Natural Disasters: How Tragedy Travels Across Borders

Recent hurricanes and earthquakes have reminded us how devastating climate events can be for entire communities, cities, and countries. But in the aftermath of these natural disasters, it is the most vulnerable—the poor, the elderly, the undocumented—who get hit hardest of all, and often lack the resources to fully recover what they have lost.

In the last two months, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and two earthquakes in Mexico—one in southern Mexico, one more centrally located—have left major destruction in their wakes, and besieged countless individuals, families, and communities with shattering aftereffects that will be difficult, or in some cases, impossible to overcome. Among the populations most overwhelmed are immigrant families in the U.S. and migrants making their way north through Mexico. With undocumented and mixed-status families in need of post-hurricane relief and U.S.-based families members seeking to help their relatives in Mexico, the impact of these natural disasters is suffered both in and well beyond the affected areas.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Undocumented migrants and mixed-status families in the U.S. live on the margins, working hard and contributing to their communities, but laying low to avoid encounters with immigration officers and the danger of deportation from family, community, and livelihood, possibly back to poverty or violence. They usually work in low-paying jobs, living from paycheck to paycheck, and often reside in poorly maintained housing where rent is cheaper. Along with other vulnerable populations, they are at greater risk during and after natural disasters.

Largely employed in service, construction, and manufacturing, 600,000 undocumented immigrants live in Houston and the surrounding areas, the third largest number in the U.S. after New York and Los Angeles (Pew Research Center). With Harvey claiming so many homes and businesses, they face lost wages and possible eviction from residences that are still habitable. In Florida where Irma wrought havoc, many among the significant undocumented population work in landscaping and agriculture, resulting in different prospects for each. Nursery workers and gardeners may still find work at establishments that are up and running and with households that need yardwork while farm laborers have seen their jobs all but disappear, and must hold out until bean and pumpkin season begins in late October. In both Texas and Florida, undocumented individuals and families must hold out until work opportunities flourish once more, but this hinges on having sources of support to do so.

As for assistance available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), undocumented people are not eligible for cash payouts, but their U.S.-citizen children may qualify for food stamps and other aid. Even so, for mixed-status families and households, the decision to seek assistance is complicated by the dilemma of potentially jeopardizing undocumented members. The dire nature of life after natural disasters strike escalates the stress and fears the undocumented experience all the time.

The situation is compounded by understandable distrust of U.S. government agencies that implement frightening detention and deportation policies and anti-immigrant sentiment which has intensified under the Trump administration. Moreover, mixed signals, both at a policy level and on the ground, only added to the fears and confusion—President Trump rescinding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; Texas Senate Bill 4, which allows police offices to question individuals about their immigration status, temporarily halted via a preliminary injunction; and 200 Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers and a fleet of their boats pitching in to rescue people in the Houston and the surrounding areas at the same time that CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a joint statement that they would suspend routine enforcement temporarily but not checkpoint operations. To help reassure people, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a lawyer, offered to personally represent anyone, should they be arrested by ICE.

For all, pressing forward to look for work in clean-up and rebuilding efforts and figuring out how to survive are post-hurricane urgencies. As has happened in past disasters, the clean-up and recovery work of undocumented individuals will help restore and rebuild these hurricane-devastated communities though such jobs often expose workers to harmful conditions—chemicals, unstable structures, and other hazards—that could have long-term health consequences.

Earthquakes in Mexico

On September 7, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake ravaged Chiapas and the southern border, followed by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Mexico City and surrounding areas on September 19. Together, the earthquakes resulted in 464 deaths and over 6,000 thousand injured, the news creating a communications nightmare for family members and friends in other countries seeking more information about their loved ones in the quake-struck areas. Some cell phone service and wire-transfers services were out or unreliable at best. For undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. with relatives in Mexico City or Chiapas, including DACA recipients, there was the added anxiety of trying to help from afar; if they left the U.S. to join their family members in Mexico, they would risk not being able to return. We frequently see this form of separation between migrants and their families—missing a wedding or graduation, unable to be at an ailing mother’s bedside or attend a grandfather’s funeral—but natural disasters result in entire communities facing this tragic situation.

Within Mexico, the collapse of buildings, including churches, residences, and at least one shelter on the Mexico-Guatemala border, left migrants en route to their final destinations in the north more vulnerable. Even so, the Central Americans staying at that shelter banded together in teams to clean-up the post-earthquake rubble, like their counterparts in the U.S., contributing to the recovery efforts.

