Education at the KBI: Call to Action

By: Roxane Ramos

The Kino Border Initiative’s educational programming offers information and insights into the reality of the border as well as direct experience.

Education is embedded in everything the Kino Border Initiative does, and its programming reaches migrants, students, churches, immersion groups, legislators, and anyone interested in visiting the KBI in person or online. The KBI works to dispel commonly held myths about immigration, correct misinformation, and provide experiences, resources and data. By raising awareness about the reality of the border, the KBI promotes greater understanding about who the migrants are and why they cross.

At the KBI Outreach Center: Sister María Engracia Robles Robles, M.E., informs migrants of their rights, listens to their stories, and responds to their questions. Photo by Larry Hanelin

At the KBI Outreach Center: Sister María Engracia Robles Robles, M.E., informs migrants of their rights, listens to their stories, and responds to their questions.
Photo by Larry Hanelin

 

Learning from the Migrants: Father Pete Neeley, S.J. and St. Ignatius student Julia Tognotti, 17, speak with a recently deported migrant, Brian, also 17, about his experience traveling for two months from Honduras to reach the border.  Photo by Dave Tognotti.

Learning from the Migrants: Father Pete Neeley, S.J. and St. Ignatius student Julia Tognotti, 17, speak with a recently deported migrant, Brian, also 17, about his experience traveling for two months from Honduras to reach the border.
Photo by Dave Tognotti.

The KBI educates by:

• Instructing all migrants served at the Outreach Center (comedor) about their basic human rights so they know when their rights are being violated.
• Conducting border immersion experiences of 1–3 days, giving participants the opportunity to meet the migrants, hear their stories, and “walk in their footsteps,” at least for a little while, on hikes through the harsh desert terrain surrounding Nogales.
• Offering presentations and workshops on the migrant experience, the social and economic factors that impact immigration, and the need for effective and humane immigration reform.
• Maintaining a Facebook page with the latest information about immigration headlines and KBI activities.
• Compiling monthly newsletters with articles about the migrant experience, advocacy efforts, immigration policy, and recent developments.
• Helping to support the Kino Teens program, which educates young people about border issues, provides them with the chance to assist the migrants, and encourages them to share their experiences with other school and church groups.

On a KBI Immersion: Students from St. Ignatius College Prepatory in San Francisco ride the bus in Nogales, Sonora, the border fence behind them. Photo by Dave Tognotti.

On a KBI Immersion: Students from St. Ignatius College Prepatory in San Francisco ride the bus in Nogales, Sonora, the border fence behind them.
Photo by Dave Tognotti.

How You Can Help: Support the KBI in its educational efforts by participating in an immersion experience; by inviting the KBI to speak to your church, student group or local organization; or by making a donation. For more information, see: http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/

 

 

Share this:
Facebook Email Twitter Pinterest

The Music of the Border

By: Roxane Ramos

This year’s first place winner of the UA Poetry Center’s Bilingual Corrido Contest recounts a moving migration story of aspiration, struggle, and love.

Daniela Ibarra first heard the story in 2009 when she was living in Sonora, Mexico for a year. An abuela (grandmother) in a dentist’s waiting room shared the trials of her grandson, left behind in Mexico, and his mother, seeking better fortunes in the United States with the expectation of reuniting soon. This is so often where poetic inspiration can be found—in everyday stories and struggles—and when Daniela’s AP Spanish teacher Alma Mejía challenged the students to write corridos (Mexican folk ballads) for submission to the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s annual contest, her mind turned to that 5-year-old memory, still fresh and, sadly, still relevant.

Since the early 1800s, corridos have captured the celebrations and sorrows of both grand historical events and intimate everyday life in poetry and song. In 36 short lines (7–10 syllables), these ballads have traditionally been written in Spanish about actual events, but today can be found in English as well and subjects are often fictional. Over the last two centuries, corridos have documented revolutions, personal tragedies, humorous anecdotes, social upheavals, miracles and regional pride. Today, the form is widely regarded as música de la frontera (border music), and remains a popular oral tradition.

When Daniela submitted her corrido, Margarita y Alfredo, this past spring, she was a high school senior at Amphitheater High School in Tucson, active in the Photography Club and MESA (Math Engineering Science Achievement), and a member of the National Honors Society; this fall, she is a UA freshman planning to major in engineering while continuing to write poetry and short stories, a long-time passion. Her interest in the border is the result of living so close to it, and that compassionate perspective comes through in her corrido. “I’ve known many people who struggled to cross the border, leaving family behind,” she explains. “I am fortunate to not have gone through that, but I understand the pain and sacrifice of people trying to give their families a better life, and how separation takes its toll.”

