Graduation Day by Corey Almond

•May 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Graduation for the English Language class this year was the most multicultural event I’ve been to lately. Not the kind where you watch a movie and talk about other cultures with wine and cheese, but one with people who come from places around the globe. The students in our classes each know a world completely apart from the one we in the United States inhabit. One in which their mother gathered beans from a borrowed plot of ground a half-mile from the house. Or one in which the family walked for days over the dessert to find a refugee camp in a neighboring country. However, there is often one part of the experience of coming to the United States that is shared: having to leave behind one’s home, being torn away from what is known, familiar, loved.

At the graduation, two Russian women shared for us a little of what that is like. We broke from ice cream and the presentation of certificates of attendance for the performance of a few folk songs. “This one is about love, sort of…not love like man/woman…you will see,” was the introduction from a woman who long ago was a music director at her church in Russia. Too nervous ever to speak English before classes, now she was getting up in front of a group of 40 to introduce her songs. The two women broke out into a raw harmony that exposed an unalterable affection for what was lost in the move to America. No one knew the words, and yet she had been right in the introduction. We did understand. We understood that she harbored an incredible love for her homeland and for the things she had known growing up, however proud she was to be an American.

It is not easy to leave the land you call home, especially when you must. But that we are the land of promise is a notion alive in the hearts of our immigrants, with the singular wish to feed, clothe and educate their children. God calls each of us to open our hearts to see the hopes and hardships of our brothers and sisters everywhere, especially those who come to us at the end of a long journey, leaving all that they know behind.

Corey Almond is Vice President of Family Immigration Services and Parish Social Ministries

USCCB and CRS Chairmen Applaud Extension and Re-Designation of TPS to Haiti, Express Concern with Resumption of Deportations

•May 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

WASHINGTON (May 17, 2011)—Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, and Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, chairman of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), today hailed the extension and re-designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haiti.

On May 17, the Obama Administration announced that it would extend TPS for another 18 months beginning July 23, 2011.  The Administration also re-designated eligibility for TPS to those who arrived by January 12, 2011, a year after the January 12, 2010, earthquake.

TPS permits nationals of a designated nation to remain in the United States with legal status and work authorization for a specific time, until that nation recovers from conflict or natural disaster.

“I commend the action to re-designate TPS to Haiti,” said Archbishop Gomez.  “This action will permit those who entered the United States in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster to remain and work to support their families.”

“It is simply the right thing to do,” he added.  “It directly alleviates the suffering of Haitians and their families both in the United States and in Haiti. I congratulate President Obama and Secretary Napolitano on this decision.”

Bishop Kicanas stressed the importance of the TPS decision to the recovery in Haiti.  “The re-designation of TPS to Haiti will preserve the flow of much-needed remittances to that stricken country,” he said. “The remittances are vital to bolstering the fragile Haitian economy and supporting the national recovery,” he added.

At the same time both chairmen lauded the TPS decision, they expressed concern about the recent resumption of deportations to Haiti on April 15, 2011. The deportations were suspended for three months following the death of one deportee from cholera contracted in a Haitian jail where he was held by the Haitian Government following deportation.

“We remain troubled by the resumption of deportations to Haiti at a time when the nation is ill-equipped to handle them,” Bishop Kicanas said.

Haiti remains in crisis, with more than one million homeless and an ongoing cholera epidemic.

According to USCCB officials, Haitians who pose no threat to the community could be placed in alternative to detention programs until Haiti is sufficiently recovered to receive and reintegrate them.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: The Immigrant Connection (By: James Porter)

•May 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Did you have tomatoes on your sandwich for lunch?  Did you tell the employee at the deli to add extra onions? Maybe you will go home this evening and relax with a nice glass of California Chardonnay?   It is likely that some, if not all of these items will have passed through the hands of an immigrant woman.

In observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) launched a national campaign yesterday to raise awareness of sexual violence against immigrant women in the food industry.  I was fortunate enough to attend their kick-off panel yesterday with members of the SPLC staff; Patrick David Lopez, General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); and Mohamed Mattar, Executive Director of The Protection Project.  Also speaking was an immigrant woman named Carina who was a victim of sexual violence while working in the food industry.

It was this brave woman’s story that brings to light an often hidden problem.   As a worker on an onion farm, most of Carina’s co-workers did not speak English.  Her English-speaking supervisor would often tell the women working there that they had to let him touch them or they would be fired for doing a bad job.  He would allow his friends to come in and say vulgar things to the women and hit some of Carina’s friends.  She even had pesticide sprayed on her and was told that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be called if she said anything to the authorities.

