The Houchen Community Center in El Paso, Texas, gives food, clothing and shelter to Cubans streaming across the border, like Yadira Paloma Fombellida, 28, Julio Cesar Valle Hernandez, 36, and their daughter Angeline, 2. "We left so our children can have a future," Valle says.
This map at Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care in El Paso aims to give visiting church groups a sense of the area's geography. Now it's helping Cubans who've just arrived learn where they are. In May, hundreds of them walked across the border daily after taking what officials described as humanitarian flights from Panama City, Panama, to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
After eating and getting a good night's rest, many Cubans are anxious to connect to Facebook, a site that's difficult to access in Cuba. "Everyone leaves here with a Facebook account," says Veronica Román, executive director of the Houchen Community Center.
Soon after her family arrived at the center, Alianise Maria Valle Paloma, 10, received two Barbies from a volunteer. "It's been two or three years since I've had a toy," she said. "They are my first dolls."
Julio Rojas Rubio arrived at the Houchen Community Center in mid-May after taking one of the first flights from Panama City to Juarez. Rojas was a computer engineer in Cuba. But realizing the center was short-staffed and didn't seem to know how to make Cuban food, he decided to stay and volunteer as a cook.
Lisandra Martinez Machado, 27, sets up a makeshift salon at the center to help Yusime Pena Gonzalez, 45, keep a promise she made to a saint on her long journey to the United States: If she made it across the U.S.-Mexico border, she'd get her hair cut. "It's a new country, a new life," Pena says. "The light has changed."
At Ysleta Lutheran Mission's thrift store, Cubans can pick up whatever they need for free while they stay at the shelter. The Rev. Karl Heimer, the mission's director, is Cuban and says he's happy to help people from his country. "These are people who are professionals," he says, "and they will add to our society."
Cubans arriving in El Paso tell of harrowing journeys through South and Central America. But by the time they make it to shelters in the U.S. border city, they begin to relax, knowing the hardest part is over.
"People can make better decisions once they have a place to sleep and eat," says Heimer, whose mission offers bunk beds, cots and other soft places to sleep to dozens of Cubans who just arrived and are trying to plan what to do next.
St. Francis Xavier, a Catholic church across the street from one of El Paso's three border crossings, has become a temporary shelter for Cubans who just arrived. Cleyzak Muñoz, 34, Roberto Duarte, 27, and Milaidys Salazar Martinez, 26, sit on a bench outside soon after making it to the United States. Muñoz says there's no doubt more Cubans are coming. "The policy could change but what is not going to change is the immigration, because I don't think that Cuba will ever change," he says.