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Humanity at the Border

He volunteers in a bus station at the epicenter of the migration crisis

Asylum seekers arrived every day this year at the San Antonio Greyhound station, often in families or groups.

They numbered over 100 daily; on one challenging day, more than 450 arrived, the majority of whom slept overnight in a church nearby.

Often, they did not speak English and poorly understood the itineraries arranged by U.S. immigration officials, typically sending them on from South Texas detention centers to destinations across the country to await the next steps of the asylum process. As volunteer coordinator for the nonprofit Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC), Matt Neal ’98 has helped transform this Greyhound station into a resource center for tired, poor families getting a first taste of freedom after traumatic overland journeys and time spent in confinement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

IWC’s volunteers offer consultations in Spanish, as well as blankets, basic medicines, toys and coloring books for kids, and food when donations allow.

“There are many organizations and people working toward justice for refugees,” Neal says. “The effort at the bus station is a tiny part of the overall movement. It feels meaningful because for many newcomers to our country, it’s the first time on U.S. soil that someone has offered help without conditions.”

Perhaps most important, IWC volunteers offer a dignified greeting and person-to-person recognition, celebration, and compassion.
“We smile, laugh, play with the kids, and sympathize as much as we can,” Neal says. “We aim to be their first sincere welcome to the U.S.”

A former educator who now designs professional development for teachers and principals, Neal missed the direct impact of classroom teaching and was drawn to the “front-line, on-the ground, face-to-face human work” of IWC.

The work draws on political values Neal developed in college, though the expression of those principles is anything but academic.

“My Swarthmore-born consciousness around identity, society, and prejudice is very present for me when I’m there,” he says, “but present in the background, when I play finger- puppets with a 6-year-old Honduran kid.”