At the Poetry Center’s Award Ceremony: Daniela Ibarra, with her Amphitheater High School AP Spanish teacher Alma Mejía, shows off a framed copy of her prize-winning corrido. Photo by Vanessa Alvarez.

At the Poetry Center’s Award Ceremony: Daniela Ibarra, with her Amphitheater High School AP Spanish teacher Alma Mejía, shows off a framed copy of her prize-winning corrido.
Photo by Vanessa Alvarez.

Margarita y Alfredo
Por Daniela Ibarra

Esta es la última historia
Que cuenta la gente del pueblo
La historia de Margarita
Y de su hijito Alfredo
Gente de buen corazón
Pero muy poco de dinero

Se fue Margarita muy triste
Llorando sin consuelo
Pues dejaba a su hijito
Para irse al extranjero
Brindar un mejor futuro
Para él, sangre y cuero

Cuida muy bien a mi hijo
Madre mía, te lo ruego
Vendré pronto, muy pronto
Eso sí te lo prometo
Fue el adiós de una madre
En un sincero tormento

Los días se hicieron meses
Y los meses se hicieron años
Margarita no volvió
Como había acordado
A cambio Alfredo graduó
Y se convirtió en licenciado

La vida siguió adelante
Se encontraron nuevamente
Felices en la distancia
Madre e hijo festejaron
Felices, muy felices
Pero son perfectos extraños

Margarita and Alfredo
By Daniela Ibarra

This is the latest story
That they’re talking about in town
The story of Margarita
And Alfredo, her little son
People with good hearts
But little money to call their own

Margarita left so sadly
Crying without consolation
Because she was leaving her baby
To live in a foreign nation
To give him a brighter future
Was her strong determination

Take good care of my little boy
Dear mother, I implore you
I’ll come back soon, so soon
That is my promise for you
This was a mother’s goodbye
In true torment, I assure you

The days turned into months
And the months turned into years
Margarita never returned
As she had promised in tears
Alfredo graduated from college
Missing his mother’s cheers

Life continued onward
At last they reunited
Rejoicing in the distance
Mother and son celebrated
But now they are perfect strangers
In this moment long awaited

Translation by Wendy Burk

To Learn More: Now in its fifteenth year, the Bilingual Corrido Contest, sponsored by the UA’s world-renowned Poetry Center, is open to high school students throughout Arizona. This year’s contest was judged by author and UA Creative Writing alumni Matt Mendez. For information about Poetry Center events and programs, see: http://poetry.arizona.edu/

Share this:
Facebook Email Twitter Pinterest

The Young Ambassadors of the KBI

By: Roxane Ramos

The Kino Teens, a social justice group associated with the Kino Border Initiative, take what they learn about border issues on the road, locally and nationally.

For the teenagers who attend Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona, the border is not some distant abstraction—it is their home. And the debate that surrounds immigration reform is not simply political rhetoric—it is part of their everyday lives. So the students at Lourdes took on the issue, and organized the first Kino Teens group with the help of Fr. Pete Neeley, S.J., of the Kino Border Initiative and Teresita Scully, campus minister and theology teacher at Lourdes, to learn more about the migrant experience and teach others.

Kino Teens from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona, take a break at a Border Days activity. Photo by Janet Marcotte.

             Kino Teens from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona, take a break at a Border Days activity.
Photo by Janet Marcotte.

The Kino Teens follow the example of Padre Kino, who was in his time a great defender of native peoples and their rights. Taking up that mantle, the Teens are friends and supporters of migrants through their volunteer work at the KBI Outreach Center (the comedor), educational activities within their community, fundraising efforts for the KBI, advocacy visits to local legislative offices, and presentations at schools and churches to share their experiences with other students. They seek to dispel the myths of migration—a central part of human history—addressing why people migrate, what they endure on their journeys, and what can be done to ease the situations they face. In so doing, they re-focus the debate on crucial matters of human dignity, social justice and our common bond.

Kino Teens from Brophy College Preparatory, in Phoenix, lend a hand at the Fourth Annual KBI Dinner. Photo by Johnny Lazoya.

Kino Teens from Brophy College Preparatory, in Phoenix, lend a hand at the Fourth Annual KBI Dinner.
Photo by Johnny Lazoya.

Last year, Kino Teens from Lourdes traveled to San Francisco with Fr. Pete where students from St. Ignatius College Preparatory hosted them, and to Washington, D.C., to join in the Ignatian Family Teach-In. In San Francisco, they participated in workshops with other high school students and offered a presentation entitled “Life on the Border for Hispanic Youth.” In Washington, they presented at the Teach-In, engaged in breakout and networking sessions, attended a rally on the Capitol lawn, and visited legislators’ offices to advocate on the issue of immigration reform. More recently, Kino Teens from Brophy College Preparatory supported the KBI by serving dinner to 220 guests at the Fourth Annual Kino Border Initiative Dinner, held at St. Francis Xavier School in Phoenix. The event raised more than $140,000.

