Actress Evan Rachel Wood wants to learn and do more to raise awareness of the issues facing the U.S. and Mexico border, even if it means checking out the conditions first-hand.
Wood, who appears in HBO’s Westworld, decided to take a tour across Texas this weekend and has been documenting her journey on her Instagram.
“I don’t think it’s ever too late to want to make a change, and that’s why I’m here now because I want to learn,” Wood, 30, tells PEOPLE.
On Sunday, she visited a shelter in McAllen, Texas, where she was able to deliver supplies and meet some of the immigrant families who have been released from detention and are waiting to find out their next step in the chaotic process.
“ to put faces with the stories,” she says, “ to actually be there and hug the children and play with them, see how sweet and loving they are but to see how tired and in pain they are — and see the fear in their parents’ eyes.”
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As hundreds of family members visit similar shelters across the region, for many of them, it’s the first time they’re getting a chance to rest, take a shower and have a nutritious meal after a grueling journey.
One mother shared how she and her 3-year-old son trekked across the country from Honduras to the U.S., often walking for hours in the middle of the night. She traveled for 20 days, and for four of those days, she and her son were inside a trailer without food or water.
“It was terrible,” she recalls.
Once they made it to the U.S., they approached ICE officials to ask for asylum. They were immediately detained, taken to a detention center and forced to sleep in cages, similar to the images seen on television, she told PEOPLE.
“I heard they were taking our children, but I was hopeful they wouldn’t take my son,” she says. “Every time a new group came in, they were taking children 5 and older and putting them in separate cells. They were crying for their mothers.”
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She and her son are headed to stay with a family member in the Northeast where she will attend a court hearing next week. For now, the shelter will provide her with a new pair of shoes, which needs to fit around her government-issued ankle monitor.
The shelters depend on donations to provide services. Wood purchased supplies for the shelter she visited Sunday morning. Wood says the impact of the gesture struck close to home.
“I was buying things that I’ve bought my for my own son,” says Wood, who has a 5-year-old son. “I broke down when I picked up a pair of shoes that I’ve bought for him because it made it so personal.”
Meanwhile, Wood is participating in a 24-hour hunger strike and prayer chain that will last 24 days, in honor of the more than 2,400 children separated from their parents due to President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. The #BreakBreadNotFamilies movement was launched by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group, La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP).
Wood says it’s a “privilege and not a sacrifice” to take action that honors the work done by Cesar Chavez, a labor leader and activist who participated in multiple hunger strikes to bring attention to mistreated farm workers.
“It’s a small price to pay considering what families are going through,” she says.
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Amid a massive backlash to the separation policy, Trump signed an executive order reversing the position on Wednesday.
On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security said the U.S. government had reunited 522 migrant children who were separated from adults, saying in a statement outlining the reunification process that the government “knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families.”
While waiting for the parents to complete their deportation hearings, children will continue to be held in custody. The families will then either be reunited before getting deported, or after the parent is released from detention and applies to be the child’s sponsor.
While Trump’s executive order said the government would maintain a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entry into the country, a senior U.S. official told The Washington Post on Thursday that Border Patrol agents have been told to stop referring parents with children for prosecution.