program will be in place for a long time. We will continue to turn a political stunt into a blessing by showing that Los Angeles is a place where asylum seekers who are looking for safety and a new start are received with dignity and respect.
With limited resources and boundless creativity and flexibility, Angelenos will continue to show with their words and actions that they will not turn their backs on human beings, families, who have experienced danger, trauma, displacement, and are hurting while seeking a safe place to and call home.
We hope that State and other grants that keep the LAWC going will be renewed and extended to support this work.
We will continue to need donations from our supporters as well and are so grateful for every person that steps up on the side of humanity and dignity in this important mission.
Solidarity is Sacred
Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice educates, organizes, and mobilizes religious leaders and community members to walk with workers while advocating for good jobs, safe workplaces, and healthy communities.
We can stand with low-wage workers, mostly immigrants and communities of color, because people like you support an organized and connected interfaith movement for economic justice.
Please join the movement to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top.