Last Thursday February 17, 2017 Margo Cowan, Pima County Public Defender and long-time community activist launched a public campaign to support the local Latino undocumented community. At a rally at Pueblo High School in South Tucson, Margo advised the expectant crowd of about 300 people to do three things:
1. Pick up the poster and put it in a window in your house. Better yet, take several posters and share them with your neighbors. "We have printed 20,000 posters and our hope is to see them all over the city."
2. Put a red dot on the Tucson map so that everyone can see where these posters are. I put my red dot at my neighbor's address and took another poster for my home in Portland, Oregon.
In Portland, Oregon there are several KYR trainings being planned through VOZ, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and IMIRJ, the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice. CAUSA, the statewide Latino organization is always sponsoring KYR events. www.imirj.org and www.causa.org. Get involved - now is the time to resist with resilience and spirit!
Last week I was at El Comedor, the Jesuit Aid center in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico that serves two meals a day to recently deported people as well as an orientation to their human rights, medical help and free calls to their families.
Sister Engracia, a Missionary of the Eucharist, in Mexico is the educator. She talks to the recently reported about their rights with dignity and respect. This morning she asked the men, "How do you feel, What is on your mind?" Answers: "I miss my family, my sons, and my community."
How can it be that politicians in the United States always talk about the importance of family values, but the US immigration system constantly separates families. I see the reality every day - at El Comedor, at the family shelters where a mother with children arrives without her husband who usually is sent to a detention center and in visits with women and men at the Eloy Detention Center.
Senator Bernie Sanders said during his Presidential campaign:
"The next time you hear a politician talking about 'family values' you may want to ask whether they support measures which really help American families." The answer is that immigration policies do not support family unity but instead separate families. It's true that not all of them are "American" families but many of the families are "mixed status" families meaning that some are U.S. citizens and some are not.
At the Comedor last Thursday was a slender woman accompanied by the Mexican consulate, other officials and several TV stations. A Mexican woman from Chiapas who had just been deported, asked me who she was and why she was crying. I did not know but I learned the next morning that it was Guadaloupe Garcia de Rayos, the first person deported under the new Trump "tougher" issues. As her daughter said, "No one should have the pain of watching your mother deported, of packing her clothes and of losing my mother."www.cnn.com/2017/02/09/us/arizona-guadalupe-garcia-de-rayos-protests/index.html
Wednesday night I attended a legal panel at the University of Arizona Law School on Trump's executive orders. It was a depressing evening. Although President Obama's practices resulted in several million deportees, he had issued priorities focused on proven criminal actions. Mothers such as Guadaloupe with U.S. children were not a high priority.
Here are several Trump's priorities:
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Become an UndocuAngel - As a US citizen, be prepared to act to help an undocumented immigrant to serve as a voice/advocate in case they are arrested or detained. This concept originated with a Tucson immigration lawyer, Mo Goldman, and was shared on Wednesday evening. goldmanimmigrationblog.blogspot.com/
I am also posting under Resources a guide from the Sanctuary movement as to how we can act. - See Links on this website.
As Roxy Bacon, former chief counsel, Department of Homeland Security, said: 'you're not as scared, if you're prepared." I urge everyone of you reading this blog to become an undocuangel - act and support undocumented immigrants! As U.S. citizens we can stand with, act with and be with our undocumented brothers and sisters NOW!
Another Trumpet from Donald Trump on NPR, February 7, 2017
I am in Tucson, Arizona working with recently arrived immigrants from Central America, people seeking political asylum and family members seeking to reunite with their family. As I listened to the radio coverage this morning about the legal challenge to the Refugee and Immigrant ban, I was struck by the explanation that the ban is to keep bad people out of the U.S. Immediately I thought of the conversations at two family shelters in Tucson.
“I’m so excited about seeing my father after 18 years,” a slender, attractive dark-haired woman tells me over a cup of coffee. We are sitting in the basement of a United Methodist church that has opened its doors as a shelter to women and men travelling with young children. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) called the United Methodist Church in November, 2016 to ask for their help. Casa Alitas, the small house that has sheltered women for the past several years has limited capacity. ICE was processing more and more families. Previously ICE dropped them at the Greyhound bus station. Humanitarian groups urged ICE to change this policy and to place Central Americans and others seeking asylum to send them to a interim shelter until their families could provide bus tickets.
Graciela is from El Salvador and is travelling with her four year-old daughter, a sweet faced, shy girl. “We had to leave El Salvador. The gangs demanded that I pay half of my rent to them. I can’t afford that. Plus my husband is a policeman – the gangs and police fight constantly; We were not safe so I left my husband to travel north to reunite with my father.”
www.azpm.org/s/44844-migrants-seeking-asylum-housed-at-tucson-church-marana-makes-plans-for-2017/ an Arizona television program that features the new shelters in Tucson.
QUESTION: Is she a danger to this country?
Juan, a Guatemalan indigenous man, sits down next to me. He is a short, sturdy man with Mayan features. Juan is travelling with his five year old son who loves to play soccer. I watch as he and another boy kick a big ball in the empty basement space. "There is no work in his rural northern town of Guatemala. I have to support my family - the most that I could earn is 40 Quetzales a day or $5 a day. My mother is a legal permanent resident in the United States. She is a pastor of a Pentacostal church. She plans to sponsor us as soon as she becomes a U.S. citizen. As soon as possible, we will bring the rest of our family."