Climate and Migration

Climate and related natural upheavals have always been contributing factors in migration. Even when they do not involve temporary evacuation or permanent displacement, they interrupt daily lives in profound and often prolonged ways. Clean-up, rebuilding, loss of the local businesses, impacts on schools and hospitals, access to food and livelihood all take a toll, often to a degree that pushes individuals and families to leave in order to survive. A significant proportion of the 65 million migrants and refugees today have fled climate events—earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, floods, famine, rising sea levels. As Pope Francis has pointed out, the unprecedented magnitude of displacement is a global humanitarian crisis. From the time of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, when the number of Honduran immigrants entering the U.S. rose sharply, to the current extreme drought in El Salvador causing so many to flee, the number of climate refugees and migrants continues to grow. Just this past month, the United Nations General Assembly met to discuss humanitarian aid responses to climate disasters, a long-time concern and particularly poignant against the backdrop of Hurricane Maria recently making landfall in Puerto Rico.

On the other end of the spectrum, U.S. private security companies and related businesses are prepping to exploit increased climate-related migration for profit, enhancing their services and ever-ready to submit bids for border wall construction. Tucson writer Todd Miller outlines the convergence of more stringent immigration policies, border militarization, and environmentally induced displacement in his new book, Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security (City Lights Books, September 2017). This is a growing area of study, and Miller’s book cautions about the crisis to come and the need for greater solidarity with vulnerable populations and accommodating policy responses moving forward.

Such an approach dovetails with KBI’s mission to aid migrants in need and advocate for more humane immigration policies. Whatever the root cause or event prompting people to leave their homelands—poverty, violence, war, climate events or a combination—human dignity, family unity, and the right to live free of danger or threat are principles worth defending and central to the KBI’s work.

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A shelter for migrants on the Mexico-Guatemala border was severely damaged in the 8.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the region on September 8, 2017. Photo by Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images.
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Standing up for Refugees

With the recent announcement that the Administration plans to decrease refugee admissions to the lowest in U.S. history, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has sent out an urgent call to stand with refugees and advocate for a minimum of 75,000 annual admissions. With an unprecedented number of people forced to leave their homelands due to war, genocide, gang violence, and climate events, it is more critical than ever to offer safety and welcome to refugees. The KBI asks that you join this effort, and call your Congressional leaders and the White House to voice your concerns. You’ll find a contact numbers and a sample script here: https://secure2.convio.net/lirs/site/Advocacy;jsessionid=00000000.app263a?alertId=286&pg=makeACall&NONCE_TOKEN=E1DC97017EB925C5BE69C7F9317DA2D5#.WdqfWqOZMUt. Thank you for your advocacy and support!

As the Trump Administration seeks to lower refugee admissions to the U.S., millions of men, women, and children are leaving their homelands to seek protection and safety.

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Enrique’s Story: The Toll of Detention and Family Separation

Enrique was deported and arrived at the KBI recently after 35 years in the United States, the last two spent in detention. Now, he faces an uncertain future as he pursues a visa to reunite with his children and the grandchildren he has never met. 

Born in Mexico, Enrique has lived most of his 55 years in the U.S.—working, marrying, and raising two sons, both U.S. citizens. Two years ago, he was arrested and detained; this past month he was deported to Nogales, Sonora. Not knowing anyone there, he relied on the KBI’s direct aid for several days to get on his feet, make friends and connections, and look for work and decide his next steps, given the difficulty of obtaining a legal path to enter the U.S. where most of his family live.

The number of undocumented parents like Enrique who are separated from their children through deportation has doubled at the KBI in the past year. His experience, below in English and Spanish, illustrates the dire consequences of unreasonably long detention and deportation—extended separation from family with no assurance of reunion, loss of livelihood and home, the challenge of starting over alone—and underscore why the KBI strongly advocates for a humane immigration policy that eliminates such life-altering disruption and trauma and keeps families together.

ENGLISH:

My name is Enrique. I lived in Phoenix, Arizona for 4 years. I arrived here [to Nogales, Mexico] after being detained in Eloy, Arizona by immigration agents, and they deported me to Nogales. I’m from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. I have family in Alabama, Florida, and Phoenix, Arizona.

I first came to the United States seeking a better life and a better job. I was in the US in ‘82, I was 20 years old—I married a US citizen. I was married for 22 years and then got a divorce. I was in the U.S. for nearly 35 years. I was a plumber, and worked in construction. I built houses as well.

