After Mass Releases, Central American Asylum Seekers Are Left to Find Relief in Bus Stations

Nov 29, 2018
12:57 PM

José, a 21-year-old Salvadoran migrant, stands next to a Honduran and Guatemalan family while waiting to board their bus. (Aarón Sánchez Guerra/Latino Rebels)

CHARLOTTE, NC — In the month following mass releases of asylum-seeking Central American migrant families from immigration detention facilities in Texas, thousands have been left to travel up north by bus for days to stay with family while handling their immigration cases in court.

Grassroots organizations across the South have responded to the mass number of families and individuals traveling by bus through providing moments of relief for them at Greyhound bus stations.

The reported mass release took form in the days leading up to the midterm elections late October through a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy, which RAICES tweeted as an alert to the public.

“What is not common or usual is that ICE has been releasing these families without notifying any of the organizations in Texas that usually provide shelter or some type of support to migrant families,” Nayeli Pérez-Huerta, co-director of the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network, told Latino Rebels.

ICE’s recent policy has driven nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations into a frenzy to care for recently released migrant families in cities like El Paso by means of providing care at Greyhound stations, as reported by Borderzine.

The migrant aid effort in Charlotte, North Carolina, has been led by grassroots organizations Southeast Asian Coalition and Comunidad Colectiva.

Youth volunteers at the Southeast Asian Coalition office in Charlotte prepare bags of food and supplies to be picked up by volunteers that night to take to the bus station. (Aarón Sánchez Guerra/Latino Rebels)

Volunteers have served as relief for migrants who have been traveling without food or money and were unprepared for the cold temperatures that had yet to arrive in the warm climate of the Texas border.

Other Cities Too

Pérez-Huerta says that efforts at bus stations are ongoing across Tennessee cities, with 100 to 150 people a day showing up at the Memphis, Tennessee bus station. She has helped to coordinate aid actions in Roanoke and Richmond, Virginia, and is working to extend efforts to Alabama and Mississippi.

“There’s a lot of concern with what’s going to happen with the asylum petition of the families being released,” she added. “There’s fear that families have been given wrong information in regards to the places where they have to check in with ICE.”

She believes that ICE has possibly been working proactively to “make room” for families who are part of the migrant caravan currently at the border waiting to request asylum.

Aid in Charlotte

On their way up to states along the East Coast all the way to New York, migrants have received aid in Charlotte, including clothing for the cold, tote bags full of food and water, feminine hygiene products and over the counter medicine. Diapers and baby formula have been provided for traveling mothers.

A table set up by SEAC and Comunidad Colectiva volunteers of food and supplies for a delayed bus coming overnight from Texas on a Friday evening. (Aarón Sánchez Guerra/Latino Rebels)

Comunidad Colectiva and SEAC have helped raise $4,000 to provide the arriving families with money for the necessities they will have in the days left to go on their trips.

“Thankfully, most of the families are going up north where the courts are more sympathetic toward immigrants because Charlotte has one of the worst courts for that,” said Stefanía Arteaga of Comunidad Colectiva, who has been coordinating volunteer shifts and clothing and money donations. “So, I do let them know they’re going to a good place.”

Volunteers in hustle to attend to migrant families who have just arrived to the Charlotte Greyhound station in need of clothing or the cold weather on their trips. (Aarón Sánchez Guerra/Latino Rebels)

A calculation of data from the Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse shows that the average asylum approval rate for the three immigration judges in Charlotte is roughly below 19 percent, putting it on par with courts with the lowest asylum approval rates from fiscal years 2012 through 2017.

Buses with migrants in need were stopping daily at this Greyhound station without any assistance until Pérez-Huerta received word of their appearance in early November and contacted the North Carolina grassroots immigrant rights organizations to spring into action.

Families in the moments before boarding on the bus of receive Spanish interpretation from a volunteer before boarding. (Aarón Sánchez Guerra/Latino Rebels)

“It has been hard because I’m coming with my daughter, so in the sense of hunger and walking a lot, the trip is hard, it costs a lot,” said Katya, a 24-year-old mother from El Salvador, speaking while in line for her bus. She says that she received some aid at a bus stop in New Orleans. “At times, we’ve been lacking in food and a coat. We came without money and they have helped us a lot.”

Rony, a 42-year-old migrant from Honduras on his way north to meet his son he has not seen in four years, was relieved to find aid after being in detention for close to two months in Houston. “Until now, thanks to God, we’re free from that detention. This has been worth it,” he said. “But we’ve come here without food or money on that bus and thank God that here there was something to eat since my stomach is full now and I feel great.”

Stefanía Arteaga speaks to migrant families who have traveled for over a day about how to best handle their ICE check-ins once they arrive at their destinations. (Aarón Sánchez Guerra/Latino Rebels)

Aboard on a bus that stopped at the station with migrant families was Michael, a Costa Rican tourist who had joined them in Texas on their trip.

“That’s badly thought out,” he said about the negative climate surrounding migrants in the political arena. “You can see that they are good people. At the very least, those whom I have met don’t come with bad intentions and seek dialogue and work.”

Families from Guatemala and Honduras gather for a photo while waiting for their bus to depart. (Aarón Sánchez Guerra/Latino Rebels)

Since the grassroots effort began in the middle of November, approximately 50 volunteer shifts have been carried out and over 500 migrants have received aid while stopping by North Carolina, and the shifts will likely continue as the releases at the border will likely continue.


Aarón Sánchez Guerra is an early stage bilingual, bicultural freelance journalist and recent graduate of North Carolina State University with a B.A in English and a minor in journalism. His work spearheaded Latino coverage at his university’s paper and there he developed an interest in long form, narrative journalism. His writing is focused on migration, farmworker advocacy, international affairs, critical theory and zine storytelling. A native of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and the state of Tamaulipas in Mexico, he hopes to talk about experiences from that borderland region in future work in print and radio.