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.

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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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Making the Case for Asylum Seekers

The KBI’s commitment to asylum seekers remains steadfast as research reveals the great need for advocacy in this area and a new legal fellow takes up the challenge of helping to build strong cases for those seeking asylum.

As part of its humanitarian aid and advocacy efforts on behalf of migrants, the Kino Border Initiative has worked with partner organizations to promote the rights of asylum seekers. This month, the KBI expands this programming with its first legal fellow, co-sponsored by the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP). The fellow will provide legal representation to asylum seekers who arrive at the KBI comedor and shelter, and support research and advocacy to improve the asylum process and advance asylum law.

ASYLUM: SOME BACKGROUND

The option to enter into an asylum process is recognized as a basic human right. As established by the United Nations in 1951, a person qualifies for asylum when they demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country, currently or in the future, based on race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion. The U.S. agreed to this Protocol and further formalized these requirements in the Refugee Act of 1980. Nevertheless, there have been inconsistencies in applying the law and in providing people with access to the asylum process. For example, research from the KBI and other organizations shows that Customs and Border Control (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repeatedly fail to screen for asylum claims or screen inadequately, and many individuals and families who express fear of returning to their homelands are deported back to the dangerous situations they fled. Between November 2015 and March 2017, the KBI filed 22 complaints on behalf of individuals who expressed fear of returning to Mexico, but were turned back or deported without being interviewed by an asylum officer.

The reasons people seek asylum are varied, but ultimately arise from scenarios in which individuals not only fear for their safety, but their lives. Violence in various forms—murder, rape, extortion, incarceration and torture, armed conflict—perpetrated by criminal gangs, tribal adversaries, or state-sanctioned forces and targeting specific groups, create untenable conditions in which to live, work, and raise children. A general rise in violence, such as the spike in homicides in Mexico, is not sufficient to meet the criteria for asylum; asylum applicants must show that they are particularly targeted for one of the reasons listed in the U.N. Protocol, and that the country where they live is unable to protect them.

And so the woman threatened by a group who tortured and killed her brother, a man suffering persecution and harassment for his sexual orientation, and a woman from a town where gangs are targeting and raping women—to name a few cases in which the KBI filed complaints for failure to provide asylum access—all have grounds to submit asylum claims. Though they each expressed fear about returning to their home country of Mexico, they were deported without ever being screened by an asylum officer who, unlike CBP agents or ICE officials, is specially trained for this sensitive task.

OBSTACLES TO SEEKING ASYLUM

Obstructing access to the asylum process or providing misinformation about it is human rights violation and a life-and-death matter, plain and simple. There is no way to track exactly how many potential asylum seekers are turned away at the border, poorly screened, or deported without screening, but based on data collected from intake surveys at the comedor during the first eight months of 2016, the KBI estimates that approximately 40 Mexican individuals are deported to Nogales, Sonora each month without being afforded an interview with an asylum officer and despite reporting violence as their main reason for migration. And this statistic does not include potential asylum seekers from other countries of origin who experience similar obstacles.

Through testimonies from those deported and other data, the KBI has identified three major sources of obstruction for asylum seekers, and therefore, areas for more focused attention and action: (1) inadequate screening and rejection of initial claims by CBP; (2) the nature and conditions of long-term detention in ICE facilities; and (3) access to legal representation.

At the border and in the short-term detention facilities run by CBP, a number of factors converge, complicating or preventing initial access to the asylum process. They include:

  • Detention conditions in which individuals are held for several days as they await expedited removal, a consolidated process that rushes people through deportation proceedings without adequately considering grounds for claims. The cells are sparse, intimidating, and lacking the privacy in which those detained can feel encouraged to report fear. Moreover, according to KBI statistics, 14% of men and 20% of women report experiencing verbal abuse while in CBP custody, subjecting them to further intimidation.
  • Poor training of CBP staff who often fail to identify or report expressions of fear. While an asylum officer is the official tasked with investigating asylum claims and conducting credible fear interviews, CBP agents can ensure that people are appropriately referred to the asylum process through specialized training in trauma awareness, greater sensitivity (for example, having female officers interview female migrants), and more widespread use of language services when indigenous individuals are interviewed.
  • Willful dismissal or discouragement of asylum claims. Even when detained individuals express fear, CBP agents often ignore these indicators, discourage claims, or provide false information about the asylum process, such as asserting someone’s ineligibility or directing them to present themselves at a port of entry. Greater oversight, video recording, and spot checks for compliance would help deter these abuses, and will be even more necessary with the planned expansion of CBP, a concern for training since the rapid addition of 5,000 more agents means qualification and training standards may fall.

Some of these obstacles also apply in the detention centers operated by ICE, but long-term detention presents other stresses and issues for those detained. Detentions have become more prolonged (averaging 404 days, and costing taxpayers $158 per day for each detainee), due in part to the unprecedented backlog in immigration courts. In addition, conditions are worse, as privately-run centers make expenditure decisions about staff supervision, health care, and occupancy based on profit rather than humane treatment. Family members are often separated and sent to different facilities, routing their asylum cases separately when they’d be strongest if considered together. The KBI and other organizations call for the elimination of detention as the primary means of securing court appearances, and espouses the use of community-based compliance methods, such as release on recognizance and posting bond.

Finally, many asylum seekers fail to submit claims to begin with or lose their cases when granted a hearing due to a lack of legal counsel and expertise. Access to attorneys with the knowledge and experience to build a compelling asylum case and navigate the intricacies of asylum law is one of the major prerequisites to a successful asylum claim. Migrants in detention are four times more likely to be released if they have legal representation. Of those who remain in detention, 21% who have legal representation qualify for legal relief compared to 2% without legal representation.[1] This is a major reason for expanding advocacy to include the new KBI/FIRRP legal fellow who will represent asylum seekers served by the KBI and in need of counsel.

In addition, informed and strategic legal defenses help to advance asylum law and the manner in which future cases are tried by establishing new precedents. For example, seeking asylum based on domestic violence proved impossible for decades—domestic abuse survivors were not recognized as a persecuted group. But a landmark case in 2014 brought by a U.C. Hastings legal team changed that by winning asylum for a Guatemalan woman who suffered brutal assaults, rapes, and burns by her husband. Her lawyers asserted that the government failed to intervene or protect the woman, thereby discriminating against her and violating her human rights. At that time, the Board of Immigration Appeals issued the precedent decision of recognizing domestic violence as grounds for asylum and women who flee such persecution as members of a particular social group. With up to half of detained immigrant women fleeing domestic violence (based on estimates from advocacy organizations), this precedent supports asylum seekers and their lawyers in litigating these cases and, ultimately, in saving lives.

For the KBI, this legal realm—working on individual asylum cases while establishing law-reforming, life-altering precedents—is the next area of dedicated advocacy on behalf of asylum seekers. While continuing to work toward more compassionate immigration law through legislative means, the KBI recognizes that some of the most powerful changes can come about in a courtroom. As the new legal fellow joins the KBI staff, we enhance our ability to more directly serve those fleeing violence and persecution, and help them attain safer, better lives in the U.S.

[1] According to data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

KBI staff document abuses and help migrants understand their rights and options, including access to asylum. Here, Marla Conrad, Advocacy Coordinator in Mexico, meets with a woman staying at Casa Nazareth.

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Maria’s Story: An Update on Her Asylum Case

Maria came to the KBI with her four children last fall after a two-year journey, fleeing extortion and kidnapping threats from a criminal gang in her native Honduras. We shared her story as advocacy and church groups in Green Valley, AZ welcomed her and supported her through the asylum process. Now, we happily report on the successful outcome of her case.

