SAHUARITA, ARIZONA. I am sitting in a large room at the Church of the Good Shepherd UCC with a large group of mostly white, Snowbirds. Grey hair, some people without hair and a scattering of younger adults visiting for the annual Border Issues Fair that this church sponsors. Ray A. Ybarra Maldonado, a Phoenix lawyer, presents us with a challenge from his work with immigrants seeking to stay in the USA.
"Every human being who crosses the U.S. border knows that he/she has an inherent right to migrate." So who is it in our country who doesn't understand or accept that fact? He quotes Stokely Carmichael from a speech given in 1966 at the University of California, Berkeley.
"I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people. For example, I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being, and therefore I have the right to go into any public place. White people didn't know that. Every time I tried to go into a place they stopped me. So some boys had to write a bill to tell that white man, "He’s a human being; don’t stop him." That bill was for that white man, not for me. I knew it all the time. I knew it all the time."
Ray added. Immigrant rights are similar to the civil rights movement. It is the dominant white culture that does not recognize the rights of humans to migrate. It is President Trump and his allies who keep trying to shut down immigration.
NOGALES, SONORA, MEXICO
A Grupos Beta, Mexican immigration agency spokesperson in Nogales, Mexico, told us that their job is not to stop migrants from crossing to the United States but to provide information about the dangers of crossing the Sonoran desert as well as to patrol the Mexican side of the border looking for people in need of medical assistance. They operate a small shelter for migrants who need to bathe, call their family and make a decision as to whether they will return to their country of origin.
There are showers and bathrooms for those either waiting to cross or who have been deported from the USA.
The Grupos Beta spokesperson told us, a small group of North Americans, that they cannot stop the migrants, because in Mexico "it is not against the law to migrate" or in Spanish, NO es un delito a migrar."
Why does the US government and many U.S. citizens not recognize the right to migrate? Why do we criminalize people who out of desperation migrate to seek safety or to reunite with their family members who live in the United States. And now the Trump administration wants asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their applications are processed.
We visited a shelter for women in Nogales, Sonora - HEPAC, in Spanish it means the house of Peace and Hope. Fifteen women and children were in the space waiting their turn to go to the port of entry to ask for asylum. The shelter is preparing a new space as they expect more women and children to arrive in Nogales from the latest caravan coming north from Central America.
The two photos show the current space with families and the other is the new space waiting to be completed in order to house more families.
The majority of the American public do not want a wall, especially one that will cost $5 billion dollars. Let's yell and demand that our elected officials find some real solutions. As Dee Mango, the Republican mayor of El Paso, Texas said today on NPR:
"But the biggest problem we've got is the whole immigration system to begin with. I mean, it hasn't been addressed for 30 years. There's been a lack of intestinal fortitude on both sides of the aisle. And it's time for them to step up and do something about it." 1/28/19 NPR
Call your Member of Congress and Senator. Ask them to get together on a bi-partisan basis to pass a humane and just immigration bill that does not separate families and allows people to migrate. A WALL IS NOT AN ANSWER!
Today in Guatemala hundreds if not thousands marched in the streets of the capital demanding the the Guatemalan president, Jimmy Morales, obey the Guatemalan Constitutional Court and not expel the UN International Commission against Corruption and Impunity (CICIG). Since 2007 this Commission has worked with human rights organizations, lawyers and the Constitutional Court of Guatemala to bring military and political officials to trial and convictions for crimes ranging from corruption to genocide.
CICIG has provided evidence of corruption on the part of the current President and some of his appointees. That is why the President wants them out of the country. A recent report from the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA states:
"On Monday, January 7, President Morales unilaterally closed the International Commission Against Impunity, CICIG. When he did that he overstepped his powers; the president does not have the authority to shut down an agency created through a treaty ratified by congress. The Constitutional Court ordered CICIG be reinstated, and his response was to attempt to impeach the Constitutional Court. "
Thus, the people took to the streets over this past weekend and today. Here is a are some photos taken today (1/14/19) by Dania Rodriguez, Human Rights Defender Project in Guatemala City.
CASA ALITAS LAST WEEK IN TUCSCON.
Casa Altias, the shelter for recently released migrants, was crowded and a bit chaotic last week. Seven migrants plus 10 children in a four bedroom house. Two of the migrants left for another shelter. Three out of the five families were from Guatemala, two from the state of Guerrero, Mexico, the scene of drug cartels.