I have two sons—one is in Alabama, and the other lives in Florida. I have a 4-year old grandson in Florida who I haven’t met yet. My son has petitioned for my legal residency in the U.S. I’m waiting to see if I can obtain a visa. It’s been a year since he submitted the application, so it may be in the next few months that they review it.

My oldest son is 34, and the younger is 32. They’re grown up. I’m 55 years old. My first son was born in 1982, and the other in 1984.

I was arrested and was detained because I didn’t have a green card. I spent two years at Eloy detention center up until yesterday, when they threw me out and deported me. I was appealing my case to see if they’d cancel my deportation, but they instead imposed a voluntary departure.*

[At Eloy], the majority of the people complain about the conditions there—the food isn’t very good, nor is the medical care. It’s not a good place. Two years is a long time to be incarcerated just for not having papers or a green card. It’s just like being in prison. There are people who are given lesser punishment for worse crimes. It’s sad, indeed, but that’s in the past now. I was really desperate for a while. Now I’m content to be out of there. This is the first time I’ve been to Nogales. I don’t know the border here in the state of Sonora—only the border of Tamaulipas and Texas. I’m going to establish myself here a bit and find a job.

I talked with my family yesterday. They’re going to help and support me as well. I have uncles who live in Nuevo Laredo, but it’s been many years since I’ve seen them. The majority of my family live in the U.S. My parents, my brothers, my sisters… I feel sad and alone [being far from them]. But here I’ve found there are many friends and people helping out.

I hope my visa is approved soon so that I can return to the U.S. and be with my family, and travel to meet my grandchildren, who I don’t know yet. My grandson is 4-years old and lives in Jacksonville, Florida. [My son and his family] were without electricity for three weeks [because of the recent hurricane]. They’re well now.

I think that the United States needs to make immigration reform happen for immigrants. And they should support migrants instead of continuing to be against them. In my opinion, I think [President Trump] is very racist and anti-immigrant. That’s my personal opinion. […] We come to work and lead an honest life, right? And seek dignified work.

* There are two forms of deportation employed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: (1) voluntary returns, which allow individuals to essentially deport themselves at their own expense, with fewer repercussions upon re-entry, and (2) removals, that is, more formal compulsory deportations implemented by the U.S. government and carrying 5- to 10-year bans on re-entry as well as harsher penalties should the deported person cross into the U.S. again. We are not certain which method was used to deport Enrique since it is common for individuals who represent themselves to be unfamiliar with the legal intricacies of deportation.

SPANISH:

Mi nombre es Enrique. Vivía en Phoenix, Arizona, por 4 años. Llegué aquí a Nogales—caí en el centro de detención de Eloy, Arizona, de migración, y me deportaron por Nogales. Soy de Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. Tengo familia en Alabama, Florida, y Phoenix, Arizona.

Vine para hacer una vida mejor, un mejor trabajo. Yo estuve [en los Estados Unidos] en la 1982, tenía 20 años, me casé con una ciudadana americana. Estuve casado 22 años, y luego me divorcié. [Estuve en los Estados Unidos] 35 años, casi. Era plomero, e hice construcción. Hacía casas también.

Tengo dos hijos, está uno en Alabama, y otro en Florida. También tengo un nieto en Florida de 4 años que no conozco todavía. Mi hijo metió una petición para mi residencia [en Estados Unidos]. Estoy esperando que se pueda.. para arreglar mi visa. Hace un año que metió la aplicación y puede ser en los siguientes meses que la cierre.

Mi mayor hijo tiene 34, y el menor tiene 32. Ya son adultos. Yo tengo 55 años. Nació el primero en 1982, y nació el otro en 1984.

A mí me agarraron y me detuvieron por no traer mi green card. Estuve en el centro de detención allá, en Eloy, por dos años, hasta que me botaron ayer. Estaba apelando mi caso para ver si me cancelaban la deportación, pero me dieron la salida voluntaria.

[En Eloy], la mayoría de la gente se quejan allí, la comida no está muy buena, el tratamiento médico. No está muy bueno. [Dos años] es mucho tiempo para estar encerrado por no tener papeles, por no traer la green card. Es como si estuviera en la prisión. Hay gente a que le da menos castigo por crímenes más grandes. Sí, es triste, pero ya pasó esto. Estaba muy desesperado. Estoy contento porque ya salí. Es la primera vez que estoy aquí en Nogales. No conozco la frontera de Sonora. Yo conozco la frontera de Tamaulipas y Texas. Voy a quedarme aquí un rato y encontrar un trabajo.