As a small business woman in Honduras, Maria was able to support her four children as a single mom. But when the local arm of an international gang began extorting monthly payments from her, threatening to kidnap her kids if she failed to pay, she packed up and fled north, arriving in Nogales, Sonora after two years of travel with periodic stops to earn money for the journey.

Maria and her family stayed at Casa Nazareth for three months while KBI advocacy staff worked with partner organizations to secure a pro-bono lawyer and prepare her asylum case. A sponsor makes the asylum process much easier and eliminates the stresses of long detention or the burden of a high bond as a family awaits their hearing date. Fortunately, the Green Valley–Sahuarita Samaritans and the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ of Sahuarita stepped in to sponsor Maria and her children, offering them a place to live and day-to-day support—transportation, translation services, financial assistance, and other neighborly help—throughout the waiting period. The whole family became an integral part of the community, and Maria has been volunteering with the Good Shepherd Food Bank while her children have been active in school sports and other activities.

In March, Maria’s attorneys presented her family’s case to an immigration judge. After so many steps and deadlines in the process, now the only thing left to do was wait.

Then in June, they got the good news. Asylum was granted! And the weight of worry—about deportation and its dangers, her children’s well-being and ongoing education, maintaining continuity for the family during an uncertain time—was lifted. After 3,000 miles of travel and a year of preparing and presenting their cases for asylum, Maria and her children can finally put down roots in a neighborhood where they are already part of the fabric of life there. She now has the security and stability to make plans and look forward to the future. Maria’s story illustrates the unyielding courage and commitment it takes to seek asylum, the power of individuals and community groups to positively impact an immigrant family’s possibilities, and in very practical terms, the great benefit of solid legal representation to fulfill a family’s dream of a better life.

The support of a community and access to legal representation offers much-needed support to parents and children seeking asylum.
Photo by Victor M. Espinosa/Creative Commons.

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KBI Media Report: July 2017

Our report this month includes a revealing interview with a veteran immigration agent, a pastoral letter offering encouragement and community actions to support more humane immigration policies, and more information about a major change in Arizona immigration courtrooms as well as the tragic migrant deaths in Texas.

      • An Inside Look at ICE: A long-time Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, with the condition of anonymity, goes on the record to describe emerging issues at the agency, particularly the latest push to arrest entire immigrant families and unaccompanied minors, allowed to stay in the U.S. when they arrived, who have turned eighteen. The picture he paints is one of decreasing standards and increasing impunity, creating an atmosphere in which abuses and human rights violations can go ignored or even be encouraged. His commentary reveals a man now demoralized by his job and an agency undergoing disturbing changes: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/a-veteran-ice-agent-disillusioned-with-the-trump-era-speaks-out/amp.
      • Removed Shackles: In Arizona, federal defendants are no longer required to wear shackles when appearing in court, based on a decision by the 9thS. Circuit Court of Appeals. The demeaning and largely unnecessary practice goes back 15 years, and the decision to remove restraints will affect not only those facing criminal charges in federal courtrooms, but also thousands of immigrants whose cases are fast-tracked through Operation Streamline. Read more about this decision and policy shift here: http://tucson.com/news/local/shackles-no-longer-required-on-all-federal-defendants-in-tucson/article_d75314b7-b8c9-5fec-a646-d3a95ae0dd85.html.
      • Pastoral Letter on Migration: In an online conversation organized by the Hope Border Institute, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso discussed his pastoral letter on migration, the first from a U.S. Catholic bishop on this subject in several years. In the letter, Bishop Seitz addressed the need for accompaniment of migrants, as espoused and exemplified by Pope Francis, and proposes a number of initiatives to help guide Catholic communities in this effort and called for a moratorium on detention and deportation. Learn more details about the pastoral letter and watch Bishop Seitz in conversation here: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2017/07/18/pastoral-letter-migration/.
      • Smuggling and Migrant Deaths: The recent deaths of 10 individuals crossing the border in the back of a crowded and stultifyingly hot 18-wheeler shocked and saddened all who support migrant rights and human dignity. In addition, 30 others were hospitalized when the truck was discovered in San Antonio. The tragedy highlights the life-threatening conditions migrants can be subject to when crossing, the dire circumstances they flee wherein the dangers of the road ahead are preferable to remaining in their countries of origin, and the criminally negligent treatment they receive from smugglers. This article provides more information and context about this heartbreaking story: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/30/texas-san-antonio-migrants-truck-deaths.

