My hope of supporting all this that we are organizing is precisely to obtain asylum, not only for myself, but for all the people who are here waiting. We all have a reason. For myself, my hope is to be able to live safely. More than anything, it is having the security and the tranquility of not having to think that at any moment they can come and harm us. That is my hope. For my son to continue his studies like all young people. For my son to have a future, where he does not have to hide from anyone. Both he and my other children.- Yesenia, [not real name] migrant organizer for “Restore Protections for Holy Families: Prophetic Action to #SaveAsylum” march (scheduled for September 25, 2021)
Real discernment requires us to nurture our relationship with Christ in that deepest part of ourselves. It is not about imposing our views on others, but about collaborating to learn more about God’s hopes for our world and how best to live those out in the humility that we cannot do it alone. pg. 12, “Contemplation and Political Action: An Ignatian Guide to Civic Engagement”
September 26 is World Day of Migrants and Refugees. It is an occasion to remember and pray for our migrant brothers and sisters who feel compelled to leave their homelands in search of a better, safer and more secure life. It is a day when we remember our special responsibility to be both mystics and prophets in a Catholic and Ignatian sense of the terms: listening carefully to where God is and acting accordingly.
Many families that cross our path here at our Migrant Outreach Center in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico are escaping unimaginable violence and persecution, only to be met with a broken asylum system that excludes them from the possibility of seeking necessary protection to live life fully and with dignity. Families like Yesenia, who fled with their teenage son after he was targeted for recruitment by organized crime in southern Mexico, remain in limbo in Nogales as the border continues to be closed indefinitely to asylum seekers under Title 42. At the same time, the Biden Administration has doubled down on policies aimed at deterring and rapidly removing people away from the border as quickly as possible.
Pope Francis in his 2016 World Day of Migrants and Refugees message said, “Biblical revelation urges us to welcome the stranger; it tells us that in doing so, we open our doors to God, and that in the faces of others we see the face of Christ himself.” We affirm that Christ is present in everyone- migrants, helpers, neighbors, and government. It is one of our core values as Catholics and as an organization. On this World Day of Migrants and Refugees, we are especially reminded of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt to escape power-hungry King Herod of Judea who was determined to execute all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem in the Massacre of the Innocents. As a result, Joseph, Mary and our Savior, Jesus, were forced to live as refugees in exile from their land due to persecution and threat of death. The Gospel of Matthew applies to our contemporary global migration crisis, as we hear Christ’s call to welcome the stranger, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Our Holy Family represents an archetype for all refugee families.
Over the past few years, tens of thousands of migrants have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking the very refuge that Pope Francis describes and that our Holy Family once sought long ago. The right to asylum- guaranteed by domestic law and international obligations- remains at a near and total halt as a result of the Biden Administration’s unwillingness to rescind some of Trump’s policies, such as Title 42. For many humanitarian aid organizations committed to migrant justice, like ours, the border feels like a pressure cooker. The recent and rapid changes to immigration policy both with the U.S. and Mexico are becoming increasingly complex to follow, to unpack, and to document. The reimplementation of Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, and the waves of expulsions flights (flights to southern Mexico, Guatemala, Haiti, and lateral flights across the U.S. Mexico border)- are just a few examples of cruel, unlawful, and potentially deadly policies that further endangers vulnerable migrants and subjects them to even more violence. The confusion and lack of transparency creates a process where it is unclear where people are going. This is disturbing, to say the least.
Sadly, these are the signs of the time. Anti-immigrant sentiments and the rejection of the foreigner are the “invisible currents” that undergird the anti-asylum laws we are contending with as a society. This goes against our spiritual values as “men and women for others” and the Catholic Social teaching principles that support refugees and asylum seekers to seek protection. In times of crisis and decision making, we practice our Ignatian tradition of discernment to seek the will of God in all things, and to be guided by the Holy Spirit to respond to these difficult times. Just this past week, KBI’s Board of Directors went through an Ignatian Discernment training, to learn how to listen more carefully to God’s hopes for our work. This month our feature story is twofold, first, we offer a brief summary of recent developments in immigration policy and our position vis-à-vis as Catholics committed to the Catholic Principles of Migration; which then sets the stage to place a spotlight on the organizing efforts and demands of the migrant-led #SaveAsylum public action on September 25th, entitled “Restore Protections for Holy Families: Prophetic Action to #SaveAsylum”.
