Desde la central camionera

“Los Estados Unidos es una maravilla” me dijo una señora después de que había apoyado a ella y sus hijos con información sobre los camiones desde Arizona a Florida, comida caliente y botanas para el viaje y suéteres y una cubija para no tener frío en el aire de los autobuses. En aquel momento, pensé en las comunidades que han hecho o harán leyes para mantener afuera a ella y sus hijos. Pensé en los manifestantes que están cerrando el paso de los camiones que llevan a menores no-acompañados o mamás y sus hijos. Cuando vi su cara de alegría y alivio por la bienvenida que le habíamos dado, esperaba que no supiera lo que dice la gente y los medios de ella y que no encontrara a personas que le darían una recepción muy diferente.

Porque resulta que ella es parte de una de las polémicas más politizadas de migración en este año: el aumento en el número de mujeres y niños centroamericanos en la frontera sur de los Estados Unidos. La conocí y también conocí a otras mujeres y sus hijos en situaciones semejantes en la central camionera de Greyhound en Tucson. Allá yo y otros voluntarios participamos en un esfuerzo comunitario para recibir a los centroamericanos que han sido puestos en libertad después de un tiempo de detención. Les apoyamos para que se fueran a encontrarse con sus familiares en otros partes del país y pelear su caso migratorio. Les brindamos ropa, comida e información sobre su viaje en autobús. Un representante del consulado de Guatemala les ayudó con explicaciones del proceso de inmigración, como pueden encontrar un abogado y cuando deben presentarse en la corte.

Estando en la central camionera era, de manera extraña, semejante a mi tiempo en la Iniciativa Kino para la Frontera apoyando a migrantes recién deportados. Las mujeres y niños llegaron agotados después de días sin descanso por las luces y el aire de los centros de detención. Llegaron con hambre por la falta de comida en su viaje y también en detención. Parecido a los recién deportados, llegaron desorientados y confundidos sobre su situación y los próximos pasos. Y, como en Nogales, estaban sorprendidos que había gente de Estados Unidos para apoyarlos y recibirlos.

Estando en la central camionera de Greyhound me hizo recordar que mi estancia en Kino era un tiempo para dejar a un lado mis esperanzas para cambio estructural. Más bien, estando allá me presentó con el reto de sencillamente y con mucho amor dar una bienvenida a quien sea que llegue a la puerta. La situación actual me pone y nos pone como estadounidenses un reto parecido. Seguramente tenemos que hacer incidencia. Pero sin importar nuestra participación política, a nivel personal la realidad hoy en día nos debe recordar de dar la bienvenida y amar. Muchos individuos y organizaciones han tomado esta manera de responder ante la situación. Pero muchos de nosotros nunca nos encontráramos con individuos que son directamente parte de esta polémica. Al final de cuentas, aunque sea centroamericanos o nuestros vecinos inmigrantes o alguien que vemos en la tienda, todos podemos dar la bienvenida y amar a nuestros prójimos.

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Beyond the Sound Bites: Unaccompanied Minors on the US/Mexico Border

In my week back in Colorado, every time that I mention I am moving to Arizona to work with migrant rights, individuals of many life experiences and political beliefs say, “Wow – you have your work cut out for you with all those kids.” They are referring to the 1000 minors recently transferred to a temporary shelter in Nogales, Arizona that lacked adequate installations for their care in a situation that President Obama called “a humanitarian crisis.” This recent development in Nogales is not surprising to people closely following immigration issues because agencies have been overwhelmed by the influx of children for the past two years and have been often housing them in temporary shelters in Texas. Thankfully, this situation is finally coming to national attention. However, most news reports misunderstand or do not report on the nuances in the development of this crisis, and with this blog I hope to fill that gap.

