As we observe World Refugee Day, Carry the Future wanted to take a moment to describe work that is still being done to serve refugees, despite the current situation with Covid-19. Read on for a description of the important work being done at Casa Alitas.
Once located at a historic monastery, the Casa Alitas shelter in Tucson, Arizona is presently situated adjacent to the juvenile courthouse. During its stay at the monastery, Netflix filmed for the miniseries ”Pandemic.” The work is captured in episodes 2 and 3. Later, the once-monastery was slated to be renovated for commercial housing, so Casa Alitas moved. Their new space in Tucson was built to be a detention center. To date, the only people who have stayed in the rooms and played in the common areas are asylum seekers. The city took the locks off each door and lined pews from the monastery in a common area to welcome asylum seekers with warm soup affectionately nicknamed “sanctuary soup.” The shelter painted the doors a soft lavender. The communal areas in pods were made into play spaces for children with sofas, books, toys, and child-sized tables and chairs. The covered, concrete outdoor exercise space was transformed into a garden. The layout provides privacy for each family and, during busy times, the center bustles with volunteers folding laundry and children playing.
“One day I went to drop off donations and I saw the real need for volunteers,” says Cathy, 65, a lifelong resident of Tucson. One and a half years later, Cathy is still devoted to Casa Alitas and its mission, having spent many hours volunteering, every day and sometimes into the night. When Carry the Future US Team 5 did an exploratory trip to Tucson last December, they met Cathy on their first day. “There is always something you can do. I have enjoyed seeing people reach their destinations and feel the love and comfort offered at Casa Alitas. I will never forget a brother and sister getting separated at the border. I called the Mom to tell her that her daughter was here. I couldn’t tell her that her son didn’t make it. So the daughter took the phone and told her.”
The shuttering of the US borders and, now, Covid-19 has changed the nature of the work at Casa Alitas. The flow of families, their footsteps and voices are mostly absent. The spaces where hot meals were cooked and clean bedding folded are now used to make hundreds of masks for local churches, migrant ministries, and shelters across the border. In May, 2020, Casa Alitas sent 1,000 masks to the Navajo nation. Individuals released from detention are now coming through, one or a few, at a time. “I cook food for the families if I know someone is there,” Cathy says. “This week 5 people were there. A woman who is 65, my age, had spent 20 years living in Maryland. She went back to El Salvador to see her dying mother. Her visa expired. She crossed back into the United States and was sentenced to 5 months detention. After she served her time, she was brought to Casa Alitas where I met her. We connected. She is now in Maryland and has a court date in July. I mailed her the shoes she forgot.”
Though Casa Alitas’ halls are quieter than years past, the staff and volunteers continue to provide outreach to the community and dignity to asylum seekers. “I miss the days when we had 20 people to get to the bus station at midnight, going to 5 different cities and we were scrambling for car space and drivers. I’m still here, though. I will be here.”
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