The Immigration Prosecution Factory

Initiated in 2005 to expedite immigration court proceedings, Operation Streamline is rife with problems—due process concerns, asylum seekers lost in the shuffle, separated families, the whole enterprise an offense to human dignity and presumptive innocence. Prosecutions are not a substitute for solid, sensible immigration reform. Yet the program has expanded in the past, and we are likely to see it grow yet again under the Trump Administration.

As Central Americans flooded the U.S.–Mexico border in 2005, fleeing some of the deadliest countries in the world, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice sought an expedient way to process the cases of those arrested, and institute disincentives to cross again. They came up with Operation Streamline, a “zero-tolerance” program that prosecutes unauthorized migrants en masse, vastly increasing the number of people charged, permitting only brief pre-hearing meetings with attorneys, and resulting in rising costs to taxpayers as the program has expanded.

Assembly-line justice. Conveyor-belt prosecutions. Fast-track immigration proceedings. The terminology used to describe Operation Streamline captures the mechanical and dehumanizing nature of the program in which large groups of defendants are prosecuted in a single afternoon. Such numerous and rushed proceedings result in violations of due process; overlooked special circumstances such as asylum claims or citizenship eligibility; and criminal records for most all defendants. Here is how Operation Streamline, essentially a factory-like court system for criminal prosecutions of immigration offenses, works.


Operating in the Southwestern districts of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the main changes implemented by Operation Streamline are group proceedings, the prosecution of first-time entrants (who used to be deported without criminal charges being brought), and the addition of criminal records and jail time before deportation. Every weekday in Tucson (where the program started in 2008), up to 75 defendants are prosecuted at a time (the cap set by the number of court cells available) in under two hours. One judge boasted of processing an afternoon’s cases in a half-hour!

In criminalizing unauthorized immigration, what could be treated as civil offenses are instead treated as federal crimes—(1) illegal entry for first-time entrants, a misdemeanor carrying a sentence of up to 6 months, and (2) illegal re-entry, a felony charge with a minimum sentence of one year, but up to 20 years for anyone with a prior criminal record. (Residing in the U.S. without documentation is only an administrative matter.) The U.S. policy of criminalizing entry is highly unusual, with most countries handling illegal entry of re-entry as administrative matters. Mexico, for example, decriminalized entry back in 2011.

The “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all apprehended border-crossers was relaxed in 2014, with a decision to focus resources on prosecuting repeat crossers, and not first-timers. But with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s April directive to prioritize immigration prosecutions and calling for implementation plans from CBP’s Southwestern districts, “zero tolerance” is back and so are the human burdens and increased government spending that goes with it. In the month following that announcement, criminal prosecutions for illegal entry and re-entry rose 27%, and another 18% the following month. (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University).


In the day-to-day expediting of Operation Streamline, most defendants are advised by their lawyers to plead guilty, and discouraged from taking their case to trial, a situation in which they are likely to lose, receive a longer sentence, and still be deported. For first-time entrants in Streamline, this usually means a sentence of time already served, a waiver of the $5,000 fine, a misdemeanor on their record, and a warning from the judge that re-entry will result in a felony charge should they be caught crossing again. Repeat crossers are charged with both illegal entry and illegal re-entry; when pleading guilty to the first charge, the second is usually dismissed and they are sentenced to 30-180 days.

The seeming leniency of the sentencing masks harsher truths. The prosecutor could have chosen not to press charges in the first place, avoiding the impossible choice that people are presented when it comes time to plea. Moreover, plea deals often involve relinquishing the right to appeal, and each defendant is now cued up for more severe penalties upon re-entry. These criminal convictions all but eliminate the possibility of entering the U.S. legally in the future, even if the individual would otherwise be eligible for such status.


As often happens with legal short cuts, due process and the right to a fair hearing get steamrolled in the onslaught of prosecutions. Clients and attorneys meet for the first time only a few hours before the hearing in the same court room where the hearings are held, providing little confidentiality for the clients. Moreover, attorneys represent up to 6 defendants at a time. The limited time, brief consultations, and push for plea deals mean that the particular complexities of each individual case are cast aside. Also, though translation services are provided for Spanish speakers, those who speak indigenous languages instead of Spanish are not accommodated. And for anyone unfamiliar with the intricacies of the U.S. court system, the proceedings are simply confusing.