How Unaccompanied Migrant Minors are Received

Before 2002, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was responsible for the care of unaccompanied migrant children. However, as the US Conference on Catholic Bishops points out, this responsibility was problematic as the INS had a “fundamental conflict of interest in serving as both jailer and caretaker of unaccompanied minors”[1] and in fact the Department of Justice had found their care deficient in several areas.[2] With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, care for these children was transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) because of their experience in working with refugee children.  The ORR was charged with finding guardians and legal representation for these children. After that transition, care of the children dramatically improved in quality.

When an unaccompanied minor is detained by immigration officials, they should be transferred to ORR custody within three days of their detention. They are typically transferred to a Health and Human Services shelter while the ORR looks for family members or other sponsors to receive the children for the duration of their time in the US. ORR licenses and funds care providers in the states that support the children and organizations such as the US Conference on Catholic Bishops provides educational, social, and psychological support to these children.

During the time that they are in ORR’s care, they are still in removal, or deportation, proceedings unless they have an option to regularize their status. Some unaccompanied minors obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status to stay in the US, which requires that they prove that it is not in their best interest to return to their home country and that they cannot be reunited with their parents because of abuse, abandonment or neglect. Others obtain asylum or other forms of immigration relief. Although 40% are potentially eligible for a form of relief from deportation, only about 1% ultimately obtain legal immigration status.[3] Those minors who do not have a legal avenue to remain in the US are deported to their home countries.

While the process has not changed dramatically in the past ten years, the numbers of unaccompanied minors migrating has skyrocketed. The previous annual average for children served by the ORR was between 7000 and 8000 but in fiscal year 2012 that increased to 13,625 and then jumped further to 24,668 in 2013. It is possible that 60,000 children will be referred to ORR in the current year.[4] ORR does not have the capacity to deal with these numbers of children, which means that they remain in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) care for longer than the allotted three days, and thus stay in temporary shelters such as those in Nogales, Arizona. Twelve years after a legal change that decided that enforcement mechanisms such as INS, ICE and CBP are not adequate caregivers for these children, these unaccompanied minors find themselves once again in their care for longer periods of time.

Why they come

Accompanied with news reports on the US response is speculation about why the children are coming in increasing numbers. In 2013, the UNHCR conducted 404 interviews with unaccompanied minors in detention in the US in part to answer this question. The study found that 48% of those children were personally affected by violence in their home areas either by organized drug cartels, gangs, or State actors and that 22% of children had suffered abuse at the hands of their caretakers.[5] In both cases, international standards should guarantee some protection for these children, particularly thanks to the Cartagena Declaration that expands protection beyond specific individual cases of refugees. However, with inadequate legal representation and a low success rate for asylum cases from Central America, obtaining that protection is challenging.

A rumor that has emerged in news reports is that more children are coming because they believe the US government will give them legal status. As stated above, only about 1% obtain legal status. However, I do not deny the possibility that the rumor and other misinformation affect some migrants’ journeys. I was on the border in 2011 when Obama announced his prosecutorial discretion plan and even though that plan is entirely irrelevant to recent border crossers, a number of people asked me about the new permissions that Obama was giving out for them to enter the country. Migrants typically do not understand the complexity of the system and cling to any shred of hope that can give them courage and motivation on the journey. Delays in the processing of children in immigration court can make it seem like they have permission to stay in the US with their relatives even though they are in reality simply awaiting a judge’s final decision to deport them. Even civil society organizations are guilty at times of spreading false hope that perhaps some legal options would be open to the migrants. It is impossible to tell how many children are affected by these rumors, but it is important for governments and civil society organizations in countries of origin to clearly communicate the reality of limited options for legal status.

What Now

This post may seem out of place for a blog that often includes more thoughts and reflections than hard facts on immigration. Many people seem to want to jump from the news reports on the shelter in Nogales to the questions of “How should I feel about this situation?” or “Who is in the wrong?” or “What is the solution?” The reality is that it is not a situation that fits well into sound bites or short news articles.