A single mother of three, Carina left her children in Mexico 5 years ago to try to lift them out of poverty and escape their father, who had been abusing her for 10 years.    When she went to the police in Mexico about him, she was told she must have done something wrong to deserve her beating.  When the children’s father later brought themto the U.S., Carina endured abuse for another 5 years until she decided to never let it happen again, not by her partner or by her employer.   She is no longer with the father of her children, and reported the abuse occurring at work to the authorities.

Carina’s story is only one of many that occur in the U.S. every day.  Supervisors think they can get away with sexual assault because they threaten to call ICE, or to have the women fired.   Some even purposefully call ICE to have the women removed to avoid paying wages, and then hire other workers to replace them.  The abusers see these women as “perfect victims” because they speak little English, are seen as lacking credibility, may be undocumented, and do not fully know their rights.

CLINIC works to help immigrant survivors of domestic violence and victims of trafficking and enslavement by providing both technical assistance and direct services. In particular, CLINIC offers advocate training sessions on the types of immigration relief available to victims of abuse and other crimes, as well as direct technical assistance to CLINIC members who represent victims of crime. CLINIC also helps survivors escape from dangerous situations and obtain legal residence on their own, while assisting them with shelter, long-term housing, food, clothing, employment, job training, and mental health and legal counseling.  For more information on CLINIC’s VAWA Immigration Project, click here.*James is a Communications Officer for CLINIC

Confesion de la evangelista frustada by Clare Twomey

•March 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This is my second trip to the Border. The first was in August 2008 with a group of seminarians determined to learn all we could about the issues regarding immigration and to provide humanitarian aid to migrants trying to cross to desert. While we made a quick trip to Altar Mexico (to visit a staging area for migrants getting ready to cross and a center (C.A.M.E.) designed to assist those whose had been repatriated after making an attempt to cross), most of our time was spent walking the trails. The culmination of our time on the desert was our detainment for three hours by the U.S. Border Patrol who were convinced that we were aiding and abetting “illegals”. Needless to say, my encounter with BP agents was less than fun. It was demoralizing, infuriating and we could only begin to imagine what it must be like for those Migrants whose entire future is determined by whether or not they make it past the Patrols whose sole purpose is to send them back to the poverty and despair left behind in their native lands. I felt no empathy for these agents. Rather I felt hostility and a desire for them to leave the planet. They are the enemy after all…

The agenda for this trip clearly stated that we would be visiting the Tucson area Border Patrol headquarters. We would have the opportunity to tour the facility like tourists on holiday. It was an excursion to which I was not looking forward. In fact I had confessed to my roommates that I was hesitant to go, afraid that I would not be able to keep my mouth shut, ready to accuse all those agents of oppression and violence against the migrant. But God has a funny way of interjecting humility into our lives.

The night before the tour, our group met at the wall a few miles west of Agua Prieta to learn about the history of immigration. However, while trying to concentrate on what Mark, out host, was trying to tell us, a white van continued to drive back and forth looking for an opportunity to drop its human cargo near a recently “sliced” steal beam so that they could squeeze their bodies through the break. At the same time, four Border Patrol trucks were running parallel on the U.S. side, with agents armed to the teeth with semi-automatic weapons. While they examined the cut piece of fencing, we had the “privilege” of talking to some of the agents through the fence as they tracked the movements of the white coyote van. I took the opportunity to ask Vince, one of the agents, what the most difficult part of his job is. And much to my surprise, his eyes filled with tears and he said “the kids”.

After being reassured that I was not a reporter, he shared stories of the youngest victims of this insane policy, the children. As he described his experiences, (specifically of a four year old girl being left behind in a cemetery at night while her uncle made a run for it), he was visibly troubled and requested that we, the missionaries visiting, tell the migrants to leave the kids behind. We were informed y our host that this self disclosure was rare and more honest than what we could expect from our tour guide the next day.

I was floored by his honesty, his emotion, his humanity. It was the exact opposite of my experience of the Border Patrol during my first visit. And it threw me. Such a juxtaposition of experiences. And of course, just to make matters more confusing came the visit to the BP headquarters

We listened to a border patrol agent talk about her job, and it seemed as if she were on automatic pilot.  She discussed how she loves tracking down “stuff” ( translate: people), and sending “aliens” back over the border only to play “cat and mouse” with them again the next day. She discussed catching “things” the way my son talks about shooting the enemy in his play station games. My desire to flip back to demonizing the Border Patrol was strong and I could feel myself returning to my previous opinion of disdain and disgust of these folk. But then God stepped in again, and our host shared another story of an agent who climbed down a ravine to hold a migrant woman with a compound fracture for hours until Search and Rescue could get to them. He, the agent, reported that during their time together, it was clear to him that he and this woman loved each other.