Kino Teens Nicole Davison, Carolina Romero, and Carolina Siulok from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona travel to Washington, D.C. to present at the Ignatian Family Teach-In. Photo by Fr. Pete Neeley.

Kino Teens Nicole Davison, Carolina Romero, and Carolina Siulok from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales, Arizona travel to Washington, D.C. to present at the Ignatian Family Teach-In.
Photo by Fr. Pete Neeley.

Each summer, Kino Teens from different schools gather for a 3-day immersion called Border Days. The students learn about the history of the U.S.–Mexico border, the challenges faced by the migrants, and the current issues surrounding immigration. Along the way, they have a lot of fun and make new friends who share their commitment to social justice. And so begins a life of connection and activism on behalf of those in need

Interest in this sort of experiential engagement for young people has grown over the years. Since 2009, when the KBI’s Kino Teens program was started at Lourdes, clubs have been set up at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona, and St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, California. There are 40–50 students currently participating in Kino Teens activities. They may start as apprentices in border issues and its politics, but like anyone who learns by doing, they have become ardent and articulate teachers, ambassadors and advocates.

To Learn More: Watch online videos about the Kino Teens and their work at: https://www.youtube.com/user/KinoTeensNogales And don’t miss the news coverage of Kino Teen Julia Tognotti’s clothing drive efforts; she attends St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, and is shipping 14 boxes of clothing to Nogales this month: http://abc7news.com/news/local-teen-collects-clothes-to-help-immigrants/225663/

Brophy Kino Teens line up with Father Pete Neeley at the Fourth Annual KBI Dinner in Phoenix. Photo by Johnny Lazoya.

Brophy Kino Teens line up with Father Pete Neeley at the Fourth Annual KBI Dinner in Phoenix.
Photo by Johnny Lazoya.

 

Share this:
Facebook Email Twitter Pinterest

Up Close: The People of the KBI ~ Immersion Reflections from High School Students

By: Roxane Ramos

Immersion experiences are precisely what they sound like—on-site visits that place participants right where they can observe the realities of a situation firsthand. For the Kino Border Initiative, immersions are a way to convey the reality of the border through direct engagement. Visitors get to speak with migrants and hear their stories; they serve meals and sort clothes; they tour the streets of Nogales, Sonora, and hike the harsh desert outskirts, harmless enough with plenty of water, the proper footwear and nearby help if needed, but often perilous after a days- or weeks-long journey, when one is at the mercy of the elements and the often unscrupulous coyotes (paid guides) engaged by migrants.

Each year, the KBI hosts as many as 30 border immersions in Nogales, Sonora and southern Arizona, many for high school or college students. Back in April, students from Bellarmine College Preparatory, a Jesuit high school in San Jose, California, came to Nogales for five days on their spring break with their teachers, Chris Cozort and Joe Cussen. Already familiar with the KBI’s programs from his work with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Joe looks forward to facilitating the trip each year, and understands the life-altering impact an immersion can have on students because he has felt it himself. As he explains, “I have had such a profound experience working with and learning from the amazing people at the KBI and in the Nogales community.”

Students from Bellarmine College Preparatory pose by the border fence with Chris Boitano of the KBI (far left) and their teachers Joe Cussen (third from right) and Chris Cozort (far right). Bellarmine students from left to right are: Ashwin Mukund, Rudy Diaz, Matthew Kim, Ramon Garcia-Gomez, Tyler Edgerle, Emilio Flamenco, Nick Culine, David Dalton, Ryan Demo. Photo by Ryan Demo.

Students from Bellarmine College Preparatory pose by the border fence with Chris Boitano of the KBI (far left) and their teachers Joe Cussen (third from right) and Chris Cozort (far right). Bellarmine students from left to right are: Ashwin Mukund, Rudy Diaz, Matthew Kim, Ramon Garcia-Gomez, Tyler Edgerle, Emilio Flamenco, Nick Culine, David Dalton, Ryan Demo.
Photo by Ryan Demo.

The annual Bellarmine trip is part of an education steeped in the Ignation tradition of service to others and dedicated to the “development of the full person,” someone who is not only intellectually prepared to engage the world, but ready to do so with an open heart and mind. This well-rounded and compassionate approach is evident in the thoughtful writings from Bellarmine students Tyler Edgerle and Matthew Kim, both juniors at the time of their visit. The following excerpts are drawn from letters Tyler and Matthew wrote to Father Pete Neeley, S.J., the KBI’s assistant director of education and one of several staff members who conduct immersions in Nogales, Sonora. They demonstrate how personal experience and direct contact take Catholic social teachings from the page, pulpit or classroom out into the world.

