|BROWNSVILLE, June 10 - Last Sunday afternoon, while I was fooling around in the side yard of our westside Brownsville home, a thin young man walked up the driveway.
He peered out at me from beneath a Georgia Bulldogs cap, and then quietly said, “¿Habrá algún trabajito por acá?”
He looked down at the ground for a moment, but then looked up and said, “I don’t really need a job, I need some help. My wife and my cousin and I just crossed over from Mexico and we don’t know where to go next. Could you give me some advice?”
We spoke for a while. He told me that his name was José, that he was from Ciudad Mante , but that he had worked for about ten years in Atlanta before being caught and deported. There was no work in Mante, so he had decided to try and get back to Atlanta. That morning, a group of about thirty immigrants had crossed the river, climbed the border wall and then had been chased by the Border Patrol. “Our group scattered, but my wife and my cousin and I were lucky; we got away, and we managed to stay together. But now we don’t know what to do. I left them to see if I could figure something out.”
We drove to the apartment complex where he had left his wife and his cousin. To his consternation, they weren’t to be found. A neighbor told him that they had gotten nervous and had gone looking for José. We searched the neighborhood for a while, but there was no sign of them.
I took him back to the apartment complex and encouraged him to wait for them there. I gave him a little bit of money and told him that if they did show up, that the three of them should take a taxi to a shelter on the other side of town. “There you will find a lot of people who will know what options you might have,” I said, shaking his hand, and wishing him well.
Later on, the same day, we had a small party at our home with some people from up the Valley. A couple of the men hadn’t been to this part of Brownsville and wondered what it was like to live so close to the river. “Does the border wall really work?” one of them asked me, and I told him that there were few barriers that stopped hungry people from searching for food. One of them gave me the, “Oh, so now we are going to get a sermon” look, so I obliged.
“A young fellow came up to the house just this afternoon,” I told them, “He and his wife and a cousin had just crossed over.”
The men leaned in, and one of them asked me, “So what did you do?”
“Well,” I said, “I gave him a ride and some money.”
The three men then stepped back from me. I felt like I was in some kind of country line dance routine.
“Isn’t that illegal? Couldn’t you get your car impounded for giving a ride to aliens?”
I told him that I didn’t think that anyone would want to impound my poor car, but that in any case I was more annoyed that I couldn’t have been more help for the guy.
“Imagine coming all this way, somehow getting past the narco gangs, escaping the border patrol—and then losing your wife?”
The subject was abruptly changed, the men focusing in on whether or not Mexico would release water into the Texas reservoirs. One of the men’s wives came up to me. She said quietly, “I hope that he finds his family.”
I thanked her, squeezing her hand because I couldn’t speak the thought that was crushing my heart, that he had in fact lost his family.
Michael Seifert is a community organizer in Brownsville, Texas. The above op-ed first appeared in his blog, http://alongsideaborder.blogspot.com