Lack of press freedom inspires innovation and creativity, even in toughest areas of northern Mexico

Dr. Celeste González de Bustamante is an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona and an affiliated faculty member of the UA Center for Latin American Studies. She is the author of Muy buenas noches,” Mexico, Television and the Cold War  and co-editor of Arizona Firestorm: Global Immigration Realities, National Media, and Provincial Politics . Prior to entering the academy, Dr. González de Bustamante reported and produced commercial and public television for 16 years, covering politics and the U.S./Mexico border. Dr. Jeannine Relly is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. She is an affiliated faculty member with the Center for Latin American Studies and holds a courtesy appointment with the School of Government and Public Policy. She has published numerous articles in top academic journals. Before joining the academy, she worked as a journalist in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and in the Caribbean. Follow them @celestegdb @JeannineRelly

Professors Relly and González de Bustamante are founding members of the Border Journalism Network. Since 2011, they have interviewed more than 100 journalists and activists from Mexico and the U.S. They have published two academic articles on violence and journalism along the U.S.-Mexico border in the International Journal of Press/Politics and Digital Journalism. They are now working on a book examining the same subject.

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Banners on El Diario de Juarez's building remind the public of two journalists from the paper who were murdered. (Photo: Celeste González de Bustamante)

Banners on El Diario de Juarez’s building remind the public of two
journalists from the paper who were murdered. (Photo: Celeste González de Bustamante)

In the city of Reynosa, and in other parts of the state of Tamaulipas, it’s common for members of the news media to have to wait for a “green light,” before publishing stories about delicate matters such as organized crime and drug cartels. A newsroom editor answers to two bosses, the owners of the news media outlet and the leaders of organized crime.

“We never imagined that we would have to wait for orders,” said Héctor Hugo Jimenez,” a 30-year-veteran journalist and editor-in-chief of Verbo Libres Editores, which publishes the bi-monthly alternative newspaper Hora Cero in Reynosa and Monterrey, Nuevo León.

In 2014, violence and gang warfare continue at high levels in Reynosa. And since 2010, after the split of the Gulf and the Zetas cartels, two powerful transnational criminal organizations, the old rules that governed newsrooms changed dramatically. Antonio Mazzitelli, representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Mexico said that his office began to track a unique situation along the border of crime bosses dictating the news. Before, Mazzitelli said, “violence, generally speaking, operated by crime tended to be hidden, not so broadcasted and visible.”

Although the rule of waiting for a green or red light has been in place for several years, that doesn’t mean that all forms of journalism in Tamaulipas or other parts of the border have been silenced. Under extreme circumstances, journalists have looked for innovative ways to publish and professionalize their craft.

In 2011, Jimenez directed Una ruta nada santa: de San Salvador a San Fernando (An unholy route: From San Salvador to San Fernando). Heriberto Deandar Robinson, owner of Verbo Libres produced the film. The documentary retraces the lives and route of two Salvadoran migrants who were massacred in 2010 along with 70 other migrants, most from Central America. Their bodies were found on a ranch in San Fernando, Tamaulipas.

Jimenez said that at the time, to question who was responsible for the murders of 72 migrants would have amounted to a death sentence. Nevertheless, they knew they had to cover the story, somehow. The documentary won an award from the Inter-American Press Association in 2012 for journalism excellence in the category of Human Rights and Community Service.

In Nuevo Laredo, the Cantu Deandar family is being honored and is celebrating 90 years of publishing news in Tamaulipas. Don Heriberto Deandar Amador first founded Verbo Libre in 1924, and in 1932 began to publish El Mañana de Nuevo Laredo.

The current editor-in-chief of El Mañana, Ramón Darío Cantú Deandar reflects on his family’s journalism tradition in times of crisis. “What motivates me is saving a business that’s been around for 90 years. That’s why I’m there.”

West of Nuevo Laredo, in Ciudad Juárez, which a few years ago ranked as one of the world’s most dangerous cities, journalists continue to struggle to publish investigative journalism.

In response to a violent working environment, and after El Diario de Juárez lost two of its journalists, several female reporters at the paper founded the Juárez Journalists Network (Red de Periodistas de Juárez).

