Reaching immigrant families during their darkest times

Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

I was fourteen when I saw innocent children on TV locked up like animals. In the midst of the 2014 American Immigration crisis, I vividly recall watching the news with my dad and the utter shock I felt when I saw the photos of kids in cages in border patrol centers. How could anyone allow this to happen to the most vulnerable of our kind? The heartbreak overwhelmed me. I could not ignore the injustice that I saw on TV that day.

Fast forward four years: I am now a high school senior in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and my passion for social justice has become an integral part of my identity. I take pride in spreading awareness to my peers through class discussions and social media, but I had a desire to actually do something to create change. This year, I created Project LifePack, dedicated to providing backpacks with essential supplies to immigrants impacted by family detention in Texas. I collected donations of items in the Frisco and Dallas communities to donate to the backpack ministry at the Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC) in San Antonio — the link between my community and the immigrant community.

Project LifePack originally began as an original work in an independent study and mentorship class at my school, where I was mentored by an immigration attorney, Beatriz Hernandez, who has taught me about human rights law. My proposal included background on immigration from Mexico, Central and South America and outlined every detail, including a budget, a timeline and a list of potential participants that I hoped would take part.

Actually fulfilling the plan for Project LifePack was unlike anything I had ever done before. Asking people to donate to a project to benefit immigrants in such a politically conservative area was a daunting task, especially during a time where the political climate is so fragile. It was discouraging at first, as I struggled to get responses over the phone or email from organizations. It felt like everyone was skeptical of my project — this took place before the recent immigration issues blew up in the news — and seemingly nobody was willing to help out. I kept working at it, contacting organizations and creating promotional materials and in the end, I was amazed by the generosity of the Frisco and Dallas community. Donations poured in from my school, my local library, places of worship, my mentor’s law office and the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program.

The final stage of Project LifePack was a weekend trip to San Antonio in late May to deliver the donations to the IWC and hand out backpacks to the immigrant families there. It was a moving experience, spending a Saturday morning at San Antonio’s Greyhound bus station, handing out supplies to immigrant women and children released from family detention who were continuing in their lengthy and difficult immigration journey. Giving a toy to a happy child was simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, because I knew that these children were undergoing a dark ordeal. When I left the bus station that afternoon, I was deeply affected by the interactions I had with these families, and felt content that I was able to alleviate some of their pain.

When I began this project, I had no idea that the plight of immigrants like the women and children that I met was about to worsen under the federal government’s “zero-tolerance” border policy. I firmly believe that the power of love and compassion can overcome barriers that prevent us from reaching out and creating change. By galvanizing local support, my community and I were able to come together and create an impact that transcends borders. These immigrants need our support more than ever. It’s time for us to fight for justice and humanity.