Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 39: Edinburg, TX to San Benito, TX and our stay at La Posada Provedencia

Tuesday, January 31    Edinburg, TX to San Benito, TX    Miles: 43 (1963.5)   Flats:  0 (10)  Elevation: 95 ft - 36 ft

For some reason, when chatting with other cyclists, the topic of rain gear would inevitably come up, and folks were shocked to hear that Eric and I didn't have any.  What is a staple on a touring cyclist's packing list, we decided we didn't need to have because hey, we are going through the desert, right?

Well, we were pretty much right.  On one of our non-riding days in Tijuana, there was a little sprinkle of rain, and we didn't see it again until the Rio Grande Valley.  The day we planned to leave Edinburgh was raining so we postponed a day and instead made some necessary post-trip, job-inquiring phone calls.  

The next day, we crossed our fingers and headed out towards San Benito, and we got a little more drizzle.  We got a bit muddy, but our stuff didn't really get wet so it wasn't a big deal. 

I'm muddy, if you can't tell

We arrived at La Posada Providencia, a house of hospitality for people being released from Immigration custody. The house is run by sisters of Divine Providence and provides short-term housing while the guests contact friends and relatives in other parts of the U.S. with whom they will go live.  Frequently guests just stay overnight, but others spend a few months at the house, and the Sisters do not allow for much idle time. In addition to daily chores to keep the house running, all longer-term guests must attend 4 hours of classes each day that the Sisters and outside volunteers provide.  If the guest does not know English, the Sisters focus on English language acquisition, and if the guest knows English, they may do G.E.D. studying or U.S. History in preparation for the citizenship test the Sisters hope all the guests will have the opportunity to take. 

Each school day at LPP ends with songs
The primary teacher needed to go to an appointment one of the mornings we were at the house, so Eric and I were asked to teach the English classes.  Eric worked one-on-one with a more advanced student and I worked with the four beginners.  Between living with the Teach For American folks and this experience, I respect teachers more than ever, because it is hard. I wish I had had time to plan a good lesson, but it was fun too and my four pupils were eager to learn and very forgiving so that helped a lot.

The guests in the house have been released for a myriad of reasons--perhaps, they won their asylum/immigration case, or they are being released on their own recognizance and will fight their case from outside the detention facility, and/or they are being released on humanitarian parole (this often happens to families, because though the U.S. does have detention facilities for families, they are few (see here)). When we arrived, there were 7-8 male guests, most of whom were Cuban (and therefore eventually must be released), and three others--a Mexican, a Honduran and a Ghanaian--who had won asylum cases. Also, during our stay, a Ecuadorian woman, a Honduran woman, and a Guatemalan woman and her 8-year-old child were released to the house, and each only spent one or two nights, before catching buses to Washington, Connecticut, and New York.

On the date of our arrival, after hosing down our bikes and taking quick showers to wash off the mud, we were given an orientation of the house and then we were set loose to hang out with the guests.  After checking out the beautiful garden complete with several papaya trees, we headed out to the resaca that runs along the edge of the Sisters' property.  Resacas (oxbow lakes) are bodies of water which were originally carved out by the Rio Grande, but when the course of the river changed they essentially became lakes.  They make the Rio Grande Valley really pretty.  One of the Cuban guests loved to fish, so he was out at the resaca every night casting his lines.  Our first night there he caught two big carp which we had the next day at supper--they were pretty tasty!

A guest of LPP fishing in the resaca
We spent three nights at La Posada Provedencia and one of the days we rode into Harlingen. We met with Lisa Brodyaga who has a law firm in the area and operates El Refugio (the refuge) out of her home.  During the 1980's, El Refugio welcomed thousands of refugees and Lisa and her colleagues tried to get it established as a legitimate refugee camp.  Though working with the same population, the founders of El Refugio did not associate themselves with the Sanctuary Movement because the Sanctuary Movement folks openly opposed federal law, but the El Refugio folks believed they were not breaking the law of harboring undocumented people because they were very public and open about it, inviting congresspeople to visit, etc.  El Refugio is still in operation and accepts asylum seekers from all over the world.

We also met briefly with Meredith Linsky, director of the legal organization ProBAR.  ProBAR primarily works within the Port Isabel Detention Center providing legal orientations to new detainees, giving them an idea if they may have a means of relief in immigration court.  ProBAR then will represent detainees when seeking asylum or other recourse, and they do a lot of work for the juveniles detained in the area.

We really enjoyed our time in Harlingen/San Benito, and we are especially grateful to have been invited to stay with the Sisters and guests of La Posada Provedencia. 

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