The network lists among its goals: professionalization of journalists, organizing workshops on investigative journalism skills, dealing with victims, and increasing safety among reporters.

Rocio Gallegos, one of the co-founders of the network and current editor-in-chief of El Diario de Juárez said, “first, we focused on security and self-protection.”

Looking back at the worst years of the violence, Gallegos said with emotion in her voice, “I feel so proud of the Juárez journalists. I’m not just talking about my colleagues at El Diario, but colleagues from all over Ciudad Juárez, in newspapers and television.”

This blog post is our introduction to a collection of dozens of interviews with journalists and activists in Mexico and along both sides of the border. We consider their experiences as critical oral histories.

We feel strongly that the public should hear about the experiences of journalists and activists to help improve understanding about the borderlands and Mexico. As a result, we are including our interviews in an open-access archive titled “The Documented Border,” which will be launched on October 8.

Political Bias and Adjudication Disparities among Mexican Asylum Seekers

Taylor Levy worked for three years as a full-time volunteer at Annunciation House, a migrant house of hospitality located eleven blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border, and continues to volunteer with the organization. In April 2014, she became a Fully Accredited Representative in front of the Board of Immigration Appeals and currently works at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center representing low-income immigrant clients. She can be reached at taylorklevy@gmail.com

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Ideally, each and every migrant who seeks political asylum in the U.S. would be judged equally and impartially regardless of country of origin; however, this is simply not the case. Mexican applicants consistently face exceptionally low asylum grant rates despite widespread human rights abuses and levels of violence that often rival those found in active war zones.

During the period from FY2009 to FY2013, immigration courts received a total of 186,556 asylum applications from respondents of all nationalities (DOJ, 2014). In turn, immigration judges decided a total of 92,915 asylum cases “on the merits” (meaning that the asylum application was followed through to the end and was either granted or denied). Of that figure, asylum was granted in 48,099 cases, representing overall average grant rate of 52%. For FY2013, the top ten nationalities granted asylum by immigration courts were China, Ethiopia, Nepal, India, Egypt, the Soviet Union, Eritrea, Russia, El Salvador, and, for the first time ever, Mexico (DOJ, 2013).

Despite finally breaking into the top ten, however, Mexican asylum applicants continued to face significant adjudication disparities with grants rates far below the 52% grant rate for all nationalities combined. For example, from FY2009 to FY2013, Mexican applicants only had a 9% chance of being granted political asylum by an immigration judge, while Chinese applicants were successful over 74% of the time (DOJ, 2014). Likewise, on average, Colombians were granted asylum by immigration judges more than 40% of the time.

As demonstrated by these statistics, Mexican asylum applicants consistently face exceptionally low grant rates despite the high levels of violence and political terror occurring in Mexico today. There are a number of alternate explanations for why Mexican applicants do not receive asylum at the same (or even similar) rate as applicants coming from other nations. The most frequently cited argument made by government officials attributes these disparities to disproportionally high rates of frivolous asylum claims being filed by Mexican nationals. While not without its merits, this simplistic explanation fails to fully explain the extent to which Mexican applicants are negatively favored within the U.S. political asylum bureaucracy.

On the other hand, several scholars have argued that the U.S. is reluctant to grant Mexicans asylum “out of fear of economic burden,” general anti-Latino/a sentiment, the geographic proximity of Mexico, and worries that granting asylum to Mexican nationals would open the symbolic floodgates of legalized Mexican immigration to the U.S (Evans & Kohrt, 2004, p.18; Mann, 2012; Morales et. al. 2013). Furthermore, low asylum grant rates for Mexican nationals likely reflect U.S. government worries that granting asylum on a large scale would negatively affect foreign relations ties between the U.S. and Mexico (Plascencia, 2000). Since political asylum is granted on the basis of persecution by the government or by groups that the government cannot control, widespread granting of asylum for Mexican nationals could raise issues concerning the ethics of the U.S. government providing millions of dollars of aid to the Mexican military while at the same time granting political asylum to refugees fleeing the human rights abuses of that very same military organization.