Reflection by Tyler Edgerle

“Almost no one I’ve talked to since has an understanding of what is really going on…”

Tyler Edgerle, right, with classmate Nick Culine, helps prep for lunch at the KBI Outreach Center. Photo by Ryan Demo.

Tyler Edgerle, right, with classmate Nick Culine, helps prep for lunch at the KBI Outreach Center.
Photo by Ryan Demo.

When I first signed up for this trip, I didn’t know what to expect, and worried that the immigrants I would be meeting would not want my help, or that people at the Kino Border Initiative would try to force their “pro-illegal immigration” views on me. These fears became non-existent from the moment we arrived. Father Pete explained that we would be helping these people during a difficult part of their life, and we could decide what is right or wrong. Also, my experience at the comedor (the KBI Outreach Center) helped me realize that the migrants did not detest me for being wealthy, but were appreciative of my help. This left a really good first impression of what my trip would be like, and helped me be more open and understanding for the rest of the week.

One of the most inspiring moments for me was the walk in the desert. Once Father Pete pointed out the black bleach bottles that migrants use to carry water in, I started noticing them everywhere in the desert. Even though it wasn’t that hot when we went, I can’t even begin to imagine carrying those heavy jugs full of hot water. The layover camps that Chris brought us to also showed the reality of this issue. I think when I realized that migrants crossing into America actually stayed in this very spot, I began to understand that immigration is not a political issue, it is a people issue.

As I look back on the immersion trip, I realize that almost no one I’ve talked to since has an understanding of what is really going on at the border. I now feel strongly about this issue, but realize that no one seems to care, and those that do have the wrong ideas about what is really happening. I’ve told many people about my experience, hoping to open their eyes to the realities of immigration, but I would not have had this knowledge about the subject without the immersion experience to inform me.

A guiding thought I had during the trip was the Catholic Social Principle of supporting human rights. I realized that national politicians are not the only ones who treat migrants as if they have no human rights; some people here in California do as well. All in all, this trip has truly changed my outlook on immigration, and has inspired me to try to pay attention to the issue. Even though I cannot vote, and I cannot change lawmakers’ minds, I feel like I can do little things to help, such as donating to your organization. I cannot thank you enough for making my experience so memorable, and I hope that your work continues to change the lives of high school students like me, and the migrants you serve.

Reflection by Matthew Kim

“The simple act of greeting someone could lead to solidarity, love, and relationship…”

Matthew Kim and other Bellarmine students walk in the migrants’ footsteps on a hike through the desert near Nogales. Photo by Ryan Demo.

Matthew Kim and other Bellarmine students walk in the migrants’ footsteps on a hike through the desert near Nogales.
Photo by Ryan Demo.

When I first applied to attend the immersion trip, I did not have any experience with the Mexican-American border. I felt intimidated thinking I would have to meet immigrants who might be resentful or bitter, and I carried that resentment with me until my first encounters with deported immigrants in the comedor [the KBI Outreach Center]. After meeting these people, I was reminded of the way that prejudice and hate, unfortunately, originate from our fears of the unknown. My encounters with immigrants like Ever and Manuel showed how the simple act of greeting someone could lead to solidarity, love, and relationship.

An uplifting moment for me was seeing Ever volunteer to wash the dishes. When I saw others entering the comedor, I could see the dejection in their slumped shoulders and downcast eyes. But Ever was enthusiastic, and seeing how the marginalized and needy were willing to serve so eagerly helped me keep in touch with the tender, loving side of humanity that is often hidden. In a time of vulnerability, Ever reached out to serve his brothers and sisters despite sharing the same burden, and witnessing his generosity has inspired me to choose to serve, even when I am in need.

There were challenging moments, too. Although many migrants blessed me with smiles, some seemed resentful. Many of the children seemed to seek material comforts and blessings, and despite knowing that they rarely enjoyed the comforts I could access daily, I often judged them as shallow or ungrateful. However, this discomfort with the poor helped remind me of their humanity—they had the same faults that were responsible for the unjust system that forced poverty onto them. My discomfort gave way to a better understanding of migrants, the children, and myself. As Rev. Albert Nolan once stated, “[The poor and the marginalized] make mistakes, are sometimes selfish, sometimes lacking in commitment and dedication…[but] real solidarity begins when it is no longer a matter of we and they.” The people I met were imperfect at times, but ultimately, they were like me—human.

As I look back on my time at the border, I realize how much I have grown to accept the “others” of society, and am grateful for my time with the KBI for strengthening my devotion to my community. I pray that the KBI finds success in siding with the “other,” whether that success is found in new legislation or a better connection with the community. But ultimately, I pray that our immigration system is no longer a matter of American and Mexican, but a matter of all of us.

