Volunteering to Help Families at the Border Changed This Latina’s Life

Day after day, there seem to be more and more news stories of the people seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border only to be turned away

Latina bruja helps families at the border HipLatina

Photo: Courtesy of Nathalie Farfan

Day after day, there seem to be more and more news stories of the people seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border only to be turned away. Some as complicated as migrant parents still being separated from children at the border even after the government claimed gang ties to them. And, other stories have been more heart-wrenching like the women who filed a lawsuit against border patrol after an agent assaulted and raped them.

According to The Washington Post, in November, Border Patrol agents apprehended a record 25,172 “family unit members” on the southwest border — including 11,489 in the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector in southern Texas and 6,434 in the El Paso sector, which covers far western Texas and New Mexico.

Unfortunately, these incidents are running rampant and right now there isn’t a short or long-term solution. Instead of feeling helpless, some Latinas have stepped up to the plate to help out in whatever way they can. Right now, there is a great need for translators to help Spanish-speaking women at the border (even translate remotely) speak to immigration authorities and lawyers to help tell their story and get through official proceedings.

That was the calling Ecuadorian-American bruja and activist Nathalie Farfan felt after hearing that there was an opportunity to help mothers with children who didn’t speak English.

“My motivation is the children and mothers doing whatever it takes to save their children from violence and pain,” Farfan said in an interview with HipLatina.

At first, Farfan translated remotely from her home in New Jersey. It wasn’t until months later that she was offered the opportunity to volunteer in-person at Dilley, Texas.

Farfan received an invitation from immigration lawyer and artist Carolina Rubio-McWright who is based out of New York and has been using her social networks to organize volunteers and raise money for the families separated at Dilley. She broke down the ugly truth of what happens to women who leave horrendous situations, some with their children, seeking refuge in the US, in a podcast interview with Morado Lens.

Photo: Courtesy of Nathalie Farfan

Farfan learned about the opportunity on Instagram through a friend who connected her to a non-profit organization called Cara Pro Bono, a non-traditional volunteer-run project that directly represents the children and women incarcerated at the Dilley detention center. They are currently recruiting attorneys, law students and paralegals with experience in asylum work. The group asks volunteers to be fluent in Spanish or willing to work with an interpreter.

In fact, here is a list of organizations that are mobilizing to help immigrant children separated from their families.

Farfan admits that she was warned of the dire situation news outlets like NPR have reported but “hearing this and then experiencing it was another journey,” she said.

“I knew I would see many young children who I was told were sick from cold jail cells and arsenic affected water. The look in the eyes of these mothers and children was full of sadness and hope but others looked confused and unsure that volunteers like myself were actually there to help them. The lack of warmth from guards — many of which were indigenous and/or Tex/Mex folks — to children was also astonishing. My heart was instantly broken,” said Farfan.  

But she says she wanted to see for herself what was happening at the border and that the hours she had volunteered beforehand hadn’t gone in vain because she wants to do her best to help out indigenous women. Her days at the Dilley detention center were mentally exhausting but rewarding because the migrant women’s stories were so cruel, hopeless almost, she says.

There was one day in particular that almost left Farfan without any hope for these women.

“One mother escaped in the middle of the night with her 15-year-old daughter because gangs (MS13/MS18) have been threatening to take her to use her as a sex slave and drug trafficker. By the time she got to Mexican border, a government official raped her daughter and called her a spic and said that’s what she gets for coming to this country,” Farfan said, “I had to then hear her daughter’s testimony who was a virgin until just 16 hours before I was translating for her.”

Farfan says many stories like these aren’t just hard to hear but at times wasn’t enough to receive asylum.

“What’s worse the Trump administration kept creating new biased clauses that prevented more women and children from receiving asylum,” she adds.

Not all hope is lost as people like immigration lawyers, educators, and activists from all over the country have been volunteering their time to help these migrant women and children, reportedly most from Honduras and El Salvador. There is also a need for indigenous translators as well.

Photo: Courtesy of Nathalie Farfan

Farfan even met other fellow powerful brujas — a cause near and dear to her heart as the founder of La Brujas Club — while volunteering in Dilley from California, New York, Oklahoma, Boston, NJ, Florida, and Missouri.

She recommends working with organizations like Cara Pro Bono and First Friends, a non-profit helping through volunteer visitation, resettlement assistance and advocacy. As long as you have some free daytime hours, a phone, and speak basic Spanish, you can help people at the border.

“You wouldn’t believe how many families get asylum because of remote volunteers willing to donate a couple hours a week on the phone,” she adds.

Her only regret as of yet: “That I could’ve started earlier because every little thing helps.”

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