Look to the Helpers: Stories of Hope

El Camino del Corazón (City of Minneapolis)

El Camino del Corazón (City of Minneapolis)

Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Today: stories of hope from the helpers. (Tomorrow: back to the usual parade of awful news stories.)

Volunteers in Texas cross the border daily to help the migrants waiting on the other side.

“Tugging wagons loaded with chicken dinners, blankets, coats and shoes, Mike Benavides and his partner, Sergio Cordova, guided half a dozen volunteers across the bridge from Texas into one of Mexico’s most dangerous states.

“They walked past Mexican customs and headed to a group of about two dozen migrants camping under tarps at the foot of the bridge. Days before, the volunteers had brought them the tarps….

“Over the last few months they have also helped migrants from as far as Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Ethiopia, Kosovo and Russia.

“History is going to say: Did we welcome them, or did we turn our back on them?” Cordova said.”

Marty Rosenbluth, a 60-year-old attorney, bought a little white house in the small town of Lumpkin, Georgia last year, so he could be close to the Stewart Detention Center, the largest immigrant detention center east of the Mississippi. He goes home—500 miles—for four or five days out of every month.

“This type of work is not something you do. It has to be somebody you are,” said Rosenbluth, who earlier did human rights work in the occupied West Bank and represented Syrian refugees in Greece.

“Defendants in federal immigration courts have a right to an attorney but at their own expense. Their chances of winning relief increase dramatically when they get lawyers, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group that monitors the federal government. Nationwide, 20 percent of those with attorneys were ordered deported compared to 76 percent without them, according to TRAC figures through September. At Stewart, just 12 percent of detainees have been represented.”

Far from the little white house in Lumpkin, Big Law also advocates for immigrants:

“Big Law — a nexus of power where partners are often plucked for top government posts — has emerged as a fierce, and perhaps unexpected, antagonist to President Trump’s immigration agenda. While pro bono work is nothing new, over the past two years, major law firms have become more vocal and visible in pushing back against the administration’s policies….

“Lawyers at the firms say they are trying to defend the rule of law, not oppose the Trump administration. …

“As of this month, Paul Weiss lawyers have contacted all but a handful of the roughly 400 deported parents. The government has released the children of about 260, half to parents in their home countries, half to sponsors in the United States.

“But the work may continue.

“The A.C.L.U. plans to use the lawyers’ case notes to try to show Judge Sabraw that a number of families were coerced into signing deportation orders, even though they faced danger at home, Mr. Gelernt said. If the judge agrees, those families should be allowed to come back to the United States and apply for asylum, he said.

“That’s our hope,” Mr. Herzog said. “It’s not just our hope,” he added. “It’s our job.”

Sometimes help comes from individuals, reaching out person to person. In 1999, two young refugees flew from Amsterdam to the Twin Cities. The 17-year-old sister talked to two women: her almost-12-year-old sister spoke no English, but helped one woman with knitting. When they landed, one of the women handed an envelope to the two girls.

“To: The girls from Yugoslavia, I am so sorry that the bombing of your country has caused your family any problems. I hope your stay in America will be a safe & happy one for you — welcome to America — please use this to help you here — : ) a friend from the plane — Tracy”

“Tracy ended the note with the heart symbol.

“Also in the envelope was a $100 bill and a piece of jewelry, a pair of dangly gold earrings….

“It really meant something important to us,” Ayda said. “After seeing so many bad, bad things, it was a breath of life to be able to see good happening in front of us.”

“The $100 was the only money they had for the summer of 1999. They made multiple trips to the grocery store to buy pancakes and Coca-Cola. It was the only thing that seemed familiar to them. Everything else looked strange.

“Ayda’s sister would mix the pancake ingredients with water and cook it. They would then put a little salt on the pancake for flavor. They would drink the Coca-Cola so they could feel full….

“She thinks about the women every Memorial Day, because that was the day she arrived, and Thanksgiving, when people express gratitude.”

Today, Ayda is looking for Tracy, hoping to find the woman who welcomed her and helped her start life in a new country.

Drag queen Beatrix LeStrange brings together a wildly varied coalition of drag queens, churches, and activists to help immigrants at the border:

“I grew up with my grandmother raising me and my siblings and she would tell us stories of how she had to cross the river, the Rio Grande, to come and find work here in the U.S. and the struggles and sacrifices she made,” Lestrange said. “That could have been any of us and unfortunately as Latinos there’s a lot of internalized racism.”

“Through Lestrange’s activism in the Rio Grande Valley she says she’s heard other local Latinos and Mexicans talk down about the situation on the border.

“It’s like, ‘Yo, your parents or your grandparents did the same thing and why are you any different?’” Lestrange said. “How does that give you any power to say that their journey and their experiences are any less important than your own because that’s how you got here too.”

I find hope in this collection of stories. To me, these stories say that everyone can do something. Like Tracy, I may not see the impact of my words or actions, but I can still speak and I can still act, knowing that my actions contribute in some way to a much larger movement.

I believe that it is our duty

         to love each other

         to support each other

         to break chains

         to speak truth to power

         to speak truth to each other

         to fight

         to win.

I believe that we will win.

(From Truth in a Post-Factual Era: A Poem for Inauguration Day 2017)


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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