Hablé con mi familia ayer. Ellos me van a apoyar y ayudar también. Tengo tíos en Nuevo Laredo, pero hace muchos años que yo los veía. La mayoría de mi familia está en Estados Unidos. Mis padres, mis hermanos, mis hermanas. Me siento triste y solo [al estar lejos de mi familia]. Pero aquí hay muchos amigos y gente que ayudan.

Espero que aprueben mi visa muy pronto para poder llegar a Estados Unidos, con mi familia, e ir a conocer a mis nietos que todavía no conozco. Tiene 4 años y está en Florida, en Jacksonville, Florida. Estuvieron sin luz por 3 semanas [por el huracán]. Están bien.

Pienso que los Estados Unidos debe hacer más reforma migratoria para los inmigrantes. Y apoyar más a los migrantes, en vez de ser más antiinmigrantes. En mi opinión yo creo que el [Presidente Trump] es muy racista y contra los inmigrantes. […] Nosotros venimos a trabajar, y hacer una vida honesta, ¿verdad? Con un trabajo digno.

After 35 years in the U.S., Enrique was detained and deported to Nogales, Sonora, where he encountered the KBI.

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KBI Media Report: September 2017

This month, our report includes stories about the possible reduction in the number of refugees admitted to the U.S., access to legal aid for detainees, and the worrisome detainment of pregnant women in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities.

    • Lowered Refugee Quota: With a deadline on the horizon, the Trump Administration is considering a reduction in refugee admissions to less than 50,000, the lowest since 1980 and less than half the Obama Administration’s 2016 recommended cap of 110,000. Such a shift in policy would have dire consequences for the growing number of refugees seeking to resettle in the U.S. and would mark the second time President Trump would exercise executive authority to reduce the flow of immigrants; the first was rescinding DACA in early September: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/us/politics/trump-refugee-quota.html?emc=edit_th_20170913&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=68564230&_r=1.
    • Due Process for Detainees: Due process for detained migrants is a continuing concern, and for those in detention facilities far from major cities, finding government-provided legal aid—the only option for someone who can’t otherwise afford a lawyer—is a particular challenge. Moreover, distance, detention protocols, and other logistics make face-to-face meetings between client and attorney difficult to arrange. The result is that detainees in these remote locations are less likely to have legal representation and more likely to be deported: http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-na-access-to-counsel-deportation/.
    • Pregnant Women in Detention: The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups have filed a complaint on behalf of 10 pregnant women who were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, despite a 2016 memorandum ordering otherwise. Detention conditions are widely considered unsuitable for pregnant women and medical care inadequate—in fact, one of the women miscarried. The complaint will force an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security, and help to further attention to inhumane detention conditions and the need to treat pregnancy as a special circumstance: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/feds-accused-of-improperly-detaining-pregnant-immigrants/2017/09/26/f60bacc4-a2f1-11e7-b573-8ec86cdfe1ed_story.html?utm_term=.300300a6a588.

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Detainees at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Arizona. Those in remote detention facilities have a harder time obtaining legal aid.
Photo by Roos D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images.

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KBI October Announcements

Mark your calendars and reserve your place at the upcoming Tucson fundraiser for the KBI, stream presentations from November’s Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, and sign up to participate in the Campaign for Hospitality. The Jesuit Migration Network, of which the KBI is a part, is sponsoring this campaign, and holds its regional meeting in October, and Father Sean Carroll, S.J., will participate in the Catholic Immigrant Integration Initiative Conference in Los Angeles. Finally, this past month, the KBI hosted three immersions for southern Arizona high schools.

