After her husband died in 2014, Ann Finch found renewed purpose in advocacy work, becoming the founding president of Team Brownsville.
By Landry Allred, Photo courtesy of Ann Finch
Last year, Ann Finch’s 9-year-old grandson broke his left leg, resulting in a full-leg cast. Hundreds of miles away, a 10-year-old boy named Angel also broke his leg. Their two lives are marked by the universal experience of little boys breaking bones, but they live on separate sides of the border and in the case of health care, a line on a map can make all the difference.
While Finch’s grandson continued attending school in Eanes ISD, a top Texas school district, Angel was unable to attend school in Mexico after breaking his leg because he lacked a wheelchair. The only form of transportation available was his mother’s back. While Finch’s grandson has already transitioned to a boot, Angel’s leg remains in a plaster cast.
“I am so grateful that my grandchildren live where they live and have what they have,” Finch says. “My grandchildren’s future is bright, and my grandson’s leg will heal and [he] had the best medical care and the walking boot, and that little boy doesn’t have that.”
Finch met Angel in a refugee camp on the border of Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico, and his story haunts her. She helped sneak a wheelchair over the border and after meeting the boy and his family, who traveled from Honduras to seek asylum, Finch can’t escape his plight. During Jill Biden’s border visit, the former second lady took a picture with Angel and Finch later saw an NPR article that featured a picture of his family’s tent with his wheelchair outside.
“There has to be a god, because why would I know this kid in Mexico that needed a wheelchair,” Finch asks. “What is all of that about? And why does this kid continue to appear in my life day after day after day?”
After Finch’s husband died in 2014, she found renewed purpose in advocacy work upon learning about the separation of families at the border. In 2018, she became the founding president of Team Brownsville, a nonprofit in Brownsville serving asylum seekers.
“I don’t think anybody, without being there, understands the inhumanity we are imposing on these people,” Finch says. “Once you see it, it’s hard to stop thinking about.”
Finch first visited the border through an American Civil Liberties Union rally and after witnessing the lack of service in the city, she started consistently visiting to distribute food, water and clothes. In Austin, she hosted awareness events, educating others on the asylum situation. While some in her community supported her efforts, she also received opposition.
“I got a lot of pushback of, ‘That’s the border,’” Finch remembers. “It’s our backyard. It’s 400 miles away. It’s not some foreign country. You can’t look away.”
Since Finch first began her efforts, the situation at the border has become increasingly complex. According to the Migrant Protection Protocols initiated in 2018, asylum seekers must wait outside the U.S. for their immigration hearings, spiking the number of migrants waiting at the border. When Finch first visited the border two years ago, she remembers seeing around 40 people and now estimates seeing up to 2,500.
“They are truly people without a home,” Finch says. “We need to shift from that immediate humanitarian crisis [of] helping them live two to three weeks until they can cross to helping them create a life in Matamoros.”
Today, Finch remains in Austin working in real estate but visits Brownsville once or twice a month through an Austin/Matamoros church partnership, staying up to five days at a time. Some days she passes out hot cocoa or shaved ice and on others, she cuts hair. During Finch’s most recent trip in February, she invited an activist musician to accompany her, and provided 100 tambourines and 100 maraca sets for kids to “create a space where it’s okay to be joyful and sing.”
“Trust that little voice inside, whether it be going to the border or becoming involved in a political campaign or volunteering at school,” Finch says. “We can’t expect the system to change if we don’t step out and do it. We are the conscience of the world.”