Hating and blaming a particular group is so much easier. Focusing on the horror stories and maltreatment of migrants by agents certainly allows me to get on my soapbox and feel superior in my actions and attitudes. But to what end?

The Border Patrol requires that and individual have a high school diploma or equivalent. Overtime is built into the schedule allowing a 5 year “veteran” to make over $75,000 a year (more money than most 25 year veterans of our educational system). This is a system which calls its targets, “aliens”, “things” and “stuff”, dehumanizing not only the migrant but those employed to catch them. It is a system which by definition de-humanizes al of us on either side of the border trying to make sense of the inane.  

I have no answers. I am angry, demoralized, and desiring a simple enemy to blame. And then I remember: “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

This is a very broken system affecting all of us: it is Both/and: migrant/agent; Pharisee/sinner; you/me…

Return Home

•February 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Agua Prieta family who hosted us in their home 

For our final day we had planned to have breakfast in the motel and then leave Agua Prieta for home, but we were invited to Mark’s home where his wife Miriam said we are welcome any time, even our families if we would like, no matter what time of year. Miriam is from Chiapas, Mexico, where she gets her sense of welcoming the stranger, except in her family the word is guest.

At meals the guest sits and eats first, and the host eats afterward. All three of the homes we were in had this custom, and all three said that we could come back, with our families, and stay anytime. I know that many of us in the United States try to be welcoming in this way too. But the wall and our policy reflects an opposing mentality, an intense hostility to others if they happen to be from the South. And yet it is our wall. One of our guides, Jordan, reminded us that it is our government and our policy.

Therefore we must take responsibility for it and for the deaths of our brothers and sisters who are pushed into the desert looking for a way to survive. Before 1994, there was no wall, and the economy was in boom (For more information about the economic impact of immigration, visit Migration Policy Institute on the web). Jordan’s words are that migration is not a problem, it’s the way we respond to it. This blog will continue to look at this question in the weeks to come, as well as our experiences on the border, only a fraction of which we have been able to share here, so stay tuned!

Day 4: Life in Agua Prieta

•February 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A father and his sons take refuge at a migrant shelter after a difficult journey.

Brothers from the border town of Agua Prieta where we’re staying.

Worker at Cafe Justo

A tidbit from our first stop today from Jesus Reyes: Coffee anyone? Just coffee Who does not like a good cup of coffee in the morning? Well, that is how our morning started today, with a visit to “Cafe Justo” or in English “Just Coffee”. We learned about the story behind this coop, how it all started by the testimony of one migrant that tried to cross the border for a better life. Daniel Cifuente, From Chiapas, a coffee grower moved to Aguas Prietas looking for job after the price of coffee dropped.

That’s where he met Mark Adams, and Tommy Bassetand. In 2002 the idea of “Café Justo” is born. With the help of Mark Adams, Tommy Basset and a loan from Fronteras de Cristo, a coop is born. They started this coop with the idea of maybe selling 10 sacks of coffee beans the first year, but they sold over 400 sacks of coffee. Currently “Café Justo” has a coop in four locations in Mexico. Two of these coops have 30 families growing coffee at a fair price. That’s good coffee!

More about our experience today from the group: Tonight we drove the long and winding road, dirt and dusty at the end, to the home of a family from Lily of the Valley Church. Parents Roberto and Ana, their 4 rambunctious children, and grandma Maria welcomed us warmly for dinner. Roberto came with his mom from Veracruz to Agua Prieta 13 years ago to work in a local factory. He met his wife here She had moved to Agua Prieta, hearing there were jobs here that paid well. They began having children, the oldest now 9 years old.

A few years ago Roberto got a work visa and went to Wilcox, Arizona for 2 years of work, but after that time, he was no longer able to get the visa renewed because of a change in U.S. government policy. Their home was very modest and still in progress, with a large high-ceiling living room/kitchen, half with a dirt floor, half with concrete floor. They had prepared a delicious dinner of meat with vegetables, rice and beans, plus warm tortillas. The meal was outstanding, but even more impressive was their hospitality and their sharing of their stories with us. Maria was so grateful that we are all part of God’s family, for our visit to their home, and for God’s provision.

Roberto now has a “growing” Internet business with his brother and is thankful for his family. The kids loved having guests to play with, to be able to get their pictures taken and to see the pictures on all the digital cameras.