  • Tucson Fundraiser: A Tucson Fiesta for the Kino Border Initiative is coming up! Hosted by board member Luis Dabdoub and his wife Susana Dabdoub, Sunday, October 29 marks the third anniversary of this festive fundraising event that helps keep the KBI’s mission and programming strong. Reservations are limited, so make yours today or send a donation in your stead at: https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/october-29-tucson-fiesta/. ¡Muchísimas gracias to the organizers, hosts, and guests!
  • Jesuit Migration Network: Early this week, KBI staff members Father Samuel Lozano de los Santos, S.J. and Joanna Williams are participating in a two-day regional meeting in Mexico City of the Jesuit Migration Network of Central America and North America. A consortium of organizations engaging in pastoral support, research, and advocacy, the Jesuit Migration Network focuses on migrant and refugee accompaniment as well as research and advocacy to promote policies that uphold human rights and dignity.
  • Campaign for Hospitality: The Jesuit Migration Network (see above) has launched a new initiative, the Campaign for Hospitality, to engage individuals, schools, and parishes in a concerted commitment to welcome, support, and get to know the migrants and refugees in our midst. Accompaniment takes many forms, and hospitality opens doors to creating communities which honor and value our shared humanity. Already operating among the Spanish-speaking organizations in the network for close to three years, this launch engages the English-speaking parts of the network, and the KBI is a partner in the campaign. To learn more about and join the movement, please go to: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/campaignforhospitality/.
  • Catholic Immigrant Integration Initiative Conference: On Thursday and Friday, October 12 and 13, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA, Fr. Sean Carroll, S.J. will participate in the Catholic Immigrant Integration Initiative Conference, sponsored by the Scalabrinians’ Center for Migration Studies. The focus of the conference is “Strengthening the Catholic Response to Immigrant Integration, Participation, Defense and Empowerment in an Era of Challenges and Uncertainty.” Fr. Sean will speak on a panel in which he will look at “successful models of youth leadership and engagement” and will offer a breakout session on the Kino Teens program.
  • Ignatian Family Teach-In: This year’s Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice is slated for November 4-5 in Washington, D.C. The theme for this Catholic social justice and solidarity gathering, now in its 20th year, is “Rowing Into the Deep: Magis Meets Justice.” Director of Education and Advocacy Joanna Williams will be conducting a large-scale breakout session on the topic of immigration as well as a breakout session with two Loyola Kino Teens. Father Pete Neeley, S.J. the KBI’s Assistant Director of Education, will also offer a breakout session, accompanied by two Lourdes Kino Teens. To find out more about the schedule of speakers and break-out presentations and sign up for livestream reminder, please go to: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/iftj/livestream/.
  • Immersion Experiences: Groups from three southern Arizona high schools joined the KBI for immersion experiences this past month.
Immersion Group # of participants # of days at the KBI
Notre Dame Preparatory H.S.
Scottsdale, AZ
10 participants  1 day
Brophy College Preparatory
Phoenix, AZ
10 participants 1 day
Salpointe Catholic H.S.
Tucson, AZ
10 participants 1 day

A Tucson Fiesta for the KBI raises funds for KBI programs, including meals and other direct aid available at the comedor.
Photo by Larry Hanelin.

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Asylum Seekers in Mexico

More Central Americans than ever before are seeking asylum in Mexico, fleeing their violence-torn homelands. Yet even with some improvements to the asylum system there, the country has not met pace with the demand, adequately addressed the various obstacles to asylum, or provided sufficient services to asylum recipients.

In recent years, Mexico has experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of migrants passing through or staying in the country. Though U.S. immigration policies, border militarization, and deportation crackdowns have impacted migrant decisions to treat Mexico as a destination rather than a corridor, the shift is largely driven by escalating violence in Central America, particularly in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, a trend that is more easily tracked to the rising number of migrants in Mexico and the dangers they face along the migration routes than any particular U.S. law or administration.

A large proportion of these migrants are asylum seekers. In fact, 8,800 people applied for asylum in Mexico last year, nearly seven times as many as in 2013, and this year’s asylum applications projection is 22,500, according to COMAR, the commission responsible for the welfare of asylum seekers and rulings on their cases. Despite the greater demand for a more extensive and better equipped asylum system, the government has not met the need, and asylum seekers encounter much the same obstacles and abuses in Mexico as they do in the U.S.:

  • Lack of adequate screening to determine candidates for asylum.
  • Misinformation about the asylum process and rights, or active discouragement of seeking asylum.
  • Lack of access to legal assistance or representation.
  • Prolonged detention as well as poor and often intimidating conditions there, including use of force and other mistreatment.
  • Poor training and supervision of immigration agents.
  • Expedited asylum decisions that don’t give full consideration to the applicant.

In addition, Mexico requires that asylum seekers file applications within 30 days of arriving in the country. This is an absurdly unrealistic deadline for most migrants, especially families filing more than one application and anyone learning about this option once they arrive at the northern border (since the journey from the southern border usually takes longer than a month, sometimes as long as a year or two). By contrast, the filing deadline in the U.S. is a year after arrival. Moreover, eligible asylum seekers at the northern border find themselves far from COMAR offices, are evaluated through phone rather than in-person interviews, and must remain in the location where they submitted their application for months while their case is pending.

