An Update on Rosa and her Family
March 5, 2019
From Rev. Lissa Gundlach, Senior Minister
On November 1st activist and storyteller Paola Mendoza traveled to Mexico to document the stories of the people in the Central American caravan. One of the first people she met on the caravan was Rosa. She was amazed at her strength as she fled domestic abuse and gang violence in Honduras. But it was her bravery to join the caravan alone with her four kids that was truly inspiring. Her children are Allison (10), Kimberly (5), Jeison (3), and Stiven(8 months.) Out of the 7,000 refugees in the caravan, Rosa was not supposed to be the one to make it to the United States to begin her asylum process. A single mother of four children under 10 was not supposed to be able to walk 2,500 miles. She tied her children to her body at night so that traffickers would not steal them. Her five-year-old daughter once wandered off and got lost in the caravan for several days. Her four month old baby got so sick he ended up in the hospital for three days but even this huge setback would not stop this determined woman. Somehow Rosa accomplished the impossible and made it to Tijuana.
After she crossed over the border, Rosa spent many days in a detention center where she found the most horrific conditions of the entire journey. Without family in the United States, she could have been permanently detained had our fates not crossed. Over the fall months, I followed Paola Mendoza on social media and was so moved by her stories of the caravan. Knowing our congregation was eager to help, I became involved with local organizing efforts at the border. I reached out to Sandra Cordero, Director of Families Belong Together to see how our congregation could help. She suggested two ideas for our congregation: one—a shoe drive for the Tijuana encampments, which would provide sturdy shoes and warm socks for asylum seekers who had walked hundreds of miles in only flimsy flip flops. The second ask was a big and brave one, but she asked it nonetheless: to sponsor an asylum-seeking family who did not have any family ties in the United States. I knew that we would embrace the first ask, and immediately got the congregation on the case. The second ask was more complicated, so I began to talk with our board and members about the possibility of sponsorship.
Over the holidays we collected more than 1,000 pairs of shoes, delivered to Tijuana by the Ambos art collective. A few weeks after talking with Sandra, I got a call from a border patrol agent in Pine Valley, California asking me if I knew Rosa. At that moment, I knew that if I said no, Rosa and her family would remain in the inhumane detention conditions and potentially be permanently separated by our administration’s harsh immigration policies. I knew that I had to say yes. And so I did. With that simple word “yes,” I agreed to personally sponsor her asylum-seeking process, providing housing, transportation, food and living expenses for a six month period. With our congregation’s huge heart, good will, and resources, I knew that we could help this family together.
On December 16th, Mark Lane of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation delivered Rosa and her four children to our campus, just days before the cruel “turnaround” policy was informally put in place requiring asylum seekers like Rosa to languish in camps on the other side of the border. Our congregation warmly welcomed Rosa and her family with a festive Christmas party, providing beautiful gifts for the children. It was an unforgettable Christmas both for Rosa and for the congregation. An outpouring of love from the church and the larger community flooded our campus in the form of donations of clothing, food, money and supplies. Many people from the church generously donated to the Minister’s Discretionary Fund, which raised more than $3,400. Our resources combined with a gofund me campaign started by Paola Mendoza raised over $25,000 to support the family’s first months in the United States. This money is being administered to Rosa and her family by the church to support their housing, food, medical, transportation, legal and other needs. Donations are still being accepted, to the gofundme and directly to church through the Minister’s Discretionary Fund.
The powerful care from our church and community have made Rosa and her family feel incredibly loved and welcomed as they make the huge adjustment to life in California. The biggest challenge has been finding permanent housing. When Rosa and her family first arrived, they stayed with member Mae Gentry in Burbank, then with Poukhan and Ryan Anthony in Eagle Rock. We then moved them to an Airbnb in Pasadena to begin school, and now they are living temporarily with a member in East Pasadena. We are seeking long-term housing around Madison Elementary school where the girls are now enrolled in kindergarten and fourth grade. Any personal leads would be extremely helpful, as it has proved impossible to follow traditional paths to housing. With housing and transportation settled, Rosa can then enroll the two younger children in early education programs at Madison as well. Her goal is to be more self-sufficient with transportation and moving freely around Pasadena, to learn English, and to pursue available work options.
With wonderful teachers and support from the Office of Families in Transition at Madison Elementary School, Kimberly and Allison are starting to learn English and now love playing with their friends at school like any other children. Justice and Inclusion Coordinator Luis Sierra Campos has been instrumental in organizing and coordinating daily details and has connected with the Central American community group, Caracen. Our members Ellen Rosenblatt, Linda Doran, Joe Welker, Suzanne Smith and friend of the church Kyra Nolte have been helping with rides to and from school every day. Medical care is being generously provided by the free clinics at Young and Healthy. Mirna Peterson, Rossy Esguire, and her daughter, Kimberly Marcella, have helped with grocery shopping, medical and immigration appointments. Teens Ava Schechtman and her friend Taylor helped with babysitting and thrift shopping. Member Karen Anderson has been extremely generous in helping connect them to services at the school. Karen and her husband Scott O’Connor and son Oscar helped immensely with their many moves, as have Richard and Sherrie Coombs, Poukhan Anthony, Julian Juarez and Kieran Hayden.
Rosa must wear an ankle bracelet at all times and has monthly immigration check-ins downtown. Through torrential rains our members have delivered her successfully to every appointment and she is working through the process. Her case is being handled by the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. Her big asylum interview is coming up on March 20th. While Rosa’s asylum case is very strong, the reality is that United States grants asylum to a very lucky few.
As you can see, this is truly a village effort! As Rosa navigates this uncertain process our staff and congregation has been helping to make life a little more comfortable for her and her family. Area congregations All Saints Church and First Congregational Church of Pasadena have also pledged resources and people power. Our member Suzanne Smith will be helping to organize the support needed for Rosa’s next few months. Please reach out to Suzanne with interest in helping or sign up online here. We invite you to think about a piece of sponsorship that feels appropriate to you- rides to school or family outings, or helping Rosa grocery shop or run errands. Spanish is helpful but not required. The children are growing fast with a proper diet and Gift cards to Target or other stores are always appreciated to help them stay outfitted. We have established an amazon wishlist for the family which will be updated with needs: https://amzn.to/2TGXO4B. Due to space limitations at their current location, donations of toys, clothes, or furniture are not requested at this time.
Our government’s cruel response to the humanitarian crisis at the border has been heartbreaking. Every day, we hear news of families still being separated. We know there are thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers struggling to settle in the United States every day. But through our sponsorship of Rosa and her family, I am so proud that our congregation has this opportunity to offer a radically different response, rooted in our values of compassion, hospitality, and love of our neighbors. We know that love has no borders, and we are truly letting our hearts lead.