AGUA PRIETA — In a sweltering, tunnel-like tent crammed with sleeping bags, 20 people wait patiently for their turn to enter the U.S. so they can seek asylum.
They are from different countries — Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, even Russia. Some have been in this dismal tent propped up against a concrete wall for more than two weeks, their children hot and hungry and often times with no place to even go the the bathroom.
Tuesday afternoon, the migrants — fleeing their nations for various reasons — were relieved to see a handful of volunteers traveling from St. Stephen Episcopal Church in Douglas. The church group came equipped with peanut butter and jelly and bologna and cheese sandwiches, water and treats for the individuals jammed in the faded blue tent that had been erected by other volunteers.
The Rev. Rosa Brown of St. Stephen and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bisbee said the church made a commitment to bring food to the people waiting at “the line.” St. Stephen brings food and water on the second and last Tuesdays of the month, and another church in Douglas does the same on the first and third Tuesdays. The effort on Tuesday morning was the second time St. Stephen volunteers had traveled to feed the migrants in the tent, Brown said.
In an airy kitchen behind the church, volunteers Elsa Hernandez and Rosa Hilda Lamprcht labored as they spread butter on white bread for the ham and bologna offerings. The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were nearby, neatly wrapped.
“Right now, those 20 are right at the border on the Mexico side. They’re waiting for their interview to apply for asylum,” Brown said. “In the meantime, they have to wait there until they’re called to be interviewed and then they’re taken to Tucson.”
St. Stephen senior warden Dennis Smith said the tent where the migrants are waiting is “just enough so they can actually sit in it.” But the tent is not tall enough to stand in and sleeping bags are stretched out in a long row.
Volunteer Lamprcht lives in McNeal, but said she drives to St. Stephen to take food to the border because she feels it’s her duty. Lamprcht was born in Agua Prieta and still has family there.
“I think we owe this to humanity,” Lamprcht said when asked why she volunteers in the St. Stephen effort. “We need to do our deed for vulnerable people who don’t have anything else, or nobody else.”
Lamprcht uttered a saying in Spanish that roughly translates to: “If you can’t serve, why live?”
Hernandez, also a native of Agua Prieta, said she volunteers because she, too, wants to help her fellow man.
One of those she helped on Tuesday was 20-year-old Rosa from Nicaragua. The young woman did not want to give her last name for fear of reprisal in her home country. She has no relatives in the U.S., but hopes to get a job so she can give her 4-year-old son, Romeo, a better life. She left Nicaragua a month and a half ago and has been living in the tent with her child for two weeks.
“This is not comfortable,” she said with a bitter laugh. “You can’t sleep. Last night we got wet. We are hungry. There is no place to go to the bathroom.”
Rosa said she and others in the tent are in need of toys for the children, insect repellant, more tarps for cover, diapers and water, among other items.
“There are a lot of insects here,” Rosa said.
A few feet from Rosa was 35-year-old Anton Bilenko. He said he left Russia because he was being sought by authorities. He does not agree with the politics there and said he feared he would be thrown in prison. Like Rosa, he and his family have been on the move for the last month; he has 2-year-old and 9-year-old sons. They have been living in the same tent for two weeks, as well.
“We hope we can live together and be free, that’s all,” Bilenko said when asked what he hopes for in the U.S.
He says he learned English by watching old American movies on TV. He repeats the oft-quoted Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Hasta la vista, baby,” line.
Volunteer Kathleen Day-Kain smiled at Bilenko. The retired teacher who lives outside the Chiricahua Mountains said she does not attend St. Stephen Episcopal Church, but heard about the feeding commitment from a friend.
“I told her, ‘I have to be down at that border, I can’t just watch this on TV and not do anything,’ “ Day-Kain said. “These are humans who need help. We all need help. That’s what Christianity is all about. It’s a little hard to witness this. I’m the mother of six and I see these children and there’s no food, it’s hot, it’s miserable and you’re totally uncertain. They’re all victims.”
The St. Stephen feeding commitment will continue indefinitely, Brown said: “We will be there while there is necessity. We are committed while the situation continues.”