There is also the failure to address the needs of unaccompanied migrant children who are arriving in Mexico in greater numbers, many of whom are fleeing violence to join family members in the United States. Mexican law requires that immigration authorities must take into account children’s best interest; however, no mechanisms exist to get children safely to family members who can care for them while they fight an asylum claim, and more broadly, immigration authorities often ignore established protocols for dealing with children. Unaccompanied children who are detained by Mexican officials have two choices: Fight an asylum case in Mexico where they have no family, or be deported to their home of origin to face possible torture and death. Not surprisingly, children are falling through the cracks. In 2016, more than 40,000 children were detained, according to government statistics, yet only 1% filed asylum claims and only 131 of those children received some form of protection, a startling and heartbreaking testament to the need for expansion and reform in Mexico’s asylum system.

But perhaps the most disconcerting and dangerous situation confronting all migrants and asylum seekers in Mexico is the overwhelming incidence of crimes against them—harassment, assault, theft, extortion, kidnapping, rape, and murder—which largely go uninvestigated and unpunished. A recent contributing factor is the growing presence of organized gangs from Central America working with Mexican cartels and targeting migrants at Mexico’s southern border. Perpetrators commit crimes with overt impunity, trusting that they will not be held accountable, and statistics confirm their assumption. According to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), of 5,824 crimes against migrants reported in five Mexican states and at the federal level from 2014–2016, only 49 resulted in sentencing, an astoundingly miniscule 1%!

Based on these numbers, fully 99% of perpetrators of crimes against migrants can expect no penalty whatsoever from the state. Corruption and impunity make Mexico unsafe for migrants and asylum seekers, even after their applications are approved, since access to recourse, justice, or various sources of protection is minimal. (Read more about migrant safety and criminal impunity in our recent Sonoran Migrant Network report, in Spanish: https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/es/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Informe-RMS.pdf . For a summary of the aforementioned WOLA report, in English, or the full report, in Spanish, go to: https://www.wola.org/analysis/access-justice-migrants-mexico-right-exists-books/ .)

It is encouraging to note improvements implemented by the Mexican government, such as increasing COMAR staffing; establishing a special crime investigation office; offering better access to humanitarian, legal, and psychological services; and initiating a pilot release program to reduce the number of migrants held in detention. As a result, asylum has been granted more frequently. However, these changes are insufficient to the task at hand, which broadly is to address the long-term implications, build the necessary infrastructure, and expand support services for migrants who now stay in Mexico longer. U.S. investment in immigration law enforcement, the asylum system, and migrant services is certainly helpful, but is also regarded as a deterrence strategy to keep migrants from crossing into or seeking asylum in the U.S.

As a binational organization, the KBI advocates for greater options for migrants, so many of whom have already encountered violence, poverty, or other traumas wherein their choices are forced or limited. Our advocacy staff continues to monitor conditions for asylum seekers in both the U.S. and Mexico, and migrant testimonies at the comedor and shelter provide much needed documentation of problems and insights into solutions. Overall, there is a greater need for monitoring of Mexico’s migrant services, asylum system, and protections and access to justice for crime victims. For example, Advocacy Coordinator Marla Conrad serves on the Citizen’s Council of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, which advises on immigration matters.

KBI supporters in the U.S. can assist in these advocacy efforts by contacting legislators to re-direct foreign aid to anti-corruption initiatives and support of the judicial system in Mexico rather than continued investment in the country’s police and military, and to insist that U.S. aid be subject to robust human rights conditions. Though progress is slow, the welfare and safety of people who are displaced, far from home, and in need is of paramount importance to the KBI’s mission and to creating a world where justice and dignity are available to all.

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Central American migrants, many seeking asylum in Mexico or the U.S., ride atop a north-bound cargo train—known as “La Bestia” or “The Beast”—an extremely dangerous form of transportation that is also illegal, leading to apprehension by Mexican authorities.

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The First Trans-Gay Migrant Caravan

With banners and heads held high, sixteen transgender and gay migrants from Central America and Mexico marched through Nogales, Sonora, and presented themselves at the border to seek asylum and lives free of persecution and violence.

It was not the start of their journeys, but the two miles traversed between the KBI comedor and the DeConcini Port of Entry represented a major milestone for 12 transgender women and 4 gay men seeking asylum in the U.S., and perhaps marks a beginning of broader awareness about the persecution faced by LGBTQ migrants in their countries of origin. Held on Thursday, August 10, the caravan included the migrants and their many supporters, with rallies held on both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border.

Subject to mistreatment from their families, local police, and tribal governments as well as gang violence, kidnappings, and forced prostitution, these courageous individuals met en route and formed a bond of solidarity as they crossed the length of Mexico. Even so, throughout Mexico, where crimes against migrants are rampant, they suffered further discrimination and abuses. Of the migrants’ spirited mood as they led the caravan, KBI board member Larry Hanelin, who took photos that day, observed, “You wonder how they’ve survived the brutality they’ve experienced and can still embrace hope. Their resilience is remarkable.”

