HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — A trio of bilingual college professors is spending the Memorial Day holiday weekend helping asylum-seeking migrants south of the border.
Border Report met up with them Friday as they prepared to cross into Mexico where they were distributing eyeglasses and offering counseling and education information to families, as part of their South-Carolina-based nonprofit called Education Ilimitada, which means unlimited education.
“We are here to do humanitarian work with the migrants in the camps, as well as offer information about their educational rights in the United States, and also try to help get the children prepared for what school will be like whenever they are able to cross the border,” Stephanie Madison, of Clemson University said.
Madison was joined by Mikel Cole, of the University of Houston, and Will McCorkle, of the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
“We’re doing education work here in the shelters and camps, letting people know about their educational rights when they come to the United States. We have reports of schools that will often make it very difficult for parents to enroll their children and parents may not know what their rights are,” said Cole, an associate professor of bilingual and ESL education. “We’ve got flyers for children and fliers for the parents so that they can advocate for themselves when they come to the United States. And then in the United States, we’re working with school districts and schools to help make newcomer admission and take care of their particular needs.”
They were collaborating with Alma Ruth, founder of the South Texas faith-based group Practice Mercy Foundation, who crosses several times a week to minister and help vulnerable populations waiting south of the border while they seek asylum in the United States.
Since Title 42 lifted on May 11, asylum-seekers must follow more restrictive legal pathways to claim asylum in the United States. This includes registering for asylum interviews via the CBP One app, applying for asylum in other countries they first travel, and/or registering for interviews in UN and State Department processing centers being set up throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Those who do not and are caught illegally entering U.S. soil and deported face a 5-year ban on re-entry. As such, thousands are south of the Rio Grande waiting on appointments and legal pathways, which could take months or even years.
“We have three PhDs, beautiful brainy people that are doing beautiful, extraordinary humanitarian work on the ground in the midst of refugee camps on the Mexico side of the border,” Ruth said.
The group went to Matamoros, Mexico, on Friday, and passed out eyeglasses and counseled families.
On Saturday they were scheduled to visit Reynosa, across from Hidalgo, Texas.
They were planning to flip-flop back and forth across the border the entire holiday weekend.
“We are in these camps, where we see folks being resilient, and building community where there is none, and finding a way to take care of themselves, their families and each other in a space that was not intended for them,” said Cole, who visits the Rio Grande Valley border about twice a year.
This was Madison’s second trip to the South Texas border. She taught Spanish for 10 years and now is a project manager for Clemon’s College of Education.
She says she wants to give back with the skills she has.
“I just feel like I have been given so many opportunities and just layers of resources — as an educator, as someone who works for a large university, as someone who is able to speak Spanish,” Madison said. “It’s what I prefer to do with my time.”
The trio has been helping at a detention center in Georgia, but say every time they come to the border it’s they who get educated.
“It’s a perfect weekend to remember that the United States has always been a country of immigrants and immigration,” Cole said.