Saturday, June 1, 2019
By Paul Martin

Cora Currier
June 1 2019

THE VANS STARTED coming on May 14, depositing their passengers into an alley by the Greyhound station in San Bernardino, California, and then taking off. The first night, the station’s small lobby quickly filled with migrants from Guatemala and elsewhere who had been abruptly dropped off there by the U.S. Border Patrol.

The manager of the station ended up getting many of them tickets to Los Angeles that night, said Luis Suarez, of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice. “It’s open 24/7, and he wanted them to have a warm place at least. San Bernardino closes at 2 a.m.” On summer nights, temperatures can drop 30 degrees in the city, which is located in the foothills of a mountain range about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

In the following days, word spread among community groups that Border Patrol was leaving large numbers of migrants at the bus station several times a day without any orientation or assistance. “Our first day on the scene was that Thursday, May 16,” Suarez said. “By then, some of these folks had been sleeping out on the street overnight. We found maybe 35 people, extremely hungry, some of the kids were sick, people hadn’t showered since they’d crossed the border and been kept in hieleras” (the holding cells known in Spanish as “iceboxes” for their freezing air conditioning).

“Border Patrol was not providing medical attention” before dropping off the migrants, said Erika Paz, also with the coalition. “Everyone had a cold. … There was one youth who was seriously dehydrated, and our local doctors were able to bring him back to health.” In recent months, five Guatemalan children have died while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, custody or soon after being released, of flu or other ailments.

In the two weeks since the drop-offs began in San Bernardino, the Inland Coalition, the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, and other community groups have organized a rapid response to welcome the new arrivals, providing them with the help and logistical support that Border Patrol did not.

“I mean, they are just abandoning them here,” said one Greyhound employee, who wouldn’t say more because they didn’t have permission to speak to the press (Greyhound would not make anyone in San Bernardino available for an interview).

The people arriving in San Bernardino crossed the border and were caught or surrendered to Border Patrol in the eastern part of California or southwestern Arizona, according to the Inland Coalition. People had also been dropped at the Border Patrol station in Indio, another hour inland in California, but when the Greyhound station there became overwhelmed with newly released migrants, Border Patrol started bringing them to San Bernardino. Shelters around Indio in the Coachella Valley had also reached capacity.

Border Patrol Agent Carlos Pitones said that the migrants had been processed in stations in the El Centro District, which covers California’s Imperial Valley, and that they were given packets containing information about their immigration court hearings. He said that “as of the last few days, we have been able to process families without having to release them. But the situation can change from one day to another depending on the apprehension volume either at our sector or our neighboring sectors.” He would not say how many people had been detained or released in total in the area in recent weeks.

THE GREYHOUND STATION in San Bernardino is on a nondescript corner downtown, not far off the freeway. In a faded motel nearby, volunteers from groups around the LA area were sorting donations of clothes, food, and other supplies. After nearly two weeks, the volunteers had a rhythm: The drop-offs happened usually three times a day, with a little warning (CBP would call the diocese to tell them one was coming). Volunteers greeted the vans, offering water, food, clean clothing, and medical help for those who needed it. They helped them find their relatives, if the family had been separated at the border. Most of the new arrivals were taken to a local Catholic church, while some stayed in the motel near the station, where they waited for the bus or, in some cases, a plane ticket that would take them onward to meet relatives elsewhere in the United States.

The Rest…HERE

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