Perhaps the most onerous due process implication of Operation Streamline is punishing potential asylum seekers who are not properly screened with a credible fear interview beforehand. Seeking asylum is a human right, not a crime, and even the DHS Office of the Inspector General has determined that prosecuting asylum seekers may be a violation of U.S. treaties. Yet even when defendants have expressed fear of returning and their attorneys raise the issue during the hearing, it is shelved—would-be asylum seekers are told that Streamline is not the forum, that they must serve their time and apply later, and they leave with a misdemeanor making it harder to apply for asylum. Human Rights First has documented numerous cases of asylum seekers falling through the cracks due to misinformation or discouragement from CBP personnel, and will soon publish a report on their findings.

Finally, due process and proper screening are affected by the indignities and humiliations suffered by defendants, who endure inhumane detention conditions, repeated strip searches, and until recently, shackling at the ankles and wrists when appearing in the court room. These are not circumstances in which people feel free to pose questions or assert rights. In May, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling to eliminate en masse restraints in California, Arizona, and other regional federal courts, deeming the practice unconstitutional. Their decision read in part that a defendant is presumed to be innocent and has “the right to be treated with respect and dignity in a public courtroom, not like a bear on a chain.” Nevertheless, this ruling applies to court proceedings only, and defendants are shackled when meeting with their court-appointed attorneys prior to the hearings and again after conviction.


Operation Streamline is a program designed to make the prosecution of so many tens of thousands of people more efficient, rather than more just, but it is certainly not saving taxpayer money. The volume of prosecutions has skyrocketed over the years, growing 500% in one decade (2003–2013) according to the chart below, even though apprehensions have plummeted. And according to an estimate from Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based advocacy group, the program tallies up $1 billion in court costs, detention, and deportation annually. Immigration prosecutions represent about half of the federal criminal docket; in Arizona, they are an astounding 80.3% of the docket (2013, Transactional Records Access Clearing House, Syracuse University). And these figures will continue to rise with the Trump Administration’s new priorities.

Year Apprehensions* Prosecutions*
2000           1,643,679             11,794
2001           1,235,718             11,743
2002             929,809             12,529
2003             905,065             15,424
2004           1,139,282             31,384
2005           1,171,396             30,467
2006           1,071,972             30,136
2007             858,638             31,639
2008             705,005             70,983
2009             540,865             84,301
2010             447,731             79,524
2011             327,577             75,470
2012             356,873             85,228
2013             414,397             91,262
2014             479,371             81,581
2015             331,333             69,565
2016             408,870             64,384
2017             259,107             39,586
* Apprehensions from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol; prosecutions from Transactional Records Access Clearing House, Syracuse University); 2017 apprehensions through July and prosecutions through June.


The cost of the program in human misery is even more distressing. Separated families, thwarted asylum claims, deportation back to violence or poverty—these are burdens borne by the defendants, most of whom have already suffered in their countries of origin or en route to seeking a better, safer life. These costs are incalculable, and though Streamline seeks to deter migrants from crossing the border again, it does nothing to address the circumstances that made them choose to migrate to begin with. Instead, this prosecutorial program, absent legislative immigration reform, only escalates the trauma, desperation, and suffering of an already over-burdened migrant population. When faced with the fear of CBP and possible jail time, the chance to be with family, escape poverty, or flee life-threatening gang violence often proves more compelling.


Bringing criminal charges to ever-increasing numbers of immigrants and deciding their fates so quickly and with little or no exploration of case details or regard for due process is unjust and unreasonable. For convicted asylum seekers, prosecution amounts to a violation of their human rights. And the criminalization of crossing the U.S.–Mexico border has resulted in unduly harsh consequences for prosecuted immigrants, setting up a cycle of prosecutorial red tape that’s almost impossible to break, often consigning convicted individuals to bleak futures and family separation. Using the courts to fix a broken immigration system is not a fair, humane, or even cost-effective solution. As the Trump Administration gears up for even more prosecutions, it’s more important than ever to advocate on behalf of migrants and asylum seekers, and demand immigration laws that keep families together, offer viable options for legal status, and uphold human dignity.

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Undocumented migrants, like the one pictured here at the Eagle Pass Border Patrol Station in Texas, are subjected to expedited group prosecutions through Operation Streamline.

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María’s Story: The Toll of Poverty and Family Separation

U.S. detention and deportation policies have long been the source of separation for immigrant families seeking to be together. María crossed the U.S.–Mexico border twice to visit her father who she has not seen in a decade, but it is not clear how or when that reunion will take place.

