Tuesday began with the sad news of the Texas court judge's temporary hold on the President's administrative relief action. As my last blog noted, I had just been with families who were eager to apply for DAPA or DACA programs http://www.adminrelief.org/legalI. It was hard to think of their disappointment with the court ruling but I had and have hope that it will be quickly overturned.
I volunteered last Tuesday at a local migrant shelter for women and children released on humanitarian parole by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency). As in El Paso, Texas ICE calls the shelter to advise that women are on their way. The shelter provides short-term housing, food, and clothing until bus transportation can be arranged by a family member or sponsoring friend. I spent time with two women from Guatemala and their two children. I helped prepare a midday meal, did some laundry, sorted clothing and prepared their travel bag for their journey. Due to the cold weather in the East they were delayed another 24 hours. Later in the week I spent time with a young woman from Honduras who is pregnant. She had just been released from the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. She is an applicant under the Asylum program as two members of her family were executed by a drug gang. Despite the difficulties of the past few months and her personal tragedy she was glad to be out of detention center and living in community at another shelter. I will post later this week a personal reflection on these women.
Wednesday was a day of inspiration and then, despair. I attended a press conference for Rosa Robles Loreto who has been living in sanctuary since August, 2014. For information, http://www.southsidepresbyterian.org/sanctuary. Several hundred people crowded into the small church to kick off the We Stand with Rosa campaign. The pastor, Allison Harrington, after an opening prayer, asked us to reflect on the meaning of Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance and reflection as the season of Lent begins. She called upon President Obama and Homeland Security head, Jeh Johnson to repent and "yes, you can change these policies and stop separating families."
Margo Cowan, a lawyer, reminded the crowd that Rosa is every mother and that her family is every family. And then in a fighting spirit, she added that "this is just round one. We are part of this country and we are not going away."
Attendees at the rally were asked to take a sign for our house or office and to take a picture to post on the Facebook page for Rosa. Above is my selfie with the sign! A county supervisor said "we are a family of immigrants" and all us are needed to Keep Tucson Together.
After this I went with another Samaritan to observe Operation Streamline in the Federal Court building in downtown Tucson. Every day at 1PM, 50 to 100 immigrants get a brief hearing before a immigration magistrate. On this Wednesday there were 75 immigrants - mostly men with a few women. Most were from Mexico with several from Guatemala. Depending on whether this was their first or third time apprehended by the Border Patrol they got detention time of 30 days to 180 days (the maximum). The entire hearing took 50 minutes for the 75 detainees.
The magistrate spent some time with the observers as there was a high school class seated in the back with us. He defended the court proceedings saying that the U.S. has to do something about border security. It was unclear to me about the difference between pleading guilty to a misdemeanor as it still goes on their record and prevents them from legal migration to the USA in the future. If they pl ead non-guilty, they will get a trial but it takes a long time. Again the magistrate said, "most will not choose that option, as they have families to support. Thirty days of detention is better than six months or perhaps, two years of an unemployment.
Frankly, the immigration court's rapid handling of peoples' lives disturbs me - do we live in a democracy or not? Where are the guarantees of access to a lawyer and a trial? Yes, most of these detainees had lawyers who gain access to them in the morning before the court hearing. What do you think?
The week ended at the Keep Tucson Together legal clinic at Southside Presbyterian Church every other Saturday afternoon. After a very quick orientation I worked with experienced volunteers to assist people with their application process. The room was full of families, and teenagers applying for DACA with lots of noise from a few crying babies. In three hours I worked with a DACA renewal applicant; an asylum applicant fleeing drug cartel threats to his business from Mexico; a stay of deportation request from a man with a U.S. daughter who crossed the border in 2010 six weeks before the DAPA deadline date and a frustrated DAPA candidate. The application process can be straightforward but with the temporary hold on DAPA and DACA (expanded eligibility dates) we worked with applicants to get their documents in order for the future.
A local attorney reviews all the applications before they are submitted and depending on the strength of the asylum or appeal will take the case into immigration court. We tell the applicants that we are volunteers, not lawyers, but the help in completing the forms is essential. The applications are typed up and then, the applicant returns and signs the papers. The Legal Clinic stresses that each individual take charge of his/her case - to do the work in gathering documents and getting letters of support.
The Legal Clinic was an excellent example of how we, U.S. citizens, can help new members of our community to obtain protection from deportation; high school and college students to complete their education and to ensure that asylum seekers fleeing violence or domestic violence in their home countries are treated fairly. As I learn of legal clinics in different parts of the USA, I will post the link on my blog. Please do comment on the blog as I want to know your thoughts. Thanks/gracias.
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?