At the Paso del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, activists and migrants protest and mourn the deaths of 10 migrants, found in a trailer in Texas, and the deaths of 5 Guatemalans in the Rio Bravo. July 28, 2017.
Photo by Herika Martinez/AFP/Getty Images.

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KBI August Announcements

This month, the KBI welcomes a new legal fellow dedicated to working on asylum cases, and congratulates Father Sean on his graduation from his Global Executive MBA program. In addition, we were pleased to host three high school immersion groups.

  • New Legal Fellow: Rocío Castañeda joins the KBI as the new legal fellow, a position co-sponsored by the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP) to build cases and provide legal representation for asylum seekers. Rocío earned her undergraduate degree in Anthropology and her J.D. from Loyola University in Chicago. In between those studies, she received full accreditation to represent immigrants in immigration matters for jobs with the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago and the South Texas Pro Bono Representation Project (ProBAR) in Harlingen, Texas. Her extensive experience includes working with unaccompanied minors, clerking with a firm specializing in removal defense and appeals, and since 2014, working as a managing attorney with FIRRP. The KBI is extremely pleased to welcome Rocío, with her impressive dedication and specialized skills, to this new fellow position. It is something of a homecoming for Rocío as well—she grew up in Nogales, Sonora, and attended Lourdes Catholic School, where the Kino Teens got their start. ¡Bienvenida, Rocío!
  • Father Sean’s Graduation: After fourteen months of study, many group projects, and six two-week modules held in cities around the globe, Father Sean Carroll, S.J. graduated in July from GEMBA, an international business program, with an MBA degree. Jointly administered by Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business and Walsh School of Foreign Service (Washington, D.C.), and ESADE Business School (Barcelona, Spain), the program has added to Father Sean’s considerable business skills and offered a wealth of experience to draw on in his leadership of the KBI. ¡Felicitaciones, Father Sean!
  • Immersion Experiences: Three groups of high school students—from California and Illinois—spent part of their summer breaks at the KBI participating in immersion experiences to learn more about the border and the migrant experience.
Immersion Group # of participants # of days at the KBI
St. Ignatius College Prep
San Francisco, CA
11 participants  14 days
Loyola Academy
Wilmette, IL
9 participants 6 days
St. Ignatius College Prep
Chicago, IL
12 participants 7 days

Rocío Castañeda, Esq., is the new KBI/FIRRP legal fellow.
Photo courtesy of the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project.

July marked the graduation of the ninth GEMBA class. Here they are at Georgetown University after receiving their degrees; Father Sean is fourth from the right, front row.

Father Sean completed the 14-month GEMBA program in July, receiving an MBA degree and garnering greater business skills and insights to benefit the KBI.

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Support the Legal Fellow Program

With the start of the legal fellow program this month, a partnership with the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, the KBI expands its support of asylum seekers, and commits to exploring ways to advocate more broadly through the impact of carefully prepared asylum cases. We thank our donors for the support that has made this commitment to providing legal representation possible. And since this fellow position will be funded on a year-to-year basis, we continue to rely on your generosity to make this a sustainable effort. If you would like to donate to the KBI to fund this position, or any of our aid, advocacy, education or research programs, you can make a contribution here: https://www.kinoborderinitiative.org/get-involved/donate/. As always, we are exceedingly grateful for all the ways you support the KBI’s work.

The KBI offers direct aid and advocacy services to deported migrants who come to the comedor. Now, the new KBI/FIRRP legal fellow will litigate asylum cases for individuals and families served by the KBI.
Photo by Andrea Cauthen.

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