María came to the KBI in mid-August, after serving 30 days in a U.S. prison and being deported to Nogales, Sonora. She hasn’t seen her dad in 10 years, and her goal was to live with him in Atlanta, work to send money to her mother and siblings in Oaxaca, and save to continue her education back in Mexico. María stayed at the KBI shelter for a month, recovering from the traumatic experience of a lengthy journey, needless detention, and deportation to an unknown city, all without the comfort or companionship of family, and deciding on her next steps.

María tells her story, offered in English and Spanish, below. What she does not include is the fact that, like many undocumented migrants apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the U.S.–Mexico border, her case was expedited through Operation Streamline, resulting in a criminal misdemeanor, the aforementioned detention and deportation, and harsher penalties should she be arrested for re-entry again. This outcome will make it that much harder for María to get to see her father, seek a visa, or apply for permanent residency or citizenship in the U.S., and is among numerous reasons why Operation Streamline is a flawed and unduly punitive system.


My name is María, and I’m from Juquila, Oaxaca. I’m 18 years old.

I want to be with my family in the United States. I want to be there with them. My cousin is in Ohio, and my father is in Atlanta.  My dad is the one who paid the coyote. It’s been 10 years [since I’ve seen my dad].

[I’ve tried to cross the border] twice. The first time I tried to cross was through Agua Prieta. I walked for 8 days, and just as we were arriving, we were apprehended.

The second time I tried crossing was here in Nogales. I barely walked three minutes and then Border Patrol caught me. I was in detention for a month.

[In the detention center], they give you food, but I wasn’t that hungry—I was missing my family, I wanted to get out… you’re very sad when you’re there, locked up.

I’m going to try and cross again. I don’t know if it’ll be this month or another, but I’m going to try again. I want to be with my family.

I’m going to keep studying. I’m going to finish my degree—I want to be a teacher. The first thing though is that I want to be with my family—I miss them so much, and then I’ll return to Oaxaca. I’ll work there in Oaxaca, teaching children—that’s what I hope for. We’ll see what happens. One day I expect to have a family.

I think that people [who are anti-immigrant] are doing wrong. We all have a right to be with our families, and have work.


Me llamo María, y soy de Juquila, Oaxaca. Tengo 18 años.

Quería ir estar con mi familia allá en Estados Unidos. Quiero llegar allá con mi familia. Mi prima está en Ohio, y mi papá está en Atlanta. Mi papá pagó al coyote. Tengo diez años [que no veo a mi papá].

Ya [intenté cruzar la frontera] dos veces. La primera vez intenté por Agua Prieta. Caminé 8 días, y allí, llegando, nos agarraron.

La segunda vez intenté aquí por Nogales. Nada más caminé como tres minutos y ya, y me agarraron. Estuve en detención un mes.

[En el centro de detención], te dan de comer, pero a mí no me daba hambre, como extraño a mi familia, quiero salir… uno se siente triste allí, encerrado.

Voy a intentar otra vez. La verdad no sé si en este mes u otro, pero voy a intentar otra vez. Quiero llegar con mi familia.

Voy a seguir estudiando. Voy a terminar mi carrera—quiero ser una maestra. Primero, quiero estar con mi familia, es que la extraño mucho, y voy a regresar aquí a Oaxaca. Voy a trabajar allá en Oaxaca, enseñar a los niños, es lo que quiero—a ver qué pasa. Algún día pienso tener una familia.

Creo que [las personas antiinmigrantes] están haciendo mal. Todos tenemos derecho a estar con nuestra familia, a tener trabajo.

With other migrant women at the KBI shelter, María weaves bracelets to sell, a therapeutic activity after the trauma of detention and deportation as well as a practical means of generating some funds for necessities. Photo by Julie Olbrantz

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KBI Media Report: October 2017

The major news stories this past month concern the renewal of temporary protected status for eligible immigrants, border wall plans as a diversion from immigration reform and human suffering, and the arrest and detention of a Texas child soon after emergency surgery.

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The Department of Homeland Security has begun building prototypes for Trump’s promised border wall. View from the Tijuana side, Mexico, October 12, 2017.

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KBI November Announcements

We are pleased to share news about an award granted to the KBI by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA); the results of the annual Tucson fundraiser; our participation in the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice; recent immersions; and a just-released documentary about the worldwide immigration crisis.