The current difficulty arises in part from efforts to focus on the best interests of the children by protecting them in ORR care. However, funding and infrastructure have not increased quickly enough to meet the changing reality. The temporary shelter in Nogales is not accepting civilian donations. However, the organizations that support medium-term situations for these children, such as the USCCB or many local shelters do accept donations and concerned individuals can direct their resources to those organizations. For families especially compelled by this crisis and the situation of these children, there is an ever-expanding need for foster families to receive them while they are processed. A friend of mine who came unaccompanied to the US and ended up obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status describes his foster family as the first time that he experienced the caring that a family could provide.

Efforts to protect the children cannot be limited to the US. The unaccompanied minors who make it to the border have already suffered a long journey fraught with danger and as a result of violence in their home countries. More must be done to promote the rule of law in Central America and protect youth from violence and gang recruitment to protect their right to not migrate. As individuals, we can support organizations in Central America that specifically work with at-risk kids, such as the Micah Project for urban kids caught up in drug abuse.

This particular issue, and the struggles of immigrants and refugees across the globe, will last much longer than the media attention paid to it. The question is whether we as individuals and a society can commit to long-term and complex solutions.

 

[1] http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/migrants-refugees-and-travelers/refugee-youth-and-childrens-services-brycs/care-of-unaccompanied-minors-transferred-to-orr-under-homeland-security-bill.cfm

[2] http://www.oig.dhs.gov/assets/OIG_Juvenile.pdf

[3] http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/the-flow-of-unaccompanied-children-through-the-immigration-system.pdf

[4] http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/orr/unaccompanied_childrens_services_fact_sheet.pdf

[5] http://unhcrwashington.org/children

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Hospitality Opens Borders

As I move from field work to analysis and writing, I am seeing my interviews through new lenses and perspectives. In that spirit, here is a teaser of a chapter that I am working on for a book on migration associated with the Jesuit network here in Mexico.

This year, The Jesuit Network for Migrants is especially focused on a theme of “Hospitality Opens Borders.” One of the documents developing the theme, entitled “If You Want Peace, Be Hospitable,” explains that in its historical tradition hospitality was “a custom that consisted in not being hostile to “others” (foreigners, neighbors, travelers) who arrive in the community.”

As I reflect on hospitality in the context of return migration, I am struck by the irony of this definition. It wouldn’t seem that return migrants are “others.” Most of those that I have interviewed have returned to the same communities where they were born, even the same houses. They are neither foreigners nor neighbors nor travelers. And indeed in many cases, their communities receive them back warmly as fellow countrymen.

And yet there are several who are received with hostility rather than either sense of common birthplace or a sense of hospitality. Because of their time in the US, they become strangers in their own community. Being in another country changes a person, especially if they have lived there for many years or, in some cases, for almost their whole life.

Some of the communities that welcome me with open arms as a foreigner reject the return migrants who in their appearance and way of acting are neither quite foreigners nor quite natives. Particularly if they return with tattoos or a different style of dress. The tattoos and the dress style mean that they are gangsters. Or at least, those are the stereotypes that people have shared with me. One woman who worked in the music scene in New York told me about how she came back with a goth look to her rural community in Puebla, with piercings, black clothing, and nails painted black. The doctors who attended her when she gave birth to her baby made her take out all of her piercings and her mom and other community pressures forced her to change her clothing style.

The use of English is also looked down upon. For youth who have practically grown up in the US, it might be the most comfortable language to use but the communities think they are just boasting about their ability. Other Mexicans tell them “we are in Mexico, speak Spanish.”

As a foreigner my actions, way of speech are a novelty, but the differences that community members see in the ways that return migrants act is seen as a threat. In the Bible, the expert in the law asks Jesus “who is my neighbor?” and Jesus radically expands the narrow idea of that word. But at the same time, sometimes the hardest hospitality is not that toward a foreigner or a traveler but rather hospitality toward a neighbor who for some reason or another is different from you and your idea of how they should be. Sometimes the most difficult borders to open are not those between people who look different but rather those who look alike.

