Maintaining Independence to Serve Migrant Populations

Story by Reihaneh Hajibeigi, Executive Coordinator, Austin, Texas

In a time where right and wrong are not always clear, it has become even more necessary for the American Red Cross to continue its service delivery to those in need regardless of outside pressures or the agenda of governments or corporations. This independence is rare in our modern world where everything is connected and everyone has a hand in every affair, but being an autonomous organization has allowed our volunteers to help the community in ways that others cannot particularly now with the unending migrant crises across the world. The surge in migrants crossing Europe to safe passage has filled news coverage in recent weeks, but often the ongoing situation on with our own border is ignored altogether.

In the summer of 2014 there was a swell of unaccompanied children from Central America and Mexico that crossed the border in hopes of a more promising future. These were not children that were sent across the border for superficial opportunities; they were sent to escape a world of drugs and gang-violence that has ravaged many communities throughout Central America. It was painful to see how the plight of these children and mothers has been portrayed across much of the country, and while their stories don’t engulf our news stations currently, these families are still making dangerous journeys across thousands of miles risking everything for a new life.

While we respect the laws of our society, we maintain a dedication to serve communities however possible as long as it is in accordance with the Red Cross principles. For that reason, our Restoring Family Links team in the Central and South Texas region developed a new program to provide guidance and assistance to migrant families who still need our help today.

As mothers and their children are released from detention centers operated by local Department of Homeland Security offices, they are transported to local bus stations and airports to take the next step in their journey to travel to their receiving family members. There are over 100 individuals a day who are released from the various detention centers in our region, and our volunteers have worked tirelessly to answer the call for help.

American Red Cross volunteers have made themselves available at the local Greyhound bus station to provide guidance to families in coordinating their travel as well as providing the families an opportunity to reach out to their families back in their country of origin through international-enabled cellphones. Since being detained, the mothers and children have only seen the inside of various detention centers, and now a busy bus station in downtown San Antonio, Texas that is not in the safest part of town. More than anything, our volunteers have gone in with a friendly face and a trusted brand to help them with this next step in their journey.

In less than a month that we have launched our program, our volunteers have interacted with more than 425 mothers and children. We have provided over 100 calls both domestically and internationally letting their loved ones know where in their travels they are and that they are safe.

Maintaining our independence is essential in our ability to serve and aid the community as needed. Because the American Red Cross was founded with the purpose of being there in times of need, operating in accordance to our own values rather than those of government agencies or other corporations allows us to do our job and remain a trusted and dedicated humanitarian organization.