BY SAM BOJARSKI AND LEONARDO MARCH
Rodney Rozier walked in the door of the NACC Receiving Center in Houston, one day after driving nearly six hours from Del Rio with his mother Jeanette and other family members.
A technical glitch with the family’s volunteer registration prompted a terse exchange with the office manager. It nearly made Rozier’s 1,100-mile journey from West Palm Beach to help Haitian asylum seekers housed at the Houston shelter all for naught.
“It felt bad because we came from Florida and drove to the border in Del Rio,” said Rozier, a young adult, hours after cramming into the lobby at 9 a.m., with nearly a dozen other eager volunteers. “We were just trying to do what we could to help in any way. We have no agenda.”
Later in the morning, Rozier was allowed in and, along with his family, helped provide money to purchase a plane ticket to Jacksonville for one family. Although the shelter has since stopped accepting volunteers, his efforts complemented those of at least 50 volunteers Saturday at the shelter, located at 16605 Air Center Boulevard. While the shelter is run by NACC, Houston Haitians United (HHU) manages the volunteer effort, bringing in people from all over the diaspora to cook, braid hair, translate and provide medical and legal assistance.
The volunteers, mostly Haitian-Americans, assisted asylum seekers like Francisco Ulysse, who left his previous home in Chile two months ago. He is heading to Boston with his wife and son, to stay with a cousin while awaiting asylum hearings.
“I spent lots of time walking, during the day, and at night, across many countries to come to the U.S.,” Ulysse said, in Spanish. “I left Chile to seek a better life, because during my time in Chile, my wife couldn’t work, and I have a lot of family that I need to help in Haiti.”
The Haitian travelers, now seeking asylum, spent the day in a spatious, well- equipped warehouse about the length of a football field. They gathered in designated areas divided by wooden barricades. One section was set up as a cafeteria, another as a recreational area where children and volunteers played basketball and other games.
Since Sept. 20, when the center started receiving Haitian asylum seekers who spent time under the International Bridge in Del Rio, about 500 people have signed up to volunteer. The center has housed about 300 migrants at any given time, said HHU board chair James Pierre.
Given the fluid situation, he said he did not know how many more busses the shelter would receive from the border in Del Rio. No busses arrived on Saturday, and the organization posted on Facebook that it could not guarantee when more asylum seekers in need of assistance would arrive.
One of the Saturday volunteers, Barcley Cadet, had a special cubicle where he shaved men and cut their hair. Cadet had cut hair for friends in Jersey City where he grew up. Now living in Houston, he saw the call for volunteers on social media.
“I hope there’s continued unity to show that what’s depicted in the media, in the news, we’re more than just that,” said Cadet, calling for unity among the diaspora. “I just want to see people come together, it doesn’t only have to be for something like this.”
At another station, Magi Almorose stood behind a table stacked with children’s shoes and backpacks, alongside family members. All of the equipment was donated by local Houston department stores.
The goal was to “make them not look like what they just went through,” said Almorose, of Dallas. “To see people get excited just for a pair of shoes is overwhelming.”
Later in the afternoon, attorney Lana Joseph, of Atlanta, briefed volunteers on what to expect in their interactions with migrants at the center. Joseph, who was volunteering herself through the Haitian Lawyers Association of Georgia, said she was there to answer legal questions from migrants on their asylum cases.
In the upcoming months, Joseph told The Haitian Times, she plans to help Haitian asylum seekers prepare for their court dates. With immigration courts “backed up” due to the pandemic, she said, some asylum seekers might wait years until their cases are heard by a judge.
Another volunteer, Jimmy Amisial of Elizabeth, New Jersey, said he was happy to welcome the newcomers and helped drive a family to the airport. Acknowledging that many in the diaspora cannot make it to Houston, he encouraged people to use their financial power to support the volunteer effort in Houston.
“They could send financial support, I know they always need that,” said Amisial.
Donate to support NACC Disaster Services here. The HHU website also has instructions on how to support the organization financially.