- Date: November 8, 2021
- Time: 10:00am PST
- Location: Kino Border Initiative, Migrant Outreach Center
- Panelists: Jose Hernandez*, asylum seeker; Lisandro*, asylum seeker; Josefina “Pina” Bejarano Padilla, Missionary Sister of the Eucharist and KBI Shelter Coordinator; Noah Schramm, Project Coordinator for Border Action Team, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project
- *names have been changed to preserve anonymity
- Press release: https://conta.cc/3DbKiJD
Translated transcript below
Good morning, my name is José Hernández from Central America. We welcome each of the members of the media who are present today in this place, the members of the Kino Border Initiative, members of the Florence Project, migrant colleagues and others.
1) We are here seeing how the border was opened for people with visas, but sadly they excluded us, those of us who are waiting for asylum, they do not take into account our urgency, they put us aside and exclude us.
It affects me because I lived it firsthand. I fled my country with my family a few months ago due to the death threats and physical assault we suffered. We were afraid for our lives. Arriving at a port of entry hoping to receive protection. Instead, we find a mockery of our dignity. We find rejection and discrimination. An immigration agent told us that, “They only come to the US to bring us COVID. ” Even with insults that I will not repeat here, they blamed us. When I wanted to show him my negative COVID test, he wouldn’t let me get near him. Another migration agent told us that he was not going to give us water because everyone else would want water too. Later, they separated me from my family, put me in a vehicle full of mud and garbage, and without asking anything, they expelled me to Mexico. This is my experience, and sadly it is just one of many experiences of the racism that thousands of migrants have experienced in encounters with the CBP under Title 42 policy.
2) We see that President Biden continues with the validity of Title 42 being the same racist policy of Donald Trump.
3) For this reason we are forced to stay here in Nogales where we receive labor exploitation and discrimination.
4) House rents are exorbitant. I can say it properly and from my own experience that it has cost us a lot to find a safe and decent place. We have been in a house that charged us 4000 pesos [195 U.S. dollars] a month, which is three times more than what we paid in our country. It was a house without windows, without a lock, exposed to the cold at night which led us to become seriously ill, also exposed to the crime that exists in this place. Also, my daughter does not have access to education.
5) We are willing to be tested for covid 19 or to be vaccinated; since this has been the main pretext for migrants not to receive asylum. We have cases of colleagues who have been vaccinated and have been turned away at port of entry even though they had proof of vaccination in hand. We are discriminated against. They ran out of excuses and what they have are only baseless pretexts to deny us asylum.
I also want to add that our migrant brothers in the Tijuana area cannot express themselves freely, due to the risks that being in this area represents. Therefore, we unite to raise our voices in solidarity with them.
Today we are going to hear from Lisandro’s family, our colleague who has just turned himself in to the port of entry to request asylum. Sister Pina Bejarano Padilla, a Missionary of the Eucharist, and coordinator of the Kino Border Initiative shelter, to share her perspective. And Noah Schramm, an attorney from the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project.
First, I invite Lisandro to come to the front and share a bit of his experience.
Good morning my name is Lisandro. Just an hour ago I tried with my family to request for asylum at the [DeConcini] port of entry. Well, I arrived and presented my proof of vaccination. I already have the vaccine. And the CBP agent didn’t tell me anything. We were there for almost 15 minutes. They sent for a higher-ranking police officer. He told me his name and told me that at the moment he could not grant asylum, that there is no asylum for us. That he only opened the border for tourists who carry passports and visas. Not us, they couldn’t give us asylum because there wasn’t [a process]. From my perspective, I see it as a racist policy, really. Because I have the vaccine and they denied me asylum. It is my right to ask for asylum. Since I have been fleeing from a very dangerous place and how is it possible that they do this to us? To millions of families that we meet here? Suffering. And they do not realize what we are really going through. They [need] to put on shoes so they can see what it feels like to be here. [To] be suffering. Be humiliated. Being attacked. And then being threatened by the mafia. No more, no.
Josefina “Pina” Bejarano Padilla
It is sad to hear stories like Lisandro’s. Every day I hear stories of pain. Of families that were forced to move. In the past, perhaps there was talk of immigration where [migrants] were looking for a better life. Today, it is not like that. Today they are displaced, they are forced, they have to flee. You have to abandon your [home] lands. It is difficult. The process of leaving their land, fleeing, traveling a path where they encounter violence. They are violated and reach a border where they encounter even more violence. With more rejection. We at the Kino Border Initiative regularly receive donations of clothing, food, and things in-kind, among them we receive orthopedic devices. Wheelchairs, canes, crutches – things we thought we weren’t going to need.
They were very sporadic when we needed it. Today, all those wheelchairs are being used. By those? By people who cross, one, two, three, four or five times and in the final [attempt] they [suffer] fractures. Those are the people who have been using them. Families who have been requesting asylum. Those who have their children with cerebral palsy, with diseases where they cannot move, come to request asylum. They come because they are displaced from their land. Imagine carrying a 15-year-old child in your arms as you migrate [because you have no other option]? It is not possible. It is inconceivable. It is those children who are using those wheelchairs today. Why? Because when they leave their home land, they no longer have access to what they received in their homeland. They had medical attention. They no longer have it. They are denied [medical care] when they are forced to leave their homeland.