Signs of the times: analysis of emerging immigration policy from the lens of our Catholic Principles of Migration
“Remain in Mexico” policy (Migrant Protection Protocols, MPP)
When I had to decide if I would go back to Mexico or Guatemala I chose Mexico. It’s dangerous for us Guatemalans here too. But at least here there’s a small chance of opportunity, and that’s how I decided. I told the official I didn’t know what to do when I got back to Mexico. He said, “you can ask your God if he will let you into the U.S.” –Testimonies from MPP
We at KBI painfully remember the countless families we accompanied during Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ era which began back in January 2019 until January 2021, when President Joe Biden took office and suspended the program which was then officially terminated on June 1, 2021. Two months later, on August 24th, 2021, the Supreme Court required the Biden Administration to reimplement MPP. We remember Yolani, one of the migrant organizers from the Migrant March to End the Wait (January 19th, 2021), who had high hopes for the newly appointed Biden administration. She said, “The hopes we have in the new government are what we have been waiting on for a long time, only now, with the new president, are they much greater,” she says. “But Biden needs to see that we are still here. We haven’t gone anywhere and our wait continues; and we hope that he sees all the injustices that have been committed by the previous government.” Yolani, originally from Honduras, has waited in Nogales under MPP with her teenage daughter since January 2020.
The Supreme Court decision to revive Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy (formerly known as Migrant Protection Protocols, MPP for short) was a devastating blow for asylum seekers who are forced to wait in Mexico border cities while their asylum applications are pending. Chelsea Sachau, an attorney with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Projects who works with migrants at our KBI Migrant Outreach Center responded to the ruling by saying, “It is going to subject asylum seekers, who are people claiming persecution, to incredible harm. I’ve heard countless stories of kidnapping, sexual abuse, rape, family members who were disappeared and assumed dead.” Human Rights First, released a report documenting at least 1,544 publicly reported cases of killings, rapes, and kidnappings against migrants who have been sent to Mexican border cities through MPP or other immigation policies that prevent them from remaining in the U.S. after requesting asylum.
The revival of this inhumane policy is also a devastating blow to humanitarian organizations and advocacy groups like ours. Kino Border Initiative’s Executive Director, Joanna Williams, wrote in an open letter addressed to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico,
As a sovereign nation, but above all humanist, Mexico can and should refuse to implement this program, which aims to externalize the border of the United States in Mexican territory, in addition to exacerbating the vulnerability of people seeking asylum, exposing them to greater security risks and misery.
Rooted in our rich tradition of Catholic social teaching, we are reminded of the following Catholic principle of migration which states, “Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders. The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories and their borders. However, wealthier nations, which have the ability to better protect and feed their residents, have a strong obligation to accommodate migration flows.” We recognize that without Mexico’s collaboration in the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, as Joanna Williams states, “it would be impossible to reestablish this program.”
Lateral and International Expulsions
Advocates are aware of formal conversations between the U.S., Mexico, and Guatemala on how to streamline migrant expulsions and increase border security to curtail migration. This is not a new phenomenon, as there is a precedent of Mexico acting as a buffer or proxy “border wall” for the United States to halt migration in southern Mexico from ever reaching the U.S.-Mexico border.