It is clear that political biases have resulted in the unfair treatment of Mexican asylum seekers despite moral and legal obligations to protect refugees for whom deportation is a death sentence. The U.S. government must provide refuge to the thousands of Mexicans who have been persecuted and displaced due to extreme levels of violence, corruption, and lawlessness within their country. Furthermore, the U.S. government must ensure that these arriving refugees are treated fairly and humanely, without being subjected to further persecution and trauma. Contemporary Mexican asylum seekers are not “gaming the system;” they are fleeing for their lives, and the U.S. government must treat them accordingly.

Table 1

Immigration Court Asylum Statistics FY2009-FY2013: All Countries Combined
Cases Received Cases Granted Cases Denied Total Cases Decided on the Merits Grant Rate(Grants/Total Cases Decided on the Merits)
FY2009 30,112 8,800 9,876 18,676 47%
FY2010 32,810 8,518 8,335 16,853 51%
FY2011 42,664 10,137 9,280 19,417 52%
FY2012 44,296 10,711 8,502 19,213 56%
FY2013 36,674 9,933 8,823 18,756 53%
TOTAL 186,556 48,099 44,816 92,915 52%

Note: Adapted from Department of Justice (DOJ), Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR).
(2014b, April). FY 2013 Statistical Yearbook. Retrieved April 25, 2014
from http://www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/fy13syb.pdf

 Table 2

Top Ten Nationalities Granted Asylum by Immigration Courts FY2009-FY2013
Rank FY2009 FY2010 FY2011 FY2012 FY2013Rank FY2013Number of Grants FY2013% of Total Grants
1 China China China China China 4,532 45.63%
2 Ethiopia Ethiopia Eritrea Ethiopia Ethiopia 399 4.02%
3 Haiti Nepal Ethiopia Nepal Nepal 381 3.84%
4 Iraq India Nepal Eritrea India 322 3.24%
5 Colombia Egypt Egypt Egypt Egypt 305 3.07%
6 India Somalia Soviet Union Soviet Union Soviet Union 252 2.54%
7 Eritrea Colombia India India Eritrea 240 2.42%
8 Albania Eritrea Somalia Guatemala Russia 187 1.88%
9 Guinea Soviet Union Colombia El Salvador El Salvador 181 1.82%
10 Nepal Armenia Russia Pakistan Mexico 155 1.56%

Note: There is no explanation of the use of the “Soviet Union” as a country.
Adapted from Department of Justice (DOJ), Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR).
(2014b, April). FY 2013 Statistical Yearbook. Retrieved April 25, 2014
from http://www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/fy13syb.pdf

Table 3

Immigration Court Asylum Statistics FY2009-FY2013: Mexico
Cases Received Cases Granted Cases Denied Total Cases Decided on the Merits Grant Rate(Grants/Total Cases Decided on the Merits)
FY2009 2,490 56 336 392 14%
FY2010 3,996 38 477 515 7%
FY2011 7,425 92 1,010 1,102 8%
FY2012 10,542 113 1,306 1,419 8%
FY2013 8,569 155 1,566 1,721 9%
TOTAL 33,022 454 4,695 5,149 9%

Note: Adapted from Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (DOJ, 2014a)

 

Table 4

Immigration Court Asylum Statistics FY2009-FY2013: China
Cases Received Cases Granted Cases Denied Total Cases Decided on the Merits Grant Rate(Grants/Total Cases Decided on the Merits)
FY2009 8,117 3,085 1,448 4,533 68%
FY2010 9,534 3,419 1,366 4,785 71%
FY2011 10,385 4,299 1,593 5,892 73%
FY2012 9,457 5,015 1,421 6,436 78%
FY2013 5,568 4,532 1,229 5,761 79%
TOTAL 43,061 20,350 7,057 27,407 74%

Note: Adapted from Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (DOJ, 2014a)

 

Table 5

Immigration Court Asylum Statistics FY2009-FY2013: Colombia
Cases Received Cases Granted Cases Denied Total Cases Decided on the Merits Grant Rate(Grants/Total Cases Decided on the Merits)
FY2009 544 294 434 728 40%
FY2010 502 187 327 514 36%
FY2011 496 175 185 360 49%
FY2012 426 98 129 227 43%
FY2013 291 72 118 190 38%
TOTAL 2,259 826 1,193 2,019 41%

Note: Adapted from Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (DOJ, 2014a)

References:

Evans, D., & Kohrt, B. (2004). No refuge for persecuted neighbors: Human Rights and Asylum in the Americas. AmeriQuests, 1(1). Retrieved from http://homiletic.net/index.php/ameriquests/article/view/6

Mann, K. (2012). Reporters as refugees: Applying United States asylum laws to persecuted journalists in Mexico. Hastings International and Comparative Law Review, 35(1), 149-172.

