TIJUANA, Mexico – Hoping to bring smiles to the faces of migrant children stuck at the border, volunteers handed out holiday presents Tuesday morning and tried to ease their growing discomfort when no asylum-seekers were permitted to cross during the holiday.
Opening presents wrapped in bright Christmas paper brought a few moments of holiday joy to the children, but those smiles slowly faded with disappointment when Mexican migration officials did not appear at the usual 8 a.m. roll-call to allow some asylum-seekers into the U.S.
The group of volunteers also distributed sandwiches that they bring daily to those waiting in line for their turn to make an initial asylum claim under a U.S. immigration policy known as metering.
Tarina Yasmoothr, a legal fellow with Veterans for Peace, decided to bring presents for migrant kids on Christmas Eve because she wanted them to feel a little bit of the excitement and love most children get to experience during the holiday season, she said.
“It’s very little, but part of the Christmas experience is opening presents and especially for children,” said Yasmoothr. “For parents, it’s watching their children open presents.”
Sofia Nhanelii, a 4-year-old from Oaxaca, grinned as she slowly and shyly opened some wrapped books and a coloring book. Her mother said she was very grateful for the little bit of holiday tradition the volunteers provided.
Then, she began to cry as she explained fleeing violent threats and home intruders in southern Mexico.
Another mom, Yessica, said celebrating the season in any small way was very important for her children.
“They gave us a little smile by bringing us this gift,” said the 23-year-old woman from Michoacan. “I didn’t think the kids would open any presents this year.”
Yessica’s daughter Denise, 3, ripped open her gift and immediately began playing with it.
“It’s very sad to be here. We’ve been waiting months and we don’t know if they’re going to call us,” said Yessica.