Upon their arrival in Nogales, Sonora on July 25, the sixteen received safe haven and direct aid from the KBI, and began preparing their asylum cases with the help of lawyers from Keep Tucson Together, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the Transgender Law Center collaborating with other human rights and LGBTQ rights organizations. They yearn to make a home in a safer place than where they came from. Even with an increase in hate crimes this past year, the U.S. can offer greater security in large part due to its vast network of established LGBTQ communities and active legal and humanitarian organizations that defend their rights. They also hope to be released from detention on humanitarian parole as they await court dates, so they can be surrounded by sympathetic communities rather than endure the isolation of a detention facility.

At the end of the march, with friends and supporters around them and their application folders ready, the migrants presented themselves at the port of entry; U.S. Customs and Border Patrol took them into custody at noon. Now, fifteen of them are being detained in New Mexico, while one has been released under an alternative-to-parole program. With a firm belief in everyone’s right to a life free of violence, the KBI and its partner organizations continue their support and advocacy, and await further news about the status of these brave asylum seekers and their cases.

Transgender and gay asylum seekers march in the First Trans-Gay Migrant Caravan. Nogales, Sonora, August 10, 2017.
Photo by Larry Hanelin.

A contemplative moment for one of the organizers of the First Trans-Gay Migrant Caravan. Nogales, Sonora, August 10, 2017.
Photo by Larry Hanelin.

One of the attorneys representing gay and transgender asylum seekers who hope for a life free of violence. DeConcini Port of Entry, August 10, 2017. Photo by Larry Hanelin.

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KBI Media Report: August 2017

This month’s report covers the decision to rescind the DACA program, Arpaio’s presidential pardon, the termination of a U.S. program aimed at safeguarding Central American children, and migrant deaths at the U.S.–Mexico border. These alarming news stories underscore why the KBI’s advocacy efforts and research reports are more important than ever.

    • DACA Rescinded: The Trump Administration has announced that it will terminate DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program initiated by the Obama Administration via executive order in 2012. The decision will eliminate the protections of relief and work permits extended to 800,000 young immigrants, often called DREAMers, who were brought to the U.S. as children, have undergone extensive vetting, and are long-standing and integral members of their communities. The KBI is committed to defending the DREAMers, and working to support legislation that secures their protections permanently. For an overview of responses from Jesuit organizations and educational institutions throughout the country, see this coverage from the Ignatian Solidarity Network: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2017/09/06/jesuit-network-daca-repeal/.
    • Presidential Pardon of Arpaio: President Trump’s recent pardon of former Maricopa sheriff Joe Arpaio for a criminal contempt of court indictment has raised concerns about separation of powers, respect for the rule of law, and constitutionality. But the more disturbing issue is that the president used his first pardon to exonerate a controversial public servant whose racist overreach terrorized the Latino community for years, encouraged constitutional violations and human rights abuses, and resulted in “tent city” jails that Arpaio himself compared to concentration camps. This commentary by someone who was subjected to the racial profiling and harassment prevalent during Arpaio’s tenure is a persuasive argument against this pardon: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-arpaio-pardon-racial-profiling-20170828-story.html.
    • Protecting Immigrant Children: The Department of Homeland Security has terminated the humanitarian parole part of a program designed to provide special consideration to Central American children with documented parents in the U.S. Started in 2014, the program offered 1,500 children safe and legal entry to the U.S., and parole to stay with their families rather than in a detention facility. Its elimination creates yet another obstacle to asylum for youth who are fleeing some of the most dangerous places on the planet, and reneges on the U.S. commitment to protect the most vulnerable: https://www.wola.org/2017/08/dhs-announces-end-program-gave-central-american-children-safe-legal-way-enter-u-s/.
    • Deaths in the Desert: During the first seven months of 2017, more migrants have died on their journeys through the Sonoran Desert than in the same period last year, even as apprehensions at the U.S.–Mexico border have decreased. Tragically, these statistics from the International Organization for Migration are almost surely understated since some deaths are not discovered in a timely way or ever. Read more about this distressing development here: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/05/migrants-us-mexico-border-deaths-figures.