  • Award from the Washington Office on Latin America: On Tuesday, October 24, at the Mayflower Renaissance in Washington, D.C., the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) presented their Human Rights Award to the Kino Border Initiative in recognition of its humanitarian programs and its work to promote the human rights of migrants along the U.S.–Mexico border. Honored by this recognition, Father Sean Carroll, S.J. and Sister Alicia Guevara Pérez, M.E. accepted the award for the KBI and offered a speech you can read on the KBI/IKF Facebook page: They also visited legislative offices on Capitol Hill during their time in Washington.


  • NPR journalist María Hinojosa presented an award from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) to the KBI, accepted by Sister Alicia Guevara Pérez, M.E. and Father Sean Carroll, S.J.
    Photo courtesy of WOLA

    In accepting the WOLA award, Father Sean Carroll, S.J. and Sister Alicia Guevara Pérez, M.E. spoke on behalf of the KBI and shared stories of the migrants they’ve encountered.
    Photo courtesy of WOLA.

  • Tucson Fundraiser: A Tucson Fiesta for the Kino Border Initiative, hosted by board member Luis Dabdoub and his wife Susana Dabdoub on Sunday, October 29, raised nearly $10,000 in support of the KBI’s mission and programming. Our deep gratitude goes out to the organizers, hosts, and guests of this third annual Tucson fundraiser!
  • KBI board member and Tucson Fiesta host Luis Dabdoub greeted guests at the annual fundraiser. Salpointe High School Kino Teen Jimena Márquez (pictured) and KBI Executive Director Father Sean Carroll, S.J. also offered remarks.

    KBI board members Larry Hanelin and Roger Cook with Roger’s wife Mary Ellen Cook (center) join in the fundraising festivities at the Tucson Fiesta.

  • Ignatian Family Teach-In: At the 20th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice held on November 4-5 in Washington, D.C., KBI Director of Education and Advocacy Joanna Williams presented a large-scale breakout session on immigration and a second breakout session covering skills and tips on how to tell stories of migrants with Loyola Kino Teens Angel Aliano and Brandon Ortiz. Father Pete Neeley, S.J. the KBI’s Assistant Director of Education, also offered a breakout session about the Kino Teens program, accompanied by Lourdes Kino Teens Luis Delgado and Cesar Perez.
  • Immersion Experiences: In October, six groups from across the country—parishioners, high school and graduate students, and educators—visited the KBI to participate in immersion experiences at the border.
Immersion Group # of participants # of days at the KBI
Holy Trinity Catholic Church
Washington, D.C.
12 participants  4 days
El Otro Lado
Lasallian Social Justice Inst.
11 participants 1 day
Hun School of Princeton
Princeton, NJ
10 participants 4 days
University of San Francisco
Masters in Migration
San Francisco, CA
11 participants 3 days
Scranton University (faculty)
Scranton, PA
10 participants 4 day
Brophy College Preparatory
Phoenix, AZ
8 participants 2 day


  • Movie about the Worldwide Immigration Crisis: The Loft Cinema in Tucson will present “Human Flow,” an illuminating documentary by famed artist Ai Weiwei about the unprecedented scale and profound human impact of today’s migrant and refugee crisis. Co-sponsored by Humane Borders, the film opens on Friday, November 17 at The Loft, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd., Tucson. For more information, show times, and to view the trailer, go to: To learn about action items and other cities screening this movie, go to:
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Defending Temporary Protected Status

In the coming months, the Department of Homeland Security will determine the fate of more than 300,000 people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti who emigrated to the U.S. after receiving temporary protected status (TPS) in response to climate events and armed conflict in their home countries. DHS has already decided not to renew TPS for some 2,500 Nicaraguans, and extended TPS for Hondurans by only 6 months. After close to 20 years in the U.S., these immigrants have integrated into their communities, and have U.S. born family members and children. Failing to renew TPS for people who hail from countries where conditions have only worsened would result in the loss of their work permits, greater vulnerability to deportation, and separation of families.

The KBI stands in solidarity with these TPS recipients, and asks you to join in advocating for them by responding to this alert from the Jesuit Conference. Thank you for supporting the extension of TPS:

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Children hold posters supporting the renewal of Temporary Protected status at a press conference about TPS in Miami, Florida.

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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:;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.


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.


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:
    • 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:
    • 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:

Embed from Getty Images

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: ¡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:
  • 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:
  • 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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