A 29-year old woman from Guatemala traveled for 15 days with her 4-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son before getting arrested by Border Patrol crossing the Arizona desert illegally. On Thursday afternoon, the three of them were dropped off at the Greyhound bus station in downtown Tucson hoping to purchase a bus ticket and meet family members in Tennessee.
She asked not to be identified by name for this story.
The woman and her children are one of hundreds of families from Central America who, after being detained and processed by Border Patrol, arrive at the bus station with little or no money and not much more than a small plastic bag with some belongings.
Some of the families at Greyhound this Thursday afternoon spoke indigenous languages and limited Spanish. Three of the children were about a year old and a few of the mothers looked not much older than 18.
Humanitarian aid organizations and consulate representatives from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have helped the women and children reunite with their families in the U.S. Volunteers help arrange the purchase of bus tickets and often call the woman’s relatives across the country. They explain bus routes, translate, and prepare food for the families.
If the women and children have a bus departing the next day, volunteers who have been vetted take the families home and give them a place to sleep, a hot shower and a warm meal.
“My partner Susan and I have taken in 40 people total, women and children, most of them from Guatemala,” said Mike Wilson, a volunteer at the Greyhound station.
One of the first families that spent the night at their house was a Guatemalan woman and her 8-year-old twins. One of the children had the tip of his index finger cut off by gang members who were trying to extort money from the boy’s father who was in the U.S., Wilson said.
“When the first lady of Guatemala was here, she stuck to the party line that Guatemalans are coming to the United States to reunite with family and that’s part of it, but she denied many times that it was because of violence in their country,” he said. “Yet, here I have this witness whose fingertip was cut off by gangs, that’s why they left.”
The number of Central American women and children crossing into the U.S. illegally has reached record highs. White House officials and representatives from governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have said the migration influx can be attributed to an increase of violence in the region, lack of economic opportunities and a desire to reunite with family members.
Many humanitarian aid groups including No More Deaths, Casa Mariposa and Catholic Community Services have collected donations and helped women and children at the Tucson bus station.
Catholic Community Services recently became the lead organization overseeing volunteer efforts at Greyhound, and plans to move the operation out of the bus station by the end of July to a separate building where migrant families will be able to spend the night.