Embed from Getty Images

In one of Arpaio’s “tent city” jails in Phoenix, prisoners slept in un-air-conditioned tents, and were issued striped uniforms and pink underwear and socks

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KBI September Announcements

Starting in September, the KBI has merged our English and Spanish Facebook pages; like and follow our page for the most recent KBI updates. Also, stream our upcoming live conversation about the border; check out a recent discussion on migrant advocacy; read an essay on border issues by a Leadership Days student; and learn about the KBI’s recent immersions, staff retreat, and board meeting.

  • Facebook Page in English and Spanish: The Kino Border Initiative has merged its English and Spanish Facebook pages (the Spanish page formerly named for the KBI’s Mexican office, Iniciativa Kino para la Frontera). Posts will now appear in both languages, to serve our supporters in the U.S., Mexico, and Central America. Please follow us, and get the most recent updates about KBI activities and events as well as immigration and border news at: https://www.facebook.com/Kino.Border.lnitiative/.
  • KBI Live in Conversation: Join the KBI and the Ignatian Solidarity Network for this year’s second live conversation on Facebook, entitled “Witness from the Border.” This live event on Thursday, September 29, will feature KBI Director of Education and Advocacy Joanna Williams, and begin at 12:00 noon PST. Stream it at: https://www.facebook.com/IgnatianSolidarity .
  • KBI Advocacy in Mexico: Marla Conrad, the KBI’s advocacy coordinator in Mexico, participated in a discussion at ITESO, the Jesuit university in Guadalajara, along with Father José Luis González S.J., who works with migrants at the Mexico’s southern border. The interview addressed the issue of how migrants become commodities in a system that prioritizes money over humanity, and offered suggestions of how Mexican residents can accompany and support migrants. The interview is available here, in Spanish: https://magis.iteso.mx/content/el-capitalismo-convierte-las-personas-en-mercanc%C3%Adas. To translate into English, Google offers a translation service: https://translate.google.com.
  • KBI Immersion Student Wins Writing Contest: As the winner of The Nation’s Student Writing Contest in the high school category, Claire Devine answered the question, “What is the most important issue of your generation?” with an essay entitled “Toxic Borders and the Struggle for Human Rights,” published in the August 4 issue of the magazine. Claire, a Jesuit High School student in Portland, Oregon, participated in a week-long KBI immersion as well as this summer’s Kino Teens’ Leadership Days, and we can see those experiences reflected in her grasp of migrant rights and the urgent issues at the border. Congratulations, Claire, and thank you for your perspective! Read Claire’s essay here: https://www.thenation.com/article/toxic-borders-and-the-struggle-for-human-rights/.
  • KBI Staff Retreat and Board Meeting: KBI staff convened for their bi-annual retreat on Monday, August 28, to discuss the KBI’s current context and planned next steps and to pray about Pope Francis’ statement for the 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees (available here: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20170815_world-migrants-day-2018.html ). Board members met on Thursday, September 7, when Father Sean offered a presentation on his MBA program with Georgetown University and ESADE and the board voted on a new slate of officers for 2018.
  • Immersion Experiences: This past month, the KBI hosted two immersion groups, both comprised of midwestern high school students traveling to the border to learn firsthand about the migrant experience.
Immersion Group # of participants # of days at the KBI
St. Xavier High School
Cincinnati, OH
7 participants  6 days
Loyola High School
Los Angeles, CA
8 participants 4 days

 

Check out and follow the KBI’s Facebook page, now in English and Spanish, for the latest news, activities, and events.

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Defending the DREAMers

With the termination of DACA (Deferred Action for Child Arrivals) announced on September 5, close to 800,000 young students and workers who have lived in the U.S. for almost their entire lives—often called DREAMers—will be at risk of deportation in six months. Instituted in 2012 by executive order, the program has provided temporary relief and work permits to these migrant youth and young adults who were brought to the U.S. as children. DACA has allowed them to make continued contributions to their communities in every realm, and work toward their goals without the specter of removal and family separation hanging over them.

Now the KBI urges you to come to their defense, and support the Dream Act of 2017 that will sign these protections into law and expand the provisions to include a path to citizenship. We are especially concerned that the Dream Act pass as a stand alone bill, and that DREAMers not be held hostage in exchange for increased border security that will further harm the individuals we serve day to day. This alert from the Jesuit Conference and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA provides more information for sending letters to your state representatives to voice your support. It takes only a few minutes, but can have a long-lasting impact on hundreds of thousands of lives. Thank you for taking action!

http://cqrcengage.com/jesuit/app/onestep-write-a-letter?3&engagementId=380873&lp=0.

Father Sean prays with young DREAMers at the Arizona-Sonora border in 2013.

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