Morales, M. C., Morales, O., Menchaca, A. C., & Sebastian, A. (2013). The Mexican drug war and the consequent population exodus: Transnational movement at the US-Mexican border. Societies, 3(1), 80-103.

Plascencia, L. F. (2000). Ignored Migrant Voices—Mexican Political Refugees in the United States. Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, 13, 67.

U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ], Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). (2013, February). FY 2012 Statistical Yearbook. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://www.justice.gov/eoir/statspub/fy12syb.pdf

U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ], Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). (2014, April). Asylum Statistics Chart. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://www.justice.gov/eoir/efoia/FY2009-FY2013AsylumStatisticsbyNationality.pdf

Q & A with Erin Siegal McIntyre

Erin Siegal McIntyre is a photographer who also writes narrative nonfiction, produces for TV and web, and reports for radio. Her work has appeared in the various publications including New Yorker, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and O Magazine. She’s a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, and was a 2012-2013 Soros Media Justice Fellow. Her award-winning book Finding Fernanda was the basis for an hour-long CBS special investigation. She lives in Tijuana.

For more info, visit her website

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Interview by Virginia Isaad

1. Having extensively covered the border, what has been one of the most difficult stories to cover and why?

Difficult can mean various things: a story can be hard technically, hard because of related security concerns, or simply because it’s not sexy enough to place with a media organization. But those kinds of obstacles are regular.

When I think about my three years on the border, covering the narcofosas related to El Pozolero was emotionally challenging. It was a combination of the graphic nature of the discoveries—seeing the actual pipes through which liquefied bodies were pumped, the makeshift holding tanks, the custom spigots, and the various site locations around eastern Tijuana: totally run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen poor neighborhoods— and then the immensity of strength and grace shown by the families in continual searches for kidnapped and disappeared loved ones. That awed me. I’ve been to a number of excavation sites, and came to understand the joy of finding a human bone fragment or tooth—a beacon of hope in the dark, a possible lead that could bring closure or answers.

I’m very protective over my own perception, and I intentionally avoid covering regular nota roja or crime in Mexico. I pay attention, but I don’t actively cover it. Quite simply, I want my instincts to remain as intact as possible; I don’t want to be one of those journalists who becomes deadened or desensitized. You can’t feel, perceive, write, and relay information strongly if you’re operating from a void of detachment.

There is something so intense and profound about the power of hope, civility, and basic human kindness in the face of such an unimaginable, ongoing hunt. I took this photograph of Fernando Ocegueda as he showed me around one excavation site before Mexican investigators arrived. He still hasn’t found his son, or his son’s body. It’s been six years.

fernando

 2. A lot is being reported on immigrant children crossing the border. What do you have to say about this issue?

You can read my latest here.

I also wrote a quick piece this week for TakePart, about abuse allegations related to child detainees under Customs and Border Patrol custody.

I’ve been working in Miami for the last month, and have felt really far from my beats—the border, and child welfare. It’s been frustrating being so far from home!

3. For our Q & A with Todd Miller, he mentioned Border Patrol youth programs and you recently did a story on teenage drug mules. Would you say that as the drug war progresses, youths are more susceptible to the violence than before? Why or Why not?

I’ve done a few stories on teenage drug mules, most recently for NPR’s Latino USA and for Al Jazeera America. I’m not sure you could make the argument that teens are any more susceptible to bad decision-making than ever before. But you might actually be able to make the case that heightened border enforcement leads to a heightened apprehension rate for teens working as mules.

There’s also something to be said related to the normalization of drug use in American society. (Medicinal) marijuana is legal in California, so taping a few pounds of it to your belly and walking across the border in exchange for a hundred bucks or a new cell phone might not seem like such a big deal if you’re a teenager clueless about the criminal consequences.

