Ludgeda and Jean Felix sprang into action at precisely the right time. Leaving their Temple, Texas, home 145 miles northwest of San Antonio, they arrived at a Del Rio gas station Tuesday evening in a rented passenger van, just before Border Patrol dropped off more than 20 Haitian asylum seekers.
It was after 9 p.m. that evening when the family pulled out of the parking lot. Between the rented van and the family SUV, they transported 22 people who had been waiting at the gas station for varying amounts of time, driving them more than 150 miles to a San Antonio hotel, Ludgeda Felix said.
The migrants that the Felix family transported on Sept. 21 did not have plane or bus tickets out of Del Rio, like some others did.
“Those people, we were able to bring them with us to San Antonio,” said Ludgeda, a merchandising professional. “We were being the middlemen, helping them out, making sure they were not wondering. If they did not have a cell phone to call [relatives] we provided them with a cell phone to make phone calls.”
The 22 migrants divided themselves between seven hotel rooms. On Wednesday morning, the family awoke before 5 a.m., lending their cell phones to migrants who needed to call relatives for help purchasing plane tickets. Each migrant would then share a screenshot of their flight ticket, once it was purchased, Ludgeda said.
“Whenever they had their tickets, then we took them to the airport,” said Jean Felix, her husband, who works in transportation. “Since they needed help here, I feel so good to be able to come and give the few hours that I’m giving right now.”
Just last week, the Felix family never imagined they would be taking two cars to Del Rio with their son, a young adult, who shared driving duties. But when Ludgeda tuned into the Youtube channel Moun Afe Bon on Monday morning, she heard about the need for volunteers to help fellow Haitians who were released into the United States, after spending time in a camp near the U.S.-Mexico border.
After contacting a phone number shared on the show, she got help paying for expenses, like the two-day van rental, Ludgeda said.
On their second and final day in Del Rio, the Felix family did not spend most of their time at the gas station, where they picked up nearly two dozen migrants on Tuesday. They went to the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition’s center, at 1401 Las Vacas St.. The scene on Sept. 22 was completely different than the prior day.
This time, there was no consternation in the parking lot, no agitated group meetings with volunteers trying to figure out last-minute accommodations. In an orderly manner, more than 30 asylum seekers boarded a coach bus, which other volunteers on site said was bound for a Houston shelter.
Throughout the day, Border Patrol dropped off more than 260 people. Once at the center, the Val Verde coalition provided food and water. Mothers received baby supplies. Throughout the day, they left on three chartered coach busses, bound for shelters further north, where they could live temporarily while getting in touch with family, said volunteer Cindy Basquez, as the last migrants departed for the day.
After immigration processing, U.S. Border Patrol coordinates drop-offs of asylum seekers with the Val Verde coalition. But the agency did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking further comment on why the drop-off point was apparently changed, from the gas station.
North Miami Vice Mayor Alix Desulme had spent time with the Felix family and Val Verde volunteers on Tuesday, helping to coordinate transportation. He was critical of the lack of coordination but said the Val Verde coalition had reached out to Texas shelters for help.
“I was told this morning that they would do otherwise,” said Desulme, in an interview Wednesday night. “I was told they would definitely get folks to Houston on the big busses.”
As she watched Haitian migrants pile onto the coach bus Wednesday evening, Ludgeda said her family was ready to transport more people to San Antonio, if necessary.
But she acknowledged, with a sense of relief, that her services might not be needed. “It’s a lot more organized today,” Ludgeda said.
After all, their work the previous day did not come easy. The process was overwhelming, but also rewarding, she said.
“We told them [to] ‘call your family members right now, to make sure they know that you are going somewhere safe with us,’” Ludgeda said. “I met a lot of new people, and I have new friends now.”
On Wednesday night, the Felix family was driving back toward San Antonio, this time without Haitian migrants in their vehicles, Ludgeda said. For now their service in Del Rio is over, but they feel satisfied to have provided a critical service while there.
“Because [Tuesday night] when we got to the bus station, I felt frustrated, it was humiliating to see these people just sitting there,” said Jean Felix. “If we didn’t have all these good volunteers, I don’t know how it would have been.”