QUESTION: IS HE A DANGER TO THIS COUNTRY?
At another shelter I talk with a young indigenous woman from Guatemala. She speaks softly as she shares her story, "I am going to meet my sister in the Middle West. I come from a poor rural village - my husband is in the United States but he has found another woman. I was living with my mother-in-law and two daughters." Nervously she looks around as she leans towards me, "I am afraid of the bus trip as I don't read or write - how will I know where we are?" I look at her two smiling 7 and 8 year old daughters. "Maybe, they can help you as the oldest daughter knows her letters." Proudly, she says that her daughters will learn quickly and have a better life in the USA.
At the Casa every woman is given a sign in English that explains that the person does not speak English and needs help. I try to reassure her - "many of the bus drivers in the Southwest speak Spanish as do the fellow passengers."
Later, she shows me how to make Guatemalan rice - I am her sous chef chopping tomatoes, onions and garlic. Her face lights up and she laughs, "I love to cook and did all the cooking for my mother-in-law and children."
QUESTION: Are she and her daughters a danger to this country?
Yes, I know that the federal government wants to ban primarily people from certain Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa. And yet, this same man during his campaign for the U.S. presidency described Mexican immigrants as "bringing in drugs, crime and are rapists." (6/16/15) And later, "We have to stop illegal immigration." (10/19/16) And of course, there is the bigger and newer wall that Trump promises to build that will cost between 12 and 15 billion dollars.
I am heartened by the response to the Refugee ban both legally but most importantly, the people, the religious communities and humanitarian organizations that are moving refugees who met the US standards into the USA as rapidly as possible. And I am absolutely thrilled with my neighbor in Tucson that has this sign in her yard and seeing more signs like this across the community. Get yourself one and make sure your place of worship or work has a Refugees and Immigrants welcome sign or banner! Just do it!
Who gets hurt by the wall and the USA IMMIGRATION POLICIES?
#1. The Tohono O'odham people live on both sides of the border. They are a sovereign nation but the Border Patrol frequently enters their land in search of border crossers. The nation is divided about immigration and the wall, but they do not like the separation of families. They used to be able to cross the border to hunt and to see their families.
#2. Families with a parent or aunt or brother in the United States and the rest of their family either in Mexico or Central America or Africa or the Caribbean.
Recently I met a woman from Argentina at the Eloy Detention Center. She has lived in the United States for almost twenty years, has two U.S. born children and her husband now is a permanent resident. What is her crime? She fell off a ladder several months ago. As an undocumented person although she and her husband worked several jobs and paid taxes, was ineligible for an expensive operation in her community. So she flew to Argentina for the operation so that she could walk again.
She either did not realize nor know that once leaving the United States, she could not return. Once she re-entered the USA, an "illegal re-entry," she would probably be deported. When she came to the United States twenty years ago - 1997 - it was not a crime to cross the border. Perhaps, she came on a tourist visa and just stayed. Half of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living here came on legal visas and stayed after their visas expired. A wall does not address this reality.
What is to become of her and her family? Her younger son missed his mother and she decided to take the chance and cross the border. She now lives in legal limbo in the Eloy Detention Center. The greatest motivation for border crossing according to the Migrant Border Crossing Study by Dr. Daniel Martinez is FAMILY!
3. Women with children, pregnant women and unaccompanied minors
At the Tucson shelter for undocumented immigrants, Casa Alitas, we receive mostly women from Central America with their children and pregnant women. They turn themselves into Border Patrol asking for asylum. After a few days in ICE detention they are released on humanitarian parole to travel to join a family member. This past week a very pregnant Haitian woman arrived. She was visibly distressed. As she told her story to a French-speaking volunteer, I learned that she and her husband had been separated by the Border Patrol and she did not know where he was. I felt my heart sink - she was released on "humanitarian parole," but he probably was already on his way to one of the detention centers.
They had been living in Brazil for several years but when they lost their jobs and with her pregnancy, they decided to travel north to the United States. Perhaps, they thought that the U.S. government was still offering TPS, Temporary Protected Status to Haitians based on the destructive 2010 hurricane. It is unclear whether that protection still exists. She was scheduled to leave the next day to family in Florida - she left without knowing where her husband is.
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED:
Tucson is only the first stop on long journeys for most of these women and children. They are headed to Kansas, New York, Georgia, Washington, Arkansas, New Jersey, and other states where some member of their family lives. They have six months to obtain a lawyer and file for asylum and a chance to remain with their family in the United States.
Casa Alitas provides each family with a list of pro bono attorneys and/or low cost legal services state by state. We urge each woman to get an attorney because without one, the changes of getting asylum or permission to stay is extremely difficult.
If you want to get involved where you live either as a detention center visitor or support to immigrants in your community, www.endisolation.org/ a national network of detention center visitor program to locate the Detention Center closest to you. The stories will break your heart but your visit to befriend a detainee can make all the difference in the world to her. The resilience and courage that immigrants in detention display gives me hope for the struggle for justice.
My former pastor at Riverside Church, New York City, Rev. William Sloane Coffin,said about hope: "If your heart's full of hope, you can be persistent when you can't be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I'm not optimistic, I'm always very hopeful.”
In this time of immigrant bashing let's hold onto hope while we continue to resist and support each other! Stay tuned for more stories of immigrants and ways you can get involved!
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?