A New Season and New Experiences

Happy May to everyone!  It has been awhile since I updated you about my adventures here in Texas.  The last three months have been full of highs and lows for me, but mostly highs.  Back in mid-March, in connection with my immigration law work, I had the opportunity one evening to assist immigrants at San Antonio’s Greyhound bus station.  That very day, these women and children had been released from U.S. immigration detention facilities in Texas.  They were making their way across the country to live with sponsors while they awaited their next immigration court hearings.  The U.S. Government is proceeding with these immigrants’ cases such that the women and children may have to wait in legal limbo for another one to three years (or more) or so before immigration courts will decide whether they will receive asylum in the U.S.  That evening, though, they were travelers in a strange land, surrounded by a language they didn’t speak, looking forward to arriving at new homes in distant cities.  As several of us volunteers kept the immigrants company, we learned where they were headed.  One family was leaving close to midnight for Los Angeles; others were going to Houston and Florida.  We took a woman and her son to a local church, where they stayed with other immigrants before journeying the next day to Philadelphia.  As detention center guards dropped off the women and children at the bus station, we learned how to identify the newly released detainees based on the type and color of the bags (issued by the U.S. Government or nonprofits) they carried.  These seemingly trivial clues let us know whether the immigrants had been released from the Karnes or Dilley detention centers south of San Antonio; or if, instead, they had come straight from Border Patrol or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities in Texas border towns such as Brownsville, Hidalgo, or McAllen.  Perhaps most important of all was seeing the relief on the faces of the immigrants when they entered the bus station, as they realized that they were not traveling alone.  Rather, as their first point of contact after being released from detention, we helped them prepare for their journeys, and then we traveled with them in spirit to their new homes.

I have been keeping busy in lighthearted ways, too.  Back a few weeks ago, I went to the Poteet Strawberry Festival, an annual tradition dating back to the 1940s and earlier in the town of Poteet, just south of San Antonio.  An event that draws strawberry lovers and volunteers from around the world, tastiness is the theme of this occasion, and it was apparent in forms such as judged strawberry competitions, strawberry shortcake, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and strawberry ice cream.  The festival also boasted carnival rides, local merchants, and musical performances.  From the look of it, this was an event not to be missed, as miles-long traffic jams clogged every road heading into Poteet.

In mid-April, I joined several men from my host church on a weekend retreat at Lake Bastrop, east of Austin.  Though we were pounded by severe thunderstorms for part of the weekend, we nevertheless had fun together, whether hiking, throwing horseshoes, or talking about life on the Westside, our neighborhood here in San Antonio.  I found it very interesting to hear how these predominantly U.S.-Latino men have been shaped by their cultural and faith experiences here in the United States.  Some grew up in migrant worker families, moving across the country to follow harvests as the seasons changed.  Others have deep foundations in the Catholic Church, and those experiences, combined with their exposure to the Protestant Church, have given them intriguing insights into their faith.  It was wonderful to be refreshed away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Lastly, I would like to thank you all for your prayers and support, especially as I discern what I may do next year.  My term of service as a Young Adult Volunteer ends this August, and as you may know, I have applied for a second year (I can serve a total of two years).  I am considering serving in one of five different cities: Miami; New York; San Antonio; Tucson; or Washington, D.C.  All five cities would allow me to continue working with immigration issues, or branch out into related or unrelated areas.  Of note, in New York I may work at the PC(USA)’s representational mission to the United Nations.  If I work in Washington, I may be placed at the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, the Church’s government relations arm.  Please pray that regardless of whether I serve a second YAV year, that God would lead me in discerning how I can best serve Him next year.