Bay Area women recall visit to respite center in Texas

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Saturday, July 28, 2018
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After they are reunited and leave a detention center, most of the families who have crossed the U.S. Mexico spend a very short time at a respite center.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Although 711 migrant children are still separated from their families in government shelters, 1,800 other children have been reunited with their parents or their sponsors. President Donald Trump's administration calls this a success. Following those reunions, most families go to a respite center as their cases are reviewed and continued. ABC7's Lyanne Melendez spoke with local volunteers at one of those centers.

Lia Turk and Lilian Pena's destination was the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. It was a journey that they will never forget.

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"They were just so grateful for even getting a shower. Many hadn't showered in days or weeks," said Pena.

Hundreds of people a day go through the respite center. There they are fed and besides having that shower, they sleep in mats on the floor.

"Their wish for a better life for their kids, especially, it's all about the kids in most cases, any parent wants that," said Turk, who is a member of a San Mateo group called the "McAllen 12" which recently accompanied Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-Calif., to McAllen where they donated goods to people inside a detention center.

She explained that when they leave there, they must wear an ankle bracelet which acts as a tracking device.

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"They are really dehumanizing because they are battery-run and the have to be recharged every 12 hours for the whole time until their court date," explained Turk.

That could take months or years.

Also joining them was a group of students from USF led by professor Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga.

In fact, they brought with them this banner symbolizing justice and hope and placed it on a border wall. "Five or six or seven of us are behind it, going like this, holding up the banner," said Turk while raising her arms to show how they lifted it.

USF is now considering creating a partnership between the university and the Respite Center in McAllen.

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"Certainly in the stories that are coming out and the stories that I'm hearing, there is a great urgency for us to act," said Shabnam Koirala Azad who is the Dean of the School of Education at USF.

Pena brought back some mementos of her short time there.

"This was a rosary we gave people who wanted a rosary and just this item is a symbol of hope for them and protection," she explained.

Both are feelings that are real for the people they served.

Here are immediate ways you can help the immigrant families in McAllen, Texas:

1. There is a volunteer crew in McAllen who has a deal with a local pizza place, Buck's. Pizzas are $6.50 and feed 4 people (Pizza is normally $10, so it is a nice discount!). You can call into Buck's and order as many pizzas as you would like, pay with your credit card. The pizzas get delivered in time for dinner - they communicate regularly with a volunteer at the respite center.

When you order, mention that this is for the Catholic Charities Respite Center. If they have enough for the day you call, they will add your order to the next day. And it doesn't matter that it's pizza every day because the families only stay for 24 hours. So, please call Buck's Pizza at (956) 581-8611.

2. If you would like to help the cause, visit the Catholic Charities page on the Donations page, choose Donate for a Project, checkmark Make this donation for a Project, then select Humanitarian Respite Center:

3. Families who need housing placement assistance in the San Francisco Bay Area: Julie Chronister, a professor in the counseling department at San Francisco State University works with organizations in Texas that support refugee families. At present, she is working with Hand In Hand to find hosts for Bay Area families. She may be contacted at: Julie Chronister, PhD Professor, Department of Counseling, SFSU,

Follow ABC7 News as we bring you the story of the Crisis at the Border.