It has been a remarkably interesting three months from the fourth floor at the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana. The virus has not disappeared, and to be honest, I doubt that it ever will. So, the question on everyone’s mind is, “How do we move forward?” Well a few things are certain: 1) You need to wear a mask; 2) You need to stay six feet from people you do not live with; 3) You need to wash your hands very often. It seems to be a rather simple roadmap to success, but for some reason, a lot of people do not get it.
Meanwhile, after almost five months confined to the fourth floor, with an occasional trip to the US Post Office, I came to the conclusion that I cannot stay on the fourth floor forever and we cannot keep the Casa closed indefinitely. Therefore, I began to meet with some team members. We concluded that we must learn how to live with the virus because it is not disappearing anytime soon.
We had to learn to adapt our lives to the new normal and take some small baby steps in opening the Casa to new migrants. There was no other option. So, I had to cut my hair, trim my beard, wash my hands profusely, apply hand sanitizer, secure my mask and venture to the first floor on a more regular basis in order to take my rightful place in my first-floor office.
The first thing I discovered is that my first-floor office has been converted into a storage area for all the new cleaning supplies that we need because of the pandemic. I must admit, just being surrounded by latex gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, and lots of cleaning supplies made me feel just a little invincible. It also helped to have a nice sturdy plexiglass shield between myself and anyone who wanted to talk to me. Yes, I was ready to begin planning for our grand reopening. Let me share with you what we have been doing to safely reopen our doors.
For all these months I have been supported by a wonderful team of five volunteers from five countries. They have been very devoted in the service to the 25 migrants who remained with us during this time. I am not sure what I would have done without them because only a small group of staff remained on the job during this time working only 3 days a week.
Our first step in the process of giving life to the new normal happened on June 1st when we brought back most of the team on a staggered schedule, working 3 days a week for 5 hours a day. After about two weeks of that kind of schedule we brought them back five days a week for 5 hours a day. In addition, we have three vulnerable staff members who have yet to be brought back to work. We are hopeful that, in August, we may integrate them into the team and bring back the team on a full-time status.
The second step was to send out to work all the migrants who had been cooped up in the Casa. We have our own employment office here and its director eventually found work for every single person who stayed at the Casa during those three-plus months. We were very careful about where we placed the workers to make sure they were working in as safe environments as possible. We also implemented a strict regimen they would follow every evening when they came back from work. We have completed one month of this second step, and things seem to be working out quite well. In fact, people are now taking the next step in their lives and renting their own apartments. This is another good step in returning to the new normal.
The third step in our grand reopening has been the process of slowly accepting new migrants. About two weeks ago, in consultation with our staff doctor who works three days per week, we began the process of accepting new guests. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we accept three to five people. This takes place when the staff doctor is on duty so that he can review each case and see if they are healthy enough to enter. We can send migrants that exhibit health problems to another facility where they will receive excellent care. One additional piece to this puzzle is the development of what is called the “Filter Hotel,” which is literally a hotel where people can be quarantined for 14 days before being sent to one of the casas for migrants. We have already received people from the Filter Hotel and that is working quite well. Let me finally say that at this moment we are not accepting any deportees because the Mexican government has opened a mega-shelter for 3,000 people. We are almost 100 percent sure that the US government is financing this shelter as part of its ongoing effort to keep unwanted immigrants and refugees in Mexico. It is sad to say, but the Mexican government offers no financial assistance to any of the houses for migrants, so we are left to fend for ourselves.
So, this is how I have come to see things from the first floor after spending the better part of four months with my view from the fourth floor. It is good to be downstairs and resume a more active role in the life of the Casa. We are living day by day and taking baby steps in resuming life in the new normal. Many people ask me: Father, what do you need at the Casa? Obviously, we have a multitude of needs, but I will focus on the big three:
- Financial support – I am happy to say that a good number of people have continued to support us in so many ways during this pandemic time. However, during the last 4 months, I have been limited in terms of going out and giving talks about the Casa and, as a result, our overall income has taken a big hit. We decided early on that we wanted to keep paying the staff and the only way to do that was by dipping into our savings. We will survive and still be able to help migrants and refugees who arrive at our door. However, we ask those who can help to step up to the plate and make a check out to Casa del Migrante. Please do not forget that no check is too small. If you need more information on how you can donate to the Casa, please send us an e-mail at [email protected]
- The Holy Grail – At this moment, the Holy Grail of the pandemic is Lysol Wipes (or any other brand). No one seems to be able to find them and so I invite you to search for the Holy Grail of pandemic cleaning and send us whatever you can find. I am convinced that they are out there and that the friends of the Casa will be able to find some for us. If you find some, please send us an e-mail and we will tell you how to send them to us.
- Volunteers – The Casa has been blessed with five wonderful volunteers. However, gradually over the next 6 weeks, all of them will be returning home. We are now accepting applications for new volunteers to start their experience in August. We are in need of four internal volunteers (full time living in the Casa). Let me assure you that it will be the experience of a lifetime and you will never forget your time at the Casa. We usually ask for a commitment for six to nine months, but because these are such special times, we would be willing to accept people for three months. If you are between the ages of 20 and 25, and think you might want to serve, please send us an email at [email protected] and we will be happy to offer you some more information about our program. This could be a golden opportunity for those who are not sure if they want to go back to school at this moment in their lives.
In 2020, the Casa celebrated its 33rd anniversary. I am happy to say that during this time we have offered hospitality to over 260,000 people. I am sure that with God’s assistance, and just a little help from our friends, we will continue to serve migrants and refugees for many years to come. In the meantime, let us keep each other in prayer, wear our masks, keep six feet away from each other and wash our hands very often.