To Learn More: Interested in participating in an immersion experience? Typically, immersions last 1–3 days, and bring you right to the border to learn more about immigration issues firsthand. To get more information about arranging an immersion trip, see: http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/programs/education/ Or contact the KBI at: info@kinoborderinitiative.org

Share this:
Facebook Email Twitter Pinterest

The Children at the Border: Advocating for Change

By: Roxane Ramos

The humanitarian crisis of thousands of undocumented and unaccompanied children at the border has prompted numerous responses from organizations throughout the country. Here, we print two letters—one from the Jesuit Conference and the other from the Sisters of Mercy. The letters outline the decades-long history of violence in Central America that has led to the atmosphere of danger and threat that exists today. And they provide disturbing facts about the reality of what children are facing in their countries of origin, and the urgent need for a comprehensive and compassionate response from policymakers in Washington.

The recipients of these letters—House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama—are both in positions to provide leadership and push for reform on the issue of immigration, and these letters urge them to do so. Speaker Boehner has refused to bring immigration legislation passed in the Senate to a House vote (Senate Bill 744: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act), and now Congress has recessed for the August break. President Obama has overseen an era of increased criminalization of illegal immigration, and the number of undocumented migrants deported since he took office now exceeds 2 million (which includes both court-ordered removals and voluntary returns), more than under any previous administration. Please read on.

Letter to House Speaker Boehner from the Jesuit Conference, The Society of Jesus in the United States

July 29, 2014

Speaker John Boehner
1011 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Speaker Boehner,

I write to you as President of the Jesuit Conference of the United States, the organization that represents the Society of Jesus in the U.S., and I echo the message of our bishops and our Holy Father. I urge you to remember that amid the complications of policy and politics, we must be steadfast in our commitment to uphold the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life when considering policy solutions to address the increasing numbers of children fleeing harm in Central America.

Well before the 1989 assassination of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter by U.S.-trained Salvadoran military forces, the Jesuits in the United States were partnering with Jesuits and colleagues in Central America. Since that time, Jesuits in the U.S. have been committed to ensuring that U.S. policy does not exacerbate difficult realities facing poor, marginalized communities. Over the last several years, our office and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA have tracked with growing alarm the increase in forced displacement and targeted violence—perpetrated by gangs, organized crime and state actors—in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

This is not a new crisis, nor is it primarily at our border. Rather, it has been escalating over the last decade in the Northern Triangle. For example, 90 children are murdered or disappeared in Honduras every month; this is the equivalent of eight children being executed in your Congressional district every thirty days.

The impact of this crisis has fallen most heavily on women and girls. From 2005 to 2012 there was a 346% increase in murders of women and girls in Honduras. Meanwhile El Salvador has the highest rate of homicides against women and girls in the world, and Guatemala ranks third on the same chart. Is it any wonder that young girls are leaving the region in record numbers, with a 140% increase in girls 12 and younger arriving unaccompanied at our border from the Northern Triangle this fiscal year?

The Jesuits of Central America see this reality daily: the elementary school teacher murdered when he tried to prevent gangs from forcibly recruiting his students; the young girl pulled from her home, offered as a birthday present to a gang leader and then raped by 16 men; lay colleagues of Jesuits assassinated and harassed by the police. Further, these three countries have little infrastructure and few services to care for women and girls victimized by violence or sexual exploitation; less than 5% of female homicides end in a conviction. The collapse of civil society is evident in besieged schools, hollowed-out neighborhoods, and tortured, often dismembered bodies of children as young as two displayed in streets and ditches.

In this sobering context, I am reminded of Psalm 82, in which God asks the magistrates of the day “how long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” God then exhorts these political leaders to “give justice to the weak and fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82: 3-4).

While this message needs to be heard among leaders in the Northern Triangle, it also calls out to be heard by U.S. leaders dealing with this humanitarian crisis. In particular, I ask for your full and dedicated commitment to the following three policy issues:

TVPRA: A change to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), which would result in children having a one-shot chance to disclose their persecution to a Customs and Border Protection agent or officer, especially when some of them have been victimized by armed men in uniform, is inhumane and an insult to American values. Mr. Speaker, I am appalled by the suggestion that the U.S. should respond by cutting off access to safety for these children.

Due process: To meet Psalm 82’s standard, I ask you to protect the due process rights of these vulnerable children. Rather than rolling back the TVPRA, we should continue to ensure that traumatized and terrorized children have the time and opportunity they need to feel safe enough to share their experience. To echo the analysis of the National Association of Immigration Judges, this process must proceed at the speed of a child’s trust, not at the speed of political convenience. These children deserve an individualized process, a child welfare expert to evaluate their claim, and a legal advocate to help them navigate our complex judicial system.

