The girl’s dark eyes continued to haunt Lisa Stallings on her way back to the U.S. side of the Texas-Mexico border. Filled with fear and distrust, the toddler in the hot pink shirt was midway through a perilous journey, and had stopped at a haven in Mexico.
As a volunteer and co-director of People Caring for People, an Oklahoma City-based nonprofit, Stallings has seen firsthand the people — mostly women and children — at the center of what is being called a humanitarian crisis. A flood of tens of thousands of children, many traveling alone, fleeing Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and seeking asylum at the border.
The stories she tells will break your heart.
No longer are they just statistics for politicians to cite in immigration policy debates. They are people — frightened, brave, hungry, thirsty and vulnerable. They are mothers who want something so simple: to protect their child and give them a chance to grow up.
With the help of a translator, Stallings interviewed three Honduran women at a shelter just south of the Rio Grande. One spent eight days traveling by bus with her three children, who are 2, 14 and 16 years old. She said immigration authorities robbed her of food and what little money she had at every stop.
When the woman fled Honduras, she wasn’t sure where she was headed. Her husband and father had been murdered by violent gang members. Then, “la mafia” came to her door and said they were going to kidnap her sons to work for them. She ran, seeking safety in another country.
“They say, ‘If we go back, we’re killed.’ So it’s better to take a chance and die on the river. Because they escaped, they will be killed by the cartel,” Stallings said.
Essentially: An uncertain chance at life outweighs certain death.
Charity provides donations, medical care
People Caring for People takes volunteers to Mexico about four times a year to provide medical care and donations to the poor. Stallings said this mission has been different from previous trips because the people in need are from Central America.
The organization took a dozen volunteers, a pickup and a sport utility vehicle loaded with 250 pounds of beans and rice, clothing, shoes, toys, medications and first-aid supplies. Volunteers provided medical care to 300 migrants and handed out toys, baby formula and blankets.
“We were overwhelmed with need and moved beyond words by what we witnessed,” Stallings said. “Very few Americans are given entrance into any holding center for the refugees, much less one in Mexico.” She described U.S. Border Patrol helicopters circling above the facility, which is located on the river bank of the Rio Grande.