My AJAM story about Cruz Marcelino Velázquez Acevedo touches on that ignorance; Velázquez was a teen who died in Border Patrol custody after drinking from a bottle of liquid meth while being questioned. He took a gulp to prove to the agents that it was apple juice. He probably didn’t think it would kill him, but it was a painful, agitated death by overdose. He was writhing and crying for his family.

4. During your fellowship with the Open Society you focused on U.S. deportation policy, what did you learn during your time on this project?

This project was an experiment of sorts; I was awarded a Media Justice fellowship to execute a group project along with two other teammates, both of whom had no previous journalism experience. One of my partners was a law professor specializing in juvenile incarceration and immigration detention, and my other partner was a former gang member and deportee who’d served 14 years in American prison, from age 16 to 28.

Our focus was on “bad” immigrants, criminal deportees, and the gray area between. We worked around issues related to people who were deported after serving time for aggravated felony convictions. The definition of “aggravated felony” includes some misdemeanors under current immigration law, so it’s pretty broad. There’s a lot to unpack, and we had a busy year reporting for different platforms, from comic book graphic journalism to traditional TV pieces.

We aimed to tell stories that humanized deportees, specifically those considered “bad” or undesirable, with criminal records. Many people don’t understand that there’s no double jeopardy for non-citizens, green card holders (legal residents) and undocumented immigrants alike. That means after they’ve served time, and if their offense is considered an aggravated felony under U.S immigration law, then they’re automatically deported. There’s no guarantee to counsel, or appeal. They can’t fight it. They’re deported, and there’s no recourse for ever returning- they’re banned for life. This happens to many people who grow up in the U.S, and consider themselves American.

5. The adoption of immigrant children has been the focus of your books. In one article, you cite that around 5,100 children of undocumented immigrants were in state care, and in many instances, had been cut off completely from communicating with their families. One-fifth of foster care children are subsequently adopted. What can you tell us about the current state of foster care for immigrant children?

Finding Fernanda and the related special “Perilous Journey” focused on unraveling one Guatemalan organized crime network that was working with American companies to facilitate the international adoptions of Guatemalan children to the United States. That’s completely different than the question you raise about undocumented immigrant children, though there is some overlap.

My friend and colleague, reporter Seth Freed Wessler, is the author of the authoritative report, “Shattered Families,” which digs into the complicated intersection of child welfare and current U.S. immigration policy. His findings and statistics are based on years of research, and today in 2014, they’re actually getting old.

No one has yet to update them; this kind of endeavor takes an investment of time and money. A lot of news outlets just can’t afford to do that kind of serious investigative work.

 

6. What is an aspect of the violence in Mexico that you feel isn’t covered enough?

 I would argue that it’s not “violence in Mexico,” per se. The drug war isn’t a Mexican issue, it’s a shared responsibility. That’s nothing new.

I do think it’s always important to pay attention to discrepancies in crime reporting, especially contradictions between statistics from various government agencies and officials. There’s a lot of sugary spin (remember Mexico’s forecasted GDP growth last year?) and it’s easy for foreign reporters to devour it.

But in general, I don’t think the entire country of Mexico is covered enough! Then again, I adore mi hermosa patria adoptiva and I’m totally biased. So shoot, take my border reporting with a grain of salt, or ten. I love Mexico.

¡Y Tijuana rifa!

Q & A with Fronteras Desk Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe

Mónica Ortiz Uribe is a native of El Paso, Texas, where she works as a reporter for the public radio network Fronteras. She covers a range of topics from politics, to industry and environment in New Mexico, west Texas and northern Mexico. Previously she freelanced for National Public Radio on the drug-related violence in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Her first reporter gig was for the Waco Tribune Herald in Waco, Texas. Mónica graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a degree in history. Follow her at @MOrtizUribe

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In all your years covering the border, is there any story that stands out to you?

The story of the disappeared young women of Ciudad Juárez. These are young women who vanished without a trace during the height of drug violence in the city. They lived in poor neighborhoods and rode the bus to school or to work. One day they didn’t come home. They left devastated families behind whose lives were transformed. Unsatisfied with the police’s response, the families tried doing their own investigations. As of today none of the women I tracked have been found and the families still have no answers.

What has been the most difficult border-related story to write about? Why?