The practice of “lateral repatriation,” officially termed the Alien Transfer Exit Program (ATEP) puts migrants at risk by moving them from the sector where they were detained to another location, oftentimes hundreds of miles away, according to WOLA. KBI’s Director of Operations and Services, Victor Yanez, spoke to Nogales International on August 3rd about some of his observations. “We noticed that about two or three weeks ago, the U.S. government began performing lateral deportations. So people who had entered through Reynosa (the Mexican city across from McAllen, Texas), were then transported to Nogales and deported through this area…People that were arriving were totally disoriented,” he said. During the month of August, many KBI staff members and volunteers conducting intakes to new arrivals at the shelter repeatedly heard this narrative. Migrants were under the impression that they were being flown or bussed to reunite with their families in the United States, but in fact were being deported back to Mexico to another sector along the border. This form of CBP abuse is documented in KBI’s and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice joint-report entitled, “Due Process Denied- CBP Abuses at the Border (October 2020-July 2021)”.
We saw a dramatic shift occur towards the end of the month of August, when our numbers of new migrants arriving at our shelter decreased significantly. KBI’s Executive Director, Joanna Williams, asserts in her letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, that these changes are a concerning signal of lateral expulsions occurring in our sector of Nogales. She states the following,
Recently, we noticed a reduction in the number of people coming to our resource center. After investigating, we learned with indignation that the National Institute of Migration in Nogales is transporting people expelled under Title 42, of nationality other than Mexican, to their immigration station in Hermosillo, for their subsequent transfer and expulsion through the southern border of Mexico.
This situation is alarming, since it makes Mexico an accomplice of apathy and abuse towards displaced persons, ignoring their request for protection and assistance to which they are entitled, as well as Mexico’s duty to safeguard the integrity of displaced persons. But in addition, their transfer deprives these people of the assistance of border humanitarian organizations, such as the Kino Border Initiative, who oversee the actions of the US immigration authorities, preventing impunity by documenting complaints of abuse and mistreatment.
In addition to lateral expulsions, the United States began flying Central American and Mexican families to southern Mexico and remote regions in Guatemala in an effort to deter migration. Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director of Human Rights Watch says, “ Abandoning vulnerable families in the remote Guatemalan jungle without money, food, or shelter and ignoring their requests for asylum is a new low for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. For years, the Mexican president has facilitated some of the United States’ most abusive anti-immigration policies. Now he has gone a step further, replicating those abusive policies on Mexico’s own southern border.”
A broad coalition consisting of 344 organizations signed an open letter addressed to the Biden administration demanding the immediate halt to deportation flights to Haiti, and the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to eligible Haitians. The undersigned expressed outrage at the blatant disregard for human rights by deporting Haitians back to Haiti where it had been recently devastated back to back by a 7.2 earthquake on August 14 and a tropical depression that brought flash floods and mudslides to various regions in the country. This is set against the backdrop of civil unrest after the assasination of President Jovenal Moise on July 17th. This letter comes two days after the horrific recordings of Mexican agents beating and harassing asylum seeking Haitian families in Chiapas, which is part of a recent and larger pattern of Mexican National Guard and National Migration Institute using excessive and even lethal force on migrants and migrant caravans at the southern Mexican border. On September 9, 2020, the Biden Administration extended TPS until December 31, 2022, ten days after the open letter was published. However, this week he re-initiated deportation flights for newly arriving Haitians.
These various practices and policies are clear violations of human rights that deny asylum seekers their right to protection. We stand by our Catholic principle that Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection. Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.
Al Otro Lado v. Mayorkas: Ruling on metering
Despite the various disastrous policy changes we’ve seen this past month, we’ve also witnessed tremendous gains and wins. On September 2, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant ruled that CBP’s practice of metering- the practice of turning away migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border once a daily quota on asylum applications is met- is unconstitutional. The 2017 lawsuit filed by Al Otro Lado advocacy group based in California said that metering violated the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by denying migrants the right to due process when they seek asylum at a port of entry. Kino Border Initiative contributed to the lawsuit by providing a declaration and technical expertise.
The end of metering and asylum turnbacks is a positive step on the long road towards restoring protections for asylum seekers. We believe that human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected. Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often they are subjected to punitive laws and harsh treatment by enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.
