Why Cuban Refugees?

5/19/16The big question a lot of you are asking when you hear that Cuban refugees are at YLM is, “Why?”

The current surge of Cuban immigrants coming to El Paso from Mexico is much, much larger than normal.  It is a result of poor conditions in Cuba and the prospect of warmed relations between the U.S. and Cuba and a potential U.S. immigration policy change toward Cubans.  Currently, U.S. immigration law greatly facilitates Cubans receiving asylum when they flee Cuba and reach U.S. soil.

The possibility of a change to immigration law spurred people to take the now-or-never leap for a better life by leaving Cuba. Many in this group of 3,500+ immigrants first traveled from Cuba to Ecuador by plane and moved to Panama. THEN Nicaragua closed it’s borders and they were stuck in Panama until their accumulating numbers drove Panama to make a deal with Mexico so they could fly in to Juarez and walk in to El Paso. It’s not the norm to have so many Cubans come to El Paso, more typical is 50 people a month. U.S. Immigration officers receive them at the bridge, process their passport, interview them and conduct background checks.  If all is ok, they are issued an I-94 form that is good for two years and are “paroled” out the door into downtown El Paso.  

FAQ – Are these Cubans “Illegal Immigrants?” Answer:  No. They are “legal immigrants.”  They are in the U.S. after being vetted by Immigration Officials who have released them into El Paso in full accord with U.S. law.

150-300 people have been arriving in El Paso each day since May 10th, and it has been necessary for a lot of good reasons (public order, safety, compassion, God’s love, Christian witness) for YLM to take part in the big effort of offering assistance.  U.S. Federal and Local governments declared they would provide no service or guidance to the Cubans once vetted at the bridge and released into El Paso.  Churches and non-profit organizations like YLM quickly mobilized to address the situation that would otherwise offer ample opportunity for scammers and other ill-intentioned individuals to abuse and stir up tragedy.

Laundry room in the YLM dormitory.
Laundry room in the YLM dormitory.

YLM is an official shelter for the effort.  Newly arrived men and women are first taken to and registered at a primary shelter downtown run by the catholic diocese and when those shelters are full, YLM is called.  YLM’s van (often driven by Rev. Dr. Karl Heimer himself) comes quickly to shuttle people to YLM’s campus even as late (or early depending how you think of it) as 2:30am.   

Because YLM’s facilities and programs are so ready (dormitory, dining hall, food warehouse, thrift store, and vans) and staff so genuinely caring, the Cubans who have already arrived have been very grateful. Upon arrival they are needing food, a bed for sleeping, clothing, and most especially assistance in reserving bus tickets online, which YLM staff facilitates during the day.  After reserving tickets, they often need a ride to Western Union to pickup funds family members in the U.S. have wired and to go pay for their bus ticket.  

 They are asking about our church and asking, “Why are you helping us?” To which we answer, “Because of God’s love for you and because of Jesus…”  Anyone who desires a Bible is able to receive one thanks to a large donations of Bibles/Small Catechisms donated recently by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.

YLM’s staff and volunteers have been providing non-stop care in this situation and are all happily-exhausted. “It’s why we are here,” explained Ann Hernandez (YLM bookkeeper, Mariachi Ministry Manager, and Adelante Program Assistant).  

New refugees are expected to keep arriving every day until about May 25th.  If you have ever considered volunteering at YLM, now is a great time to consider joining our team.  

Donations toward “the greatest need” or to “Cuban Refugee Care” are also very necessary.

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