The same story as above. It’s difficult because there is no resolution, no answers, no rest. The families’ lives can never be the same.

In a recent story, you mentioned that apprehensions have risen 74 percent since last year. With so much controversy surrounding the border, what changes have you noticed in the last year?

I can say that the hot spot on the border now is south Texas. I visited that region last year and saw for myself the incredible amount of traffic coming across. Border Patrol is overwhelmed. At night their radios are non-stop. I witnessed two apprehensions. One woman was traveling alone from Guatemala with two toddlers, she was coming to meet her husband in the United States.  The other was a Mexican teenager and his 70-something year-old grandfather. It’s a humanitarian crisis, people are trying to come across every single day. When they are caught they need to be processed, fed, housed, etc. The federal government has only recently acknowledged their inability to keep up.

What do you wish more people knew about the border?

There is so much. I think we all need to reconsider how we spend our tax dollars on the border. The amount of money we spend on border enforcement is more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. And still we can’t keep up. Meanwhile legal traffic coming across the border is bottle necked. Our immigration system is backed up beyond a decade in some cases. It will take some bold thinking and brave decisions to change the status quo.

Blood, Sweat and Knobby Knees by Peg Bowden

Peg Bowden is a retired nurse living in southern Arizona on a ranch near the border. She volunteers each week with the Green Valley Samaritans at an aid station known as  El  Comedor in Nogales, Sonora. The aid station/soup kitchen is a project of the Kino Border Initiative, directed by a binational Jesuit ministry.

*******************************************************************************************************It It is 11 a.m. and 103 degrees outside in Nogales, Sonora. An ancient fan wobbles and clickety-clacks from the ceiling of el comedor, the aid station where I volunteer each week. The fan tries to make a dent in the intense heat and humidity of this monsoon morning. The legendary dry heat of southern Arizona is gone; the air feels like steam.

I am on my bony knees on a concrete floor gently placing the blistered, bleeding feet of my migrant friend into a plastic basin of cool water. He rolls up his jeans and gingerly submerges his feet. Caked dirt and blood cloud the water. Sweat drips from my nose. My back is killing me. Wobbling back and forth on the unforgiving floor, I wonder what in the hell I am doing here. My friend winces as I gently take some forceps and remove the dead skin and small pebbles embedded in his feet.

He is heading to Bakersfield and a job he has held for ten years in a restaurant where he claims to make the best chile rellenos in California. I believe him. Speaking perfect English, he tells me that he has lived in Bakersfield for 20 years. He decided to return to Guadalajara to see his grandmother. He ended up burying her, and is grateful for the time he had with her. With no memory of his grandmother as a young boy, he wanted to meet her before she died. Attempting to cross the border and head back to Bakersfield, he was picked up in the desert two days ago. Deported to Nogales, he ended up at here at el comedor.

I am a retired nurse, a grandmother, and a volunteer at this aid station. Never in my nursing days have I had this sort of experience. It is an act of pain. It is an act of love. I feel like I am a character in the Bible washing the feet of a weary pilgrim. The intimacy is profound and unsettling. There are no charts and paperwork and the slick high-tech machinery of the American health care system. Just a wounded man, a basin of water, and a retired nurse diving into the drama of connecting as best we can. It is all hands-on.

We are both self-conscious and bumble through this together. He wipes his eyes as I pick away at his chewed-up feet. I examine his toes and decide how to best treat the open sores and broken blisters. I am all business and try to put on my nurse face.

We talk about his children. I talk about my grandchildren. He pulls a crumpled zip-lock bag out of his jeans pocket and spreads the wrinkled photos on the table. Two adorable little munchkins in school uniforms are smiling in front of a bus stop. He tells me he must get home to them soon. They need their dad. His wife needs the money from his job at the restaurant.

I tell him he cannot walk for several days. If your feet are abscessed and infected, you don’t migrate. He is staring at the photos; he doesn’t hear a word I say. I find him some over-sized slippers to wear over his bandaged feet. He tells me to look him up if I ever come through Bakersfield. He crosses himself and hobbles out the door.

I never saw him again.