Root causes: We cannot simply ignore this aspect of the problem. In order to address this crisis at its source, the United States must listen to people, among them the Jesuits in Central America, who intimately understand how we arrived at this tragic juncture. They, along with many others, have been calling on their governments to address impunity and corruption, improve judicial systems, expand educational access, strengthen—and in some cases build from scratch—child welfare services in the region, and support adequate return and reintegration programs to ensure that children who can safely remain in their home countries are able to do so. Our investments need to go here, not to corrupt or abusive security forces who themselves are often criminal.

I ask you, as a leader, a parent, and a Catholic, to uphold an American tradition of which we are all proud. We must welcome the refugee, the victim of trafficking, the child who has been abused or abandoned. Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus when he said “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Very Reverend Thomas H. Smolich, S.J. President, Jesuit Conference USA

 

The unaccompanied migrant children entering the U.S. have fled some of the most violent countries in the world for a chance at a safer, better life. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

The unaccompanied migrant children entering the U.S. have fled some of the most violent countries in the world for a chance at a safer, better life.
Courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

Letter to President Obama from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

July 4, 2014

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The Sisters of Mercy have worked tirelessly with your Administration to build support for immigration reform, and as the leadership team for our Institute, we appreciate your willingness to take executive action later this summer. But we are extremely troubled by your Administration’s response to the unprecedented numbers of women and children fleeing violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Over the last four years the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol has skyrocketed by 700% for Guatemalans, 930% for El Salvadorians and 1300% for Hondurans. The vulnerable populations from these Northern Triangle countries are not only seeking refuge in the United States; the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reports that asylum applications are up 712% since 2008 in Belize, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico. What we are experiencing is a regional humanitarian crisis. The questions we need to be asking ourselves are: what has contributed to this crisis, how might your Administration’s proposals actually further deepen the crisis, and what sustainable solutions can be put in place to address the root causes driving migration?

We have sisters in 12 countries, including Guatemala and Honduras. Through our service in these countries, we have witnessed the extreme violence and poverty that women and children face in their communities. The Northern Triangle countries have some of the highest homicide rates, with Honduras now ranking number one in the world. It must be recognized that in the Northern Triangle, a parent’s decision to keep a child at home is more dangerous than risking the journey to another country.

The causes of this massive exodus are rooted in U.S. economic and foreign policies in Central America that clearly are not effective in responding to the underlying issues. In order to resolve this humanitarian crisis, Mr. President, your Administration must develop a new approach to the region while ensuring that the immediate needs of these refugees are fully met.

After 20 years of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and 10 years of the Central American Free Trade Act (CAFTA), the evidence is clear that neo-liberal economic policies devastate weaker economies as workers are displaced, thus forcing many to migrate outside their countries to find work. In Mexico, due to NAFTA nearly 1.4 million corn farms went under as their markets were flooded with U.S. subsidized corn. Consequently, an estimated 600,000 undocumented immigrants risked the journey to the United States. Since CAFTA was enacted in 2006, migration from Central America experienced a similar upsurge. During the first year of CAFTA in El Salvador, 11,457 workers were displaced from their jobs and migration to the United States from El Salvador jumped from 507 per day to 740 per day. Currently, Mr. President, your Administration is withholding developmental aid to El Salvador due to a provision within CAFTA, thus advancing the interest of giant seed corporations, like Monsanto, over the food security needs of the El Salvadorian people. The U.S. needs a new approach to trade, one that values people, culture, and the right of countries’ sovereignty over corporate interest.

In terms of U.S. foreign policy, it would be disastrous, particularly in Honduras and Guatemala, to send more money to a militarized “war on drugs” or to security forces that are corrupt and have substantial allegations of human rights violations. The U.S. State Department cites significant human rights violations in Guatemala and Honduras that include both military and police units committing unlawful killing, kidnappings, assault, rape, extortion and corruption. Since 2008, your Administration has invested hundreds of millions into the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), with 64% of the funds for enforcement and counter-narcotics, and the situation in the region has only gotten worse. We reject the notion that additional resources for “community policing and law enforcement,” as stated in your letter to Congress, will strengthen citizen security in the region.