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La Hospitalidad Abre Fronteras

En medio de una transición de mi trabajo de campo a mi análisis y escritura, estoy empezando a ver mis entrevistas desde nuevas perspectivas. Como parte de mis reflexiones, aquí va un avance de un capítulo que estoy escribiendo por un libro sobre migración asociado con los jesuitas.

Este año, la Red Jesuita con Migrantes se ha enfocado en el tema de “La hospitalidad abre fronteras.” En uno de los documentos que desarrolla este tema, “Si quieres paz, sea hospitalario,” explica la tradición de la hospitalidad y que en antigüedad, “La hospitalidad era una costumbre, consistente en no hostilizar a los “otros” (extranjeros, vecinos, viajeros) que llegan a la comunidad.”

En el contexto de la migración de retorno, esa definición parece irónica. No parece que los migrantes de retorno son los “otros.” En la gran mayoría de los casos que he encontrado, se han regresado a las mismas comunidades de donde salieron y hasta las mismas casas en donde nacieron. No son ni extranjeros ni de comunidades vecinas ni viajeros. Y claro que a varios sus comunidades los reciben con los brazos abiertos y el gusto de ver a un paisano otra vez.

A pesar de eso, en muchos casos las comunidades los reciben con hostilidad en vez de un sentimiento solidario de comunidad o acogido de hospitalidad. Debido a su tiempo en Estados Unidos, se han convertido en extranjeros en su propia comunidad. Estando en otro país cambia a uno, sobre todo si han vivido allá por muchos años o, en algunos casos, casi toda su vida.

Las mismas comunidades que me reciben como extranjera con brazos abiertos rechazan a los migrantes de retorno quienes en su apariencia o manera de ser no son ni extranjeros ni completamente paisanos. Sobre todo si esos migrantes se regresan con tatuajes u otro estilo de vestir. Una chava que trabajó en música en Nueva York me contó que se regresó a su comunidad rural en Puebla con piercings, ropa negra y uñas pintadas en negro. Los doctores que la atendieron por su parto le hicieron quitar todos sus piercings y su mamá y otros en la comunidad le presionaron para que cambiara su estilo de vestir porque todos decían que andaba en pandillas.

También el uso del inglés es mal visto. Los jóvenes que vivieron casi toda su vida en Estados Unidos, a veces se sienten más a gusto hablando inglés pero los de sus comunidades piensan que lo hablan para presumir. Otros mexicanos les dicen “estamos en México, habla español.”

Como extranjera, mis maneras de hablar y actuar son novedades pero las diferencias que los miembros de la comunidad ven en los migrantes de retorno son vistas como amenazas. En la Biblia, un experto en la ley pregunta a Jesús, “¿Quién es mi vecino?” y Jesús amplia la definición de la palabra. Pero al mismo tiempo, a veces la hospitalidad más difícil no es hacía el extranjero ni el viajero sino la hospitalidad hacía un vecino que por cualquiera razón es diferente que tú y como piensas que deben ser. A veces las fronteras más difíciles de abrir no son entre la gente que se ven diferentes sino los que se parecen.

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Cuaresma

Here are a few of my thoughts on the Fullfill blog this week on the meaning of cuaresma in rural Puebla:

When I first arrived in a rural region of Puebla, Mexico in December, it was the beginning of what people there called “la cuaresma.” The official translation for that word in Spanish is “Lent,” but for the people who I met in Puebla, cuaresma also meant the dry season. As I continue to journey through Lent, I remember this linguistic connection and wonder what it means to look at Lent like the dry season … For the rest of the content, see http://fullfillmagazine.blogspot.mx/2014/03/the-dry-season.html

 

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Urban Art

I first came across my free Thursday evening salsa class by chance, as I got off of the train on my way home. The music caught my attention and I stood off to the side to observe the group of people learning a few basic steps inside the train station. Then I slipped into the back row and started to try to follow those steps. As I have continued to go to salsa classes, I see people every week who do the same. Many who are curious enough to watch and a few others who are brave enough to participate. The class creates a beautiful camaraderie, even though very few who participate in the classes know each other.

