Top 10: Thinking about how Waco would respond to an influx of immigrants
Top 10 “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 1
By Grecia Chavira
I am a DACA-mented teacher in Waco.
By that I mean I’m a beneficiary of “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”, or DACA. This executive action was implemented by the Obama administration in June of 2012. DACA provides protection from deportation and work authorization for young immigrants, often referred to as DREAMers, who have completed high school and arrived in the United States before their sixteenth birthday. This benefit gives me protection, but it often feels like an undeserved privilege.
Lately I’ve felt that my “privilege” didn’t start with DACA, it started when I began my journey as an immigrant into the United States almost 20 years ago. I realize now that the start of my story as an immigrant is starkly different than most.
When I was 8 years old, I arrived in Waco on a charter bus with my family by my side. I didn’t need to cross the desert with a coyote (a human smuggler who leads immigrants across the border illegally). I was never in danger of being raped, trafficked or lost. I wasn’t separated from my parents at the border. I was safe.
I vividly remember arriving to Waco after midnight at a yellow and green gas station. I remember running off the bus and hugging my aunt, who was anxiously awaiting our arrival. During my first year in the States, various family members graciously shared their home with my family. I didn’t live in an overcrowded detention center- I didn’t endure sexual abuse from prison guards. I was safe. I was home.
These memories arise with a sense of guilt as I read recent news of immigrants traveling thousands of miles in search of a safer and better future for themselves and their children. My parents had the same goals, but we were lucky. We were fortunate enough to have family connections, resources and a church community. We were welcomed. We were not considered a burden or a punishment.
Things couldn’t be more different for the 50,000 immigrants who have been released into San Antonio from December to March after being processed and detained at the border. The influx that occurred at the end of March included about 500 hundred asylum-seeking immigrants arriving in San Antonio. Many of these had traveled from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador fleeing violence, in search of safety.
Thankfully, local non-profit organizations such as American Gateways and Catholic Charities came together to rally around the immigrant families. These groups coordinated hundreds of volunteers who helped the families book tickets to travel to their final destinations or to contact family members.
Recognizing the magnitude of the situation, the city of San Antonio set up a resource center in an empty store to help the local non-profits provide enough food, clothing, and medical services to the immigrant families. City staff provided children books to read while the adults sought out legal services. As an immigrant, my heart hurt for the hardships that my immigrant brothers and sisters suffered in their search for a better life, but my Texan heart beamed with pride as San Antonio stepped up to meet their needs with love and dignity.
As I discussed these events with my good friend and local immigration attorney, Anali Looper, we wondered how Waco would handle high numbers of immigrant arrivals. Would the City step in and help our local non-profits meet their needs? Would churches show love and compassion by opening up their facilities to be used as temporary housing? Would volunteers rally as they did in San Antonio? I would hope so. But hoping isn’t enough.
Living in Waco, Texas, has never felt scary to me. I remember a childhood filled with security and love. I attended Waco public schools, where teachers loved me, motivated me and led me toward success. My teachers advocated for me and broke ground with me as an undocumented Valedictorian at University High School. As a child, I attended a small Hispanic church where I was shown to appreciate my community and to love my neighbor as myself. Now I attend a large multi-cultural church that focuses on missions around the world.
As a Wacoan, I would like to see the City of Waco and the community prepare a contingency plan for treating immigrant families with the same dignity and respect that would be awarded to US Citizen families who have been displaced by floods, hurricanes or fires. I would like for my students, many immigrants or children of immigrants themselves, to learn the value of human life and the power of community. I would like my students and their families to feel safe and loved, just like I did growing up, just like I do now.
I want to have faith that my adoptive hometown would be as
welcoming and generous should we have to respond to a situation like San
Antonio. I would hope and pray for a similar response, but would it be done?
For more information about American Gateways please refer to the website: www.americangateways.org.
Grecia Chavira is a 2nd grade teacher in Waco ISD. She grew up in Waco and graduated from Baylor University. She always dreamed of being a teacher for English Language Learners. She is a part of the community advisory committee for American Gateway, a local non-profit that provides low-cost immigration legal services. She enjoys working out, practicing yoga and visiting local restaurants with her husband, Enoc.
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