The escalation of violence and the stranglehold of narco-traffickers are largely bi-products of a failing economy and corrupt governments. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Honduras. In June of 2009, the Honduran military, which receives substantial training and support from the U.S., overthrew the democratically elected President because of his anti-poverty initiatives. After a brief suspension of aid, Mr. President, your Administration renewed funding and support for the post-coup Honduran government. The government your Administration currently supports in Honduras is implicated in killings and threats to human rights defenders, labor leaders, journalists, indigenous and peasant leaders who are defending the rights to their land. Impunity reigns and increasingly military police are being deployed throughout the country. Since the coup in 2009, the political instability in Honduras led to the homicide rate increasing from 60 to 93 per 100,000, making the country the most dangerous place to live outside of a war zone. In some cities, such as San Pedro Sula, the homicide rate is 180 per 100,000, 11 times the homicide rate of your home city of Chicago. Mr. President, your Administration holds some responsibility for the current state of Honduras. Rather than send more money for security forces involved in CARSI, these funds should be suspended until impunity is seriously addressed. Also in order to prevent a similar catastrophe, your Administration should immediately end the training of Latin American militaries at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). The Cold War is over and we need to stop training and equipping foreign militaries that carry out coups and repress democratic freedoms in their countries.

It will take time for a new foreign policy approach in Central America to alleviate the root causes of this tragedy. Meanwhile, the U.S. needs to come to terms with the fact that more women and children will likely come to our borders. Mr. President, your Administration must uphold the high human rights standard that the U.S. demands of other countries. We are outraged by the announcement to renew the policy of family detention and efforts to expedite deportations of a vulnerable population back to life- threatening situations. A policy of deterrence will not dissuade people seeking refuge from untenable living situations but instead perpetuates their suffering once in the United States. As little as 5 years ago, the inexplicable treatment of families in the T. Don Hutto detention facilities was a national embarrassment. Thankfully, Mr. President, your Administration closed the facility, ending its legacy of inhumane treatment of women and children. There is no guarantee that this renewed effort to incarcerate mothers with their children will not have the same outcome, including children living in locked cells with only an open-air toilet accessible and guards’ threats of separating mothers from their children as a disciplinary tactic.

Instead of family detention, we call on you to strengthen alternatives to detention programs, which are more cost effective and humane. We are thankful for the collaboration between FEMA and ORR and the faith-based agencies. The Sisters of Mercy and many of our faith partners are working under the guidance of these groups to mobilize our communities to provide housing facilities and services.

The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ desire for another approach resonates with the teachings of Pope Francis. When addressing a plenary on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, the Pope asked “leaders and legislators and the entire international community above all to confront the reality of those who have been displaced by force, with effective projects and new approaches in order to protect their dignity, to improve the quality of their life and to face the challenges that are emerging from modern forms of persecution, oppression and slavery.” Our Sisters and co-workers will continue to respond to the needs of women and children in the Northern Triangle and the refugees that seek safe haven in the United States. We look forward to working with your Administration to find a new approach that will uphold the human dignity of this vulnerable population.

Sincerely,
Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Their cheerful disposition belies a disturbing fact—children from Central America must traverse the length of Mexico (close to 2,000 miles), risking injury, among other dangers, as they jump on trains and ride atop the cars in the hope of reaching family members in the U.S. Courtesy of Repositorio Peninsula.

Their cheerful disposition belies a disturbing fact—children from Central America must traverse the length of Mexico (close to 2,000 miles), risking injury, among other dangers, as they jump on trains and ride atop the cars in the hope of reaching family members in the U.S.
Courtesy of Repositorio Peninsula.

Share this:
Facebook Email Twitter Pinterest

Children at the Border: Next Steps

By: Roxane Ramos

More than 57,000 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed the U.S.–Mexico border since October. The initial crisis for the U.S. government and border authorities was one of sheltering them and providing for their basic needs. Now that most of the children have been placed with relatives and await immigration hearings, the more ongoing challenge is addressing the reasons they have migrated, and determining who may have a right to stay in the U.S. based on refugee status or humanitarian grounds.

Most of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and have traveled the length of Mexico, fleeing heightened gang violence and threats to their lives. The journey also exposes them to numerous dangers—kidnapping, robbery, extortion, and sex trafficking. U.S. law requires that they be interviewed within 48 hours of arrival, and with the case load hitting record numbers, accelerated screenings have been common. While this can be seen as a form of greater efficiency, speeding up the process comes with a human cost. The children have often experienced trauma and arrive disoriented and fearful. They do not trust the border patrol agents or their interviewers, and want only to reunite with their families. It is common for them to withhold information about crimes and abuses committed against them or that they have witnessed. Moreover, the screeners are not trained in the very specialized skill of interviewing children. And so the authorities fail to discover the very facts that would support a legitimate claim to asylum—abuse, abandonment, crimes and threats to their lives.

The children escaping the violence of their homelands have both a Consitutional and human right to have all claims to refugee status considered. Courtesy of Creative Commons.

The children escaping the violence of their homelands have both a Consitutional and human right to have all claims to refugee status considered.
Courtesy of Creative Commons.

In the immigration hearing process that eventually follows, minors are eligible for special juvenile status if they have been abused or abandoned by their family. They can seek asylum if they have suffered life-threatening persecution in their home countries. Or they can apply for visas as victims or witnesses of serious crimes. When these conditions are not captured in the initial screenings of the children, it becomes harder to prove the validity of these claims later on.

