Houstonians team up to help immigrants released from ICE custody

As immigrant families released from ICE custody pass through Houston, a group of local women are helping them as they head to their final destinations and beyond.

Over the weekend, Dionne Ukleja and volunteers gathered travel essentials in bags to give to more than 100 parents and children at the Greyhound bus terminal downtown.

“We’ve got coloring books for the kids, we’ve got some towels, sanitary products,” said Edna Serrano, a volunteer, as she sifted through some of the bags.

“We knew [Houston was] only a stopping point for the vast majority of these people so we wanted to make sure we could make their travels a little bit easier, safer, kinder,” said Ukleja.

The families were recently released from ICE custody to a sponsoring relative as they go through the asylum process. Some of the families had just been reunited after they were separated at the border under President Trump’s zero tolerance policy.

The volunteers also gave away clothes, shoes, and car seats.

“Because these babies and these children can ride in a bus and an airplane without a car seat but once they hit their destination, you cannot get into a regular car without a car seat,” Ukleja explained. She added they explain to the families that having a child in a car seat is law in the United States.

Over the last few weeks, thousands of children separated from their parents have been reunited. Last Thursday marked a deadline imposed by a federal judge to reunite all children over the age of 5. However, advocates say their work is not finished.

“It’s not over. I mean, these people are traumatized and I feel like as a nation we need to try to do the best we can to make them whole,” said Ruby Powers, an immigration attorney in Houston. She was in the Rio Grande Valley last week to reunited a client with her 7-year-old son.

Powers and Ukleja also created the website AyudaFamilias.org to pull together resources from across the country to help the families as they go through asylum process.

This week, Ally Fitzpatrick, a volunteer, is inputting the information of the families they met over the weekend. Then she’ll send out it to the list of advocates. She says the first ask is for immigration attorneys.

“Just so that they have legal representation in the city where they are going,” Fitzpatrick explained.

The network also hopes to connect immigrants to other resources such as mental health specialists, doctors, and transportation. Ukleja says they’re looking for volunteers who can serve as cultural guides for the families as they adjust to their new lives in the United States.

The women say they plan to return to the Greyhound bus terminal downtown this weekend.