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.
Yordanis Garcia Milian, 28, snaps a photo of his brother, Yani Garcia Milian, 38, as they prepare to board a bus in El Paso and begin their journey to meet family in Melbourne, Florida.
Houchen Community Center volunteer Yvonne Román, left, picks up a group of Cubans who just crossed into the United States after taking the last humanitarian flight from Panama City to Juarez. The flights began May 9 and ended last week, but volunteers at the center say they're preparing for the possibility more Cubans will come later this year.
No matter what time the new immigrants arrive, Julio Rojas Rubio and other volunteers serve them a meal. Rojas, who crossed the border earlier in May, says he loves seeing the looks on his fellow Cubans' faces. "I feel good knowing that they have also achieved their dream of coming to the United States," he says.
Caring for the wave of immigrants has been "an emotional roller coaster" for Veronica Román, right. On a chaotic morning at the Houchen Community Center, Sister Betty Keegan of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary stopped by to pray with the center's executive director and give her strength as Román helps the migrants. "We're all on the same journey. It could happen to you. It could happen to me," Keegan says. "We need people like her who are there to reach out."
Piles of donated clothes are popular with Cubans who've just arrived at the Houchen Community Center. Many say their belongings were stolen as they traveled from Ecuador through Colombia and into Panama.
Yancarlos Rodriguez Castillo, 10, takes a break at the center while his father tries to figure out where the family will go next.
As soon as Idael Rodríguez Rivas unfurled an American flag, people rushed to have their photos taken with it. "Someone gave it to me," Rodríguez says. "Someday, I'm taking it back to Cuba with me." Here, Kenia Suarez Brunet, 39, Maria Nelys Casto Mirabal, 51, Yancarlos Rodriguez Castillo, 10, and Ismael Martinez Ramcoll, 40, pose for the camera.