Restore Protections for Holy Families: Prophetic Action to #SaveAsylum
To have the freedom that I need for myself and my child to cross the border, to give them a better life, because here we can actually say that it is not life we are living, and much less a life meant for children. I want to give my child something better. – Aurora [not real name], migrant organizer for “Restore Protections for Holy Families” march (scheduled for September 25, 2021)[The work of reading the signs of the time] is about getting in touch with the invisible currents under the immediate surface of society, and discerning, at this level, what is leading us towards a fuller humanity, and what is diminishing our human-ness. In each of us there is a potential mystic and a potential prophet. The mystic intuits what is really going on beneath the surface of things, notices the divine amid the ordinary, and sees others with God’s eyes. The prophet addresses what the mystic sees, challenging all that is threatening to undermine humanity’s journey towards life-in-all-its-fullness, and encouraging all that is nourishing and empowering that journey.- Margaret Silf, “Companions of Christ: Ignatian Spirituality for Everyday Living”
Margaret Silf’s description of finding our inner “mystic” and “prophet” speaks to approaching the world as “Contemplatives in Action.” Contemplation is about learning how to see, being attentive and present to the possibility of God’s grace wherever we are and in whatever we are doing. We have to learn how to see and listen, and we do this by engaging in our Ignatian spiritual tradition of discernment. Discernment is “a process of prayerful reflection which leads a person or community to an understanding of God’s call at a given time or in particular circumstances of life. It involves listening to God in all the ways God communicates with us: in prayer, in the scriptures, through the Church and the world, in personal experience, and through other people” (Sisters of Providence)
God communicates to us through the stories of the migrants we serve at KBI. We see the face of Christ, and the plight of our Holy Family, reflected in the stories of the migrant families; such as Aurora, who seeks refuge for herself and her child. Through this dual listening of stories of those marginalized and attuning ourselves to the guidance from Spirit – we discern our political priorities. And this discernement leads us to prophetic action.
Aurora- one the various migrant organizers leading the charge for the#SaveAsylum public action on September 25th- shares that her primary reason for leaving her home is to seek refuge for her children. The other migrant leaders express similar desires in a profound conversational interview featured in this month’s migrant story. Their powerful testimonies only begin to scratch the surface of the layers of extraordinary violence and trauma that these families endure and survive.
In our weekly preparation for our prophetic action to #SaveAsylum, we see the alchemical process of movement organizing, that which transforms pain into power. We see the prophetic imagination taking hold amongst us and experience God’s boundless compassion and passion for justice. Migrant leader, Carlos [not real name], engenders this spirit of compassion and justice in his call to action:
We are organizing this event, first, so that our voices as migrants, as asylum seekers, can be heard, so that it also gives us the opportunity for a safer life… After the march that will take place on September 25, we will continue to hold vigils from the 26th until the 2nd of October at the port of entry. We hope you can support us, and that we can count on your presence, so that this is something that moves the American government to help us. We are not asking for anything more for asylum, we just want a little bit of freedom and well-being for our children.
A prophetic mission takes place in and is directed to a particular historical situation- in this case, the full restoration of asylum protections for migrants at the border. We are calling into the present a reimagining of a new world that opens its doors to those persecuted and fleeing violence. We are seeking justice- not to be mistaken for retribution or “eye for an eye” justice- but instead right relations among all humans despite differences. In other words, justice is compassion in action. May we see the face of Jesus in the faces of our migrant brothers and sisters as we join them in solidarity and in the struggle for a new and just reality.
Join us in commemorating this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees by participating in our #SaveAsylum public action “Restore Protections for Holy Families: Prophetic Action to #SaveAsylum” on September 25 at 2:00pm PST to demand the restoration of protections for asylum seeking families. We are thankful for the support of Ignatian Solidarity Network, Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, and the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology as our co-sponsors. We are thankful for those participating in echo actions in Washington DC, Seattle, and Chicago. Learn more about how you can attend an event in-person or virtually. May glory be to God.