In my week in Texas, I saw Customs and Border Protection drive into the McAllen Bus Station to release dozens of Central American migrants several times a day. A young woman led the migrants across the street to the Respite Center. They walked calmly in line, mother and child, father and child, all relieved of their shoelaces by CBP. The 18-year-old guide volunteered for 5 weeks – her entire summer vacation so far— with Angry Tías and Abuelas, an organization dedicated to orienting migrants to the journey ahead: how to read the bus ticket, when to stay on the bus, when to transfer. Whether traveling to Dallas, Los Angeles or Yakima, most of the migrants clutch a manila envelope with “Please help me. I don’t speak English.” written in large letters on the outside.
Angry Tías and Abuelas doesn’t usually accept high school students as volunteers but given this girl’s maturity and commitment, they made an exception. I asked her if she expected her government teachers to discuss what was happening here when she returned to school. “Oh no,” she told me, “teachers don’t talk about this. But the kids do… in the cafeteria.” This young woman sees her government at work every day. She watches unmarked white CBP buses arrive daily from three local processing centers with humble asylum-seekers. She knows which bus stations are located on private property and which (like McAllen) are on municipal property giving the Tías the right to provide crucial services. She has learned to read the immigration documents families carry so she can point out the date and place of their next court hearing. And her government teachers won’t weave all of this into a lesson? As a retired high school teacher, I can’t imagine a better preparation for a social studies unit than this. And I can’t imagine a greater need for wise teaching than in a community that harbors border patrol agents as well as volunteers at migrant shelters.