This past week, I have had the privilege of seeing the power of public art in a different context: for youth in marginalized neighborhoods of Guadalajara, who experience the pressure to join gangs. Yesterday I walked around the neighborhood with a group of high school kids as we looked for walls where they could undertake their next graffiti mural. As they brainstormed ideas for the mural, they expressed frustration with their last project, which they felt wasn’t up to their standards of excellence in art. But one kid piped up and said “But it is ok, the idea is for us to come together and create something positive in the community.”

That, of course, is the whole idea of the initiative that helps coordinate the art projects and funds the supplies. In addition to supporting these urban art projects, they have also had music workshops and supported in recording songs produced by people in the neighborhood.

For some of the returned and deported migrants in these neighborhoods, these projects have helped them use their artistic abilities constructively. Such as one, who is a neighborhood hero for his albums and music videos. Although urban art and music is different between the two countries, it shares many characteristics and can be a safe space in the transition across the border.

Art creates a space. A space to collaborate. A space that can shape people’s understanding of each other. An outlet where identity and self-expression is respected and valued.

Ultimately, the art is important not just for how it is viewed by society, but also for the way that the individual participates in it. When I go to salsa classes, I become a part of creating that which draws people in, either as observers or participants. When youth in the marginalized neighborhoods of Guadalajara paint a mural, they are affecting their surroundings. For a return migrant, participating in art can make the difference between reacting to the realities that they face back in Mexico and creating their own environment and own identity. It can be a way to make a home.

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Arte Urbano

La primera vez que fui a mis clases de salsa fue por casualidad un jueves cuando me bajé del tren yendo a mi casa. La música que oí me llamó la atención y me paré a un lado para mirar el grupo que estaba aprendiendo unos pasos básicos dentro de la estación del tren. Me acerqué y traté de seguir los pasos. Desde entonces, he estado yendo a esas clases cuando pueda y cada semana veo a personas que hacen lo mismo que yo hice mi primer día. Hay varios que se quedan mirando y unos pocos que se atreven a participar. La clase crea un ambiente de confianza a pesar de que muy pocos participantes se conocen.

La semana pasada, vi el poder de la expresión de arte en público en otro contexto: con jóvenes en colonias marginadas de Guadalajara, quienes están en riesgo de entrar en pandillas. Ayer caminé por una colonia con un grupo de chavos de la prepa para buscar una barda donde podían pintar un mural. Mientras discutían ideas por el mural, se quejaron un poco que su otro mural no había quedado cómo ellos querían.  Pero un chavo dijo “está bien, lo importante es que nos unimos y creamos algo juntos que mejora el barrio.”

Eso es la esperanza de la iniciativa que ayuda a coordinar esos proyectos y compra la pintura y otras herramientas. Aparte que esos proyectos de arte urbano, también han tenido talleres de música y han apoyado a grabar las canciones que los chavos escriben.

Por algunos de los migrantes de retorno y deportados en las colonias, esos proyectos les han ayudado a usar sus habilidades artísticas en una manera positiva. Uno, por ejemplo, es un héroe en la comunidad por sus álbumes y videos de música. A pesar de que hay diferencias en el arte urbano entre los dos países, tiene mucho en común y puede ser un espacio seguro de acogida después de haber cruzado la frontera.

Arte crea un espacio. Un espacio de colaboración. Un espacio que ayuda a la gente a entenderse. Un medio dónde respetan y valoran la identidad y auto expresión de cada uno.

Al final de cuentas, el arte es importante no solo por como la sociedad lo vea sino también por como el individuo participa. Cuando voy a mis clases de salsa, me incorporo a crear lo que atrae a la gente como observadores o participantes. Cuando los jóvenes en las colonias marginadas pintan un mural de grafiti, cambian sus alrededores. Por un migrante de retorno, participando en el arte hace la diferencia entre solo reaccionando a las realidades que enfrentan en México y creando su propio ambiente e identidad. Puede ser una manera de crear su hogar. 

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