I spoke with one of the women who had lived in the United States for ten years. She was traveling with her two daughters. Her husband had already crossed into the United States and was waiting for her in an eastern state. I asked her if she was seeking asylum. "Yes, I am. We went back to Guatemala four years ago - voluntarily - we weren't deported. We wanted our children to grow up speaking Spanish in their own culture. BUT when we started our small restaurant business, gangs asked us to pay them money to stay in business. We went to the police but they did nothing. After our lives were threatened, we decided to head back to the States."
There is a direct connection between what is happening today in Guatemala and the numbers of Guatemalans asking for asylum in the United States. GHRC's report adds:If President Trump is really concerned about stopping migration, he needs to adopt policies that help Guatemalan’s who are struggling to make their communities livable and sanction those that are helping organized crime to tighten its grasp on the government.
Two members of the US Congress, Reps. Jim McGovern and Norma Torres, are circulating a letter to President Trump and the US State Department asking them to condemn the illegal actions of President Morales in Guatemala. Of course, the President may be about to act without consultation of the U.S. Congress to fund the wall at the border - such a decision will be immediately challenged by our Supreme Court.
I hope that you will take action - call your member of Congress and ask him to sign onto the letter. Follow what is happening in Guatemala because our lives are interconnected. Look at resources from GHRC/USA. org or WOLA.org for an update on the Guatemalan situation. We are following it from a distance but Guatemalans who flee are living this reality.
IMMIGRANT WELCOMING WORK IN ARIZONA
I am now in Tucson, Arizona volunteering with various humanitarian organizations that support and welcome immigrants. Casa Alitas, www.facebook.com/Alitasprogram, was organized in 2014 to respond to the large numbers of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America. I volunteered with them in 2015-17 and some of the stories of those experiences are in my book, CHOICES: DEATH, LIFE AND MIGRATION, www.amazon.com/Patricia-Rumer/e/B001KDJ2EG.
The situation in Arizona is different than the San Diego/Tijuana border crossing. At the Samaritans meeting this week, I learned that people stay in about five shelters in Nogales, Sonora while they await their turn for an asylum "credible fear interview." One woman at the Comedor at the Mexican border said that she had number 349 and hoped that she would be interviewed in three weeks. The Samaritans are the humanitarian organization that does daily trips to the desert providing water, food and basic medical supplies for migrants.
I worked at two shelters this week. Shelters provide a safe place to stay until bus transport can be arranged to the traveler's destination. Volunteers welcome the families (almost all are a mother or father with children). They can shower, wash their clothes, pick up donated clothing, eat and talk with their families either in Central America or their new home in the United States. All of the guests/immigrants have a court date within two weeks with Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) or immigration courts. Usually they have permission to stay in the United States for six months pending the court's decisions. Some immigrants are given ankle bracelets so that ICE can monitor their movements, a less expensive alternative than keeping them in detention centers.
Casa Alitas is supporting "pop-up" shelters at various churches in the area based on need. Trinity Presbyterian Church near the University of Arizona provides two bedrooms and living area for two families at a time. The church is a rose-colored stucco building with a courtyard below the apartment. A young man and his son from Guatemala were the guests. His story was a familiar one - economic necessity. He kept saying, "Yo voy a llegar en el nombre de Dios." Roughly translated it means, "I am going to make it to the United States with the help of God." He had no problems crossing the border with his son. He has an ankle bracelet, the electronic monitoring program, and a court date in two weeks at his destination with a friend in the Midwest. He came with his teenage son and left a wife and another son in Guatemala. He was near tears at one point when he said that he couldn't believe that he was in the United States and that he was being so warmly welcomed by strangers, myself and the other volunteers. He kept repeating, "You are angels."
His son after a shower burst into the dining area, "Papi, I didn't want to leave the shower, it was so warm." After six days of bus travel and two days in detention at the border, both of them were ready for a hot shower and clean clothes. Another volunteer washed their discarded clothes so they would be ready for the next day's journey.
They had no trouble at the border. I am not sure why they were released so quickly. In Arizona the Border Patrol and ICE use the "seize and release" approach to refugees. There is no family detention center in Arizona which is good news for those who cross the border into Arizona. The closest family detention center is in Texas.
The question remains with me: Are those of us who host the shelters, really angels? I don't feel particularly angelic. I am here because we were there, Jorge Antonio Vargas, a famous undocumented journalist put it several years ago. The United States has had many interventions in Central America which has destabilized Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as well as Nicaragua during the 1980's contra war. What we do as shelter hosts is greet the traveler with the words, WeIcome and Bienvenida.
More Stories to follow: If any of you reading this blog have questions, please post them in the comments section. I will try to find the answers. For excellent information about the U.S. role in Central America, listen to this NPR broadcast of this past week: the1a.org/shows/2019-01-10/why-are-migrants-from-central-america-coming-to-the-u-s
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?