Peggy and Chili Ornelas are a unique couple, both retired and working together to help bring about social justice by regularly assisting asylum-seekers who pass through the San Antonio bus station and airport.
San Antonio is a hub of transportation, with many refugees traveling from Dilley Detention Center, Karnes County Residential Center, and the newest tent city in Donna to other destinations in the U.S. where they will reunite with their families.
There have been occasions Peggy and Chili have hosted asylum-seekers who are traveling and temporarily without a place to stay.
When asked why they do this, Peggy answered “Chili and I are Unitarian Universalists by faith, and we believe in the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings. We do not do it because Chili is a Latino/Hispanic/Mexican. We do it because these are human beings in need, who are existing at the lowest tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and need food, rest, water and warmth. It is heartbreaking.”
Recently, the mother of a family who were guests in the Ornelas’ home received news that her 14-year-old son still in Central America had just been killed by gang members, he had been electrocuted.
While this was a totally unexpected and heart-wrenching occurrence, Peggy and Chili were able to offer comfort and support, providing solace, and help from clergy in facilitating a memorial service. With help from the Ornelas’ relatives and friends, the mother was eventually able to become self-supporting and is now trying to get her 12-year-old son to start out on the long trek to the United States before he is murdered.
Unfortunately this is a common occurrence, as asylum-seekers are searching for safety for their families due to horrendous, life-or-death daily living conditions in their home countries. The majority of those making the trip from Central America are women with children, with many children traveling alone who have sponsors in the United States.
The city of San Antonio has recently opened a Migrant Resource Center across from the Greyhound Bus Station, and the Interfaith Welcome Coalition coordinates volunteer work activities.
Approximately 200 backpacks are given out daily, one per family of four, which contain water, food, toiletries and other necessities.
Several churches in San Antonio have opened their doors at night to house asylum-seekers, and Mobile Loaves and Fishes deliver lunches to the bus station on a daily basis.
Many Comal County residents, along with local churches, support these humanitarian groups by volunteering on a regular basis to assist with the overwhelming need for food, clothing and shelter.