#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!