The most recent response of the Obama administration is a proposal to set up a processing center in Honduras, to screen children for refugee status or humanitarian parole (a temporary designation based on emergency humanitarian grounds) before they undertake the long and dangerous trek north. There are precedents for this sort of program, and instituting it recognizes the violence in Honduras as a humanitarian emergency, on par with those in Haiti and Vietnam. If successful, this pilot program would be replicated in Guatemala and El Salvador.

The proposal is still in the evaluation stages, with many questions to answer and vocal proponents on both sides. Would such a program be instituted via executive order or congressional approval? Would the United States or the United Nations (who handles such programs in other countries) oversee it? How much would the program cost? How many children could be admitted each year? And—a thorny legal point—does the definition of “refugee” apply to these children? (Refugees are legally defined as “people fleeing their country of origin based on fears of persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” Immigration advocates assert that the “social group” category applies in these cases.)

These questions address the administrative, legal and economic aspects of the crisis, and all have sparked ongoing debate. But the underlying human questions are both deeper and more straightforward: How can we save these children who are in desperate need? Can we look away as they are threatened, exploited, sold, raped and murdered? Can we simply acknowledge the critical importance of reuniting children with their mothers and fathers in a safer place, where they can be loved and protected?

By all accounts, the hearings for the children who have entered the U.S. this past year will overwhelm our immigration court system. The fear is that many of these children will be fast-tracked right back to their countries which could put their lives in danger and not allow for adequate consideration of their individual circumstances and potential claims to asylum. It is critical that in the rush to be efficient or to make this problem “go away,” that these children receive what the Constitution grants everyone within the U.S.—a right to legal counsel, a fair hearing, and basic due process.

Share this:
Facebook Email Twitter Pinterest

Children at the Border: Call to Action

By: Roxane Ramos

If you wish to learn more about the causes behind the increased number of unaccompanied migrant children at the border, please view—and forward—this excellent video from Jesuit Refugee Service | USA. It consolidates a range of interrelated events and factors into an informative 4-minute history lesson: http://vimeo.com/102135765 You can also provide in-kind or monetary support to help immigrant families at the border through Catholic Community Services (CCS), highlighted in the recent KBI Alert from Executive Director Fr. Sean Carroll. For a wish list of needed items for migrant families in Tucson, see: http://tinyurl.com/qapgakv

To make a financial gift in support of the immigrant women and children served by CCS, you can do so here: http://www.ccs-soaz.org/Donations-to-Assist-Migrant-Women-and-Children.html

Your in-kind and financial donations to Catholic Community Services help the migrant families who await decisions about being able to stay in the United States. Photo by Aldo Michelis.

Your in-kind and financial donations to Catholic Community Services help the migrant families who await decisions about being able to stay in the United States.
Photo by Aldo Michelis.

Finally, to support the Kino Border Initiative in its ongoing work of offering humanitarian assistance at the border as well as educational programming and research and advocacy on behalf of migrants, go to our website: http://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/get-involved/donate/

Share this:
Facebook Email Twitter Pinterest

VIDEO ~ Root causes of the current flow of refugees from Central America.

Here’s a video from JRS/USA explaining the root causes of the current flow of refugees from Central America.

root causes of the current flow of refugees from Central America.

Causes of the current flow of refugees from Central America.

on Vimeo

on YouTube
Direct link is http://youtu.be/v_sa0-6uEiU

Share this:
Facebook Email Twitter Pinterest

Support KBI by shopping at Amazon.com!

Through this link,  http://smile.amazon.com/ch/26-3623357 people can shop at Amazon and 0.5% of their pruchase will be donated to the Kino Border Initiative.

Through this link, people can shop at Amazon and 0.5% of their pruchase will be donated to the Kino Border Initiative

Through this link, people can shop at Amazon and 0.5% of their pruchase will be donated to the Kino Border Initiative

 

Share this:
Facebook Email Twitter Pinterest

Analysis emphasizing the need to preserve the due process protections of children fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Please find attached a letter Tom Smolich [President Jesuit Conference USA] wrote to Speaker Boehner (and delivered via carbon copying the 40+ Alumni of Jesuit institutions serving in Congress) outlining the analysis of our Central American Jesuit partners and emphasizing the need to preserve the due process protections of children fleeing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

http://jesuits.org/Assets/Publications/File/Smolich%20Boehner%20final%20level.pdf

Please feel free to share.

Jesuit Refugee Service  also released a short video explaining the dire country conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as a tool that can be used to educate constituencies and galvanize grassroots action”  http://t.co/BsmNjqA1kM

Please promote these two resources!

Share this:
Facebook Email Twitter Pinterest