We received a woman in the shelter who was eight months pregnant. A woman who has been fleeing violence, tries to cross to the border, requests her asylum. They [CBP] did not listen to her and they expel you. This woman comes here, she spends some time, while she regains her strength, thinking what to do. Every day I heard her cry and say, “Why me? I had my home, my family, I had access to education, I had a job, I had no need to emigrate.” And during that recovery time, three weeks after giving birth, she tries to cross again. Thank God, today, she is in the United States with her husband and her child in her arms. But she does not need to be exposed to that circumstance.
Another woman who had been kidnapped since she was a child, also comes to mind. All her life she lived in a cage, in a small room. When this woman manages to escape with her daughters, because inside that cage she had her daughters, when she manages to escape, she comes looking for asylum and here in Nogales, on the border, those who had kidnapped her chased her up here. And they came here. What to do with these situations? We can’t [do anything]. If the border were open it would be another situation. They would not be suffering that way.
As a religious [person], as a daughter of God, and all as daughters and sons of God, I believe that God who gave us life calls us to give life. In what way can we give life? All the migrants we serve need open hands. They need us to engage with them. They need their rights to be validated. They are not asking for anything out of the ordinary.
They are asking us to validate [them], to fight with them so that their rights are valid. So that they can enjoy what you and I enjoy being here. They have no other need. So I believe that we are called as children of God to extend those arms. I cannot conceive of being in front of a woman and her children, or in front of a man who comes with her children requesting help, a response with apathy. It’s inconceivable. I cannot close my eyes to that reality. And I think that all of us, we have lived the experience of moments where we have needed help and there was someone who lent us a helping hand. That is what these people are asking of us. Hands that are extended for them and towards them. Hands that are solidarity with them. Not that we are their voice. Let them speak on their behalf. That is what we are called to do. If we give ourselves the opportunity, all the people who are at this moment in this march requesting asylum, fighting for that asylum, bring a story. They bring pain to your heart. If we give them the opportunity to listen to them, I assure you that they are one, they will not make five or ten, we will make many together with each one of them, asking for them to be helped. Let’s make an effort together, if you listen to the story of a single person, only one.
In this way, I invite the Mexican authorities, as they said and my colleagues, that staying here is difficult. It is hard. It is a tremendous exploitation. I invite the Mexican authorities to make this cross lighter. Make that load lighter. They need a roof, they need food, the right to health, they need work, and not a job that is exploitative. They are surviving on the border. And it is not about survival. They have to live. They have the right to life. I invite the Mexican authorities to assert the rights of each of the people who are here, requesting asylum. Likewise, the same invitation to the Biden administration. Immigration policy, Title 42, is not fair. It is not fair to these people. Open the doors. These people need doors to be opened for them. Let him listen to them. That they are not immediately tagged. They are told, “You are migrants, and we have nothing for you.” Listen to them. They have the right to speak to a judge. They have the right to asylum. We ask in the most respectful way that those doors be opened and that they be listened to. Open up your hands. Let each of these people be given life. Asserting what is theirs. Their rights. The right to asylum. I want to end this moment by emphasizing that each of the people who are here have no option to return. It is not an option. The homeland that was theirs has already been taken from them. That is why they are here. What was theirs has already been taken from them.
I work with the Florence Project. We provide information and legal services for the thousands of migrants who are here and who are requesting asylum. First of all, I want to comment that the asylum process is a legal process. Applying for asylum is a right in international law, in domestic law. A person can request asylum. He [Lisandro] can go to the port of entry and can present and express his fear, express that he wants to ask for asylum – that is legal. And it is a right that all people should have. So it is very important to understand that, because many people say that these people are entering through a process that is not legal, and that is not true. It is a legal process. It is a right in international law and in domestic law.
Title 42 says that this right does not exist. Under Title 42, there is no access to asylum at the port of entries. So what happened with Lisandro’s family this morning is a great injustice, but it is not a surprise because what is happening with all the families that are trying to enter through the port of entry. There are no exceptions. At this time, there are no exceptions. Under Title 42, everyone who applies for asylum at the port of entries, the officers say there is no asylum. They just say there is no asylum, they say they have to go back and wait until there is a change. And there is no process. There is no judge, there is no consideration. As many people can tell, they are simply rejected. The pretext, the reason the government says for this policy is the pandemic, it is public health.
But there are [asylum seekers] who are willing to take COVID tests. There are people with the vaccine. And more than anything, the government does have the resources to carry out a process, such as processing the people who are entering this process. That is a lie that the government has no resources. The medical community, the scientific community is more or less united saying that the government does have the resources to do this. And what they are saying is no longer an excuse to violate their obligations under international law and under domestic law. So under the Biden administration, there is no asylum process at the port of entries.
There is no way to apply for asylum in the US. What happened to this family this morning, Lisandro’s family, is a great injustice. It is a great injustice what is happening to all the families who are awaiting an asylum process, and have no other option. And the Biden administration has to act. And every day that he doesn’t, there is more death, there is more suffering, there is more torture against the people who are waiting here. The administration and the US have to act.