 

 

 

Immigrant Surge Sheds Light on Dangers of Broken Policy

Sylvia Longmire is a former Air Force officer and Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, where she specialized in counterintelligence, counterespionage, and force protection analysis. After being medically retired in 2005,  Longmire worked for four years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst for the California State Threat Assessment Center, providing daily situational awareness to senior state government officials on southwest border violence and Mexico’s drug war. She received her Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and she is an award-winning columnist for Homeland Security Today magazine and contributing editor for Breitbart Texas.  Longmire was a guest expert on The History Channel’s “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded,” and has consulted for the producers of National Geographic Channel’s Border Wars and Drugs, Inc. series.  Her first book, Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars, was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and she has written for numerous peer-reviewed journals and online publications. Her newest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer was published in April 2014. For more, check out her website.

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On the morning of June 18, 2014, roughly two dozen reporters gathered outside a Nogales warehouse and waited to be escorted inside by Border Patrol agents. Many were anxious; it was the first time members of the media would be allowed to witness firsthand the hundreds of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) being detained by the agency after being apprehended in south Texas.

Since October 2013, Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors, ranging in age from infant to 17 years old, in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. The vast majority of these children are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and they are all anxious to be reunited with family members in the United States. For some of them, the journey has been incredibly difficult—paying coyotes thousands of dollars in smuggling fees, eating and sleeping little, and navigating the gang- and cartel-infested territories in eastern Mexico. For some, the goal is to cross the border undetected and reach various destinations across the country.

But others are traveling right to the border and turning themselves in to agents under the impression—fueled by rumors at home—that they will soon be released. In many cases, they’re right.

Undocumented immigrants from Central America get treated differently by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because it’s logistically more difficult to repatriate them. Also, UACs from Central America get treated differently than adults. By law, they have to be processed and handed over to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which will try to reunite them with a family member or legal in the US as quickly as possible. Generally, the legal status of the person a UAC is released to does not impact the transfer of the child. UACs without a family member in the US get placed into the ORR’s network of shelters and group homes—essentially foster care—while they go through removal proceedings.

The reporters went into that Nogales warehouse hoping to get some answers about what President Obama and others have termed a “humanitarian crisis” on the border. For two weeks, they have been seeing photos—many of them leaked by Border Patrol agents—of the crowded conditions inside, and the experience was jarring for many. Several reporters expressed their thoughts on their Twitter feeds, describing the minors’ moods as ranging from bored to sad to outright distraught. UACs are only supposed to be detained for a maximum of 72 hours before being transferred to ORR custody, but the huge influx of minors in such a short period of time have made it logistically impossible for that to happen.

Given that this is a crisis that will not be ending or get resolved soon, two questions persist: What caused this huge influx, and how can it be controlled? Both questions are naturally fraught with political complications. Many on the right point the finger at lax enforcement of immigration policies by the Obama administration and a failure to secure the border. Many on the left fully blame the deteriorating security and economic conditions in Central America, which have led to the rise in control of many parts of those countries by gangs and drug cartels.

The truth is not always that simple, and in this case, it’s a combination of both of those factors—a sort of push-pull effect. Violence and a lack of economic and educational opportunities drive young people out of Central America by the thousands. But word has gotten around the region—in some cases, through television announcements—that many UACs, and even adults, are being released after processing and just being told to show up for their immigration hearing. Most will not. In addition, those with family members already in the US will be provided with bus fare to be reunited with them anywhere in the country. To say that word of mouth about these actions don’t have a “pull” effect is naïve and ignorant of the power rumors can have in Central America.

As far as controlling the push and pull factors, the latter is much easier than the former. Even though the US government has been providing counterdrug and economic development assistance to Central America for some time, security has not improved and economic development can be difficult to measure. One also has to add in the fact that US drug demand, which fuels the activities of cartels and the gangs they employ, is not diminishing, and corruption within governments and police forces in these countries is rampant.

The only thing left is to find a way to manage the pull factor—the controversial issue known as comprehensive immigration reform. The increase in border enforcement measures that the US government can reasonably sustain will be insufficient to stop determined migrants fleeing violence and poverty, as difficult a pill that may be for some to swallow. Changing immigration laws in a way that doesn’t grant automatic amnesty, but preserves the integrity of our justice system, is entirely possible. However, US politicians lack the political will to reach some sort of compromise that allows non-criminal “economic migrants” to contribute to