A group of CJP supporters and partners went on a volunteer mission to San Antonio, Texas, where we spent two sweltering days volunteering and learning more about how the CJP Fund to Aid Children and End Separation (FACES) will help asylum seekers by providing legal assistance, social workers to act as family reunification specialists to help find the parents of separated children, and trauma specialists to support children experiencing extreme distress.

My emotions didn’t hit me until I boarded the plane home from San Antonio. Until then, I was able to intellectualize the experience we had undertaken. I had spoken about process and logistics, I facilitated conversations, studied texts from several faith traditions and discussed the complicated intersection between voyeurism and firsthand experiential learning that service trips lead to.

In San Antonio, I slept at night without seeing the faces of the people I’d just met. But when I closed my eyes on that plane ride home, I saw once again the faces of the children. I had held hands to comfort a young woman who was a newly arrived refugee. She wore an ankle monitor as she nursed her baby. One day later, as I sat on the plane, my arms aching from hours spent filling backpacks with basic needs and toys for the little ones, I could still feel her hand in mine.

It turns out the easier part of this experience was being there—being present and witnessing this unconscionable scenario. The hardest part was leaving weighed down with the first-hand knowledge of these devastating circumstances, knowing that we have a responsibility to try to repair what is broken.


Only a month ago, we launched CJP’s Fund to Aid Children and End Separation (FACES), which miraculously raised more than $200,000 from 481 donors in a matter of weeks.

We vetted more than 40 organizations and chose three grant recipients that are making an immediate impact: the Young Center, the Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC) and Catholic Charities.

The organizations were beyond grateful for the funds. However, they also wanted us to be present with them, to help make use of the funds and bring their stories home.

Within two weeks, 29 people from Boston arranged to travel to Texas, a response I could hardly believe. They didn’t know what to expect, but they knew they wanted to “show up.”

Lawyers from The Young Center share immigration stories with mission participants. (Photo: Craig Byer/CJP)
Lawyers from the Young Center (Photo: Craig Byer/CJP)

As soon as we arrived, we met with lawyers and advocates from the Young Center and learned about the complicated legal cases they specialize in, including representing parents who unknowingly signed away their rights to a hearing and have been deported without their children. We heard that their youngest client is an 11-week-old baby who was separated from her parents. We cried together, and we gave thanks to these professionals for dedicating their lives to these children long before we showed up.

We traveled to an El Salvadorian church in San Antonio. The doors were propped open because there is no air conditioning to combat the 100-degree heat. There we met with the IWC, an entirely volunteer-led organization that supports migrants who are passing through or being housed in San Antonio.

The IWC focuses their work on the Greyhound bus station downtown where dozens of migrants arrive each day, dropped off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. Most have been stripped of all their possessions and arrive only with instructions—written in English—on how to board a bus in America.

Mission participants come together at the Greyhound bus station in San Antonio. (Photo: Craig Byer/CJP)
Mission participants come together at the Greyhound bus station in San Antonio (Photo: Craig Byer/CJP)

At the church, we packed hundreds of backpacks with teddy bears, coloring books, snacks, water and warm blankets. The tireless local volunteers spoke candidly about how their faith drives them to let refugees know that America cares about them. One woman, a devout Protestant, told me she no longer publicly calls herself a Christian because she feels the word has been co-opted by people who do not share her fundamental beliefs about treating everyone with compassion and dignity. Another woman, Sister Denise, detailed the violence that many migrants are facing and reminded us that the family detention centers are run by for-profit companies.

(Photo: Craig Byer/CJP)
(Photo: Craig Byer/CJP)

We knew the backpacks were important. But we hadn’t felt it yet.

As we walked to the bus station to deliver the backpacks, I resisted every step. What right did we have to enter these people’s lives at this difficult moment? Were we voyeurs, or were we witnesses?

Eventually I went in. I saw the children with the backpacks, using the coloring books, as their parents tried to find a way to pay the cost of moving forward on their journeys. We saw three families with no bus tickets who stayed in the station simply because they feared that if they left, they would face ICE, separation and gangs.

As I passed one woman who was nursing her baby, she grabbed my hand. I sat with her for a moment and learned that she had been told we were “people of faith” and that we were safe.

But then we left, and the families remained. Thank goodness they still have the IWC volunteers and funding from CJP donors.

That night we heard from a local immigration liaison who provided context for the current crisis, helping us understand that the roots of family separation are non-partisan and pre-date the current administration. We also reflected together on text from our two faiths. Rabbi Elyse Winick, CJP’s senior director of learning and engagement, rooted our day in our tradition, and a Methodist minister from the IWC drew parallels between the Old Testament and the New.

The next morning, we returned and packed hundreds of backpacks. But now they were more than just material things—they were what would remain after we left; they were a symbol of our caring, as we bore witness for those in our community who couldn’t be with us.

(Photo: Craig Byer/CJP)
(Photo: Craig Byer/CJP)

Although the people we met in the San Antonio bus station may not remember us, the 29 of us who made the journey from Boston will remember them, and we will raise our voices when they cannot. We made a choice to show them our support face to face, and we are proud to partner with many local organizations, such as the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), JFS of Metrowest, Catholic Charities, Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) and others who continue this fight right here in Boston.

As it turns out, our work is just beginning.

I am so thankful to Jeremy Burton, executive director of JCRC, for joining our trip and reminding us of the important work to be done in Boston. To learn more about the Jewish community’s work on immigration, please come to JCRC’s “From the Border to Boston” event on Aug. 15.

To learn more about FACES, please visit CJP Fund to Aid Children and End Separation. You can make a donation in any amount to the campaign here.