A Gardiner woman is among hundreds of volunteers headed to the U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana as part of the faith-led, New York City-based Sanctuary Coalition’s effort to assist immigrants fleeing violence in Central America.
Gail Mackinson, a retired attorney, said she has grown frustrated and angry about U.S. immigration policies and the treatment of children and families trying to enter the country. Her history of activism includes nonviolent training during the civil rights movement in the 1960s and gay rights in the 1990s.
This week she’ll be engaging in what she calls “advocacy without confrontation” when she joins the “Sanctuary Caravan.”
“It’s the idea of meeting and greeting all of these people that have traveled thousands of miles in their caravan. And we’re supposed to just help them with being their support, witnessing, hearing their stories and helping them relate their stories. Not speaking for them ever,” she said.
They’ll also be helping immigrants with the asylum process — filling out paperwork, preparing for interviews, accompanying them to the checkpoint and, if necessary, trying to find families to sponsor them after they are admitted into the U.S. But they are not allowed to provide legal advice and their assistance is not intended as a protest.
Mackinson said she has received an outpouring of support to fund her two-week effort, which she had to pay for herself.
“So I did a GoFundMe, which I’d never done before, and people were very responsive. They were like, ‘Thank you for going, for me.’ ‘My grandmother immigrated,’ or, ‘This means a lot to me because I’ve seen people here.’ We even, of course, have a population that migrated to Maine, so people were very passionate about it and it felt very moving to me,” she said.
President Donald Trump has announced he will travel to the border on Thursday, which will mark the 20th day of the partial government shutdown if no agreement is reached between Congress and the White House on border wall funding.
Trump has described what’s happening at the border as “a crisis.” On Monday he reiterated that he will consider declaring a national emergency to get the $5 billion he wants.
Thousands of immigrants seeking asylum have gathered at the border, with just a few applications being approved each day. The Sanctuary Coalition expects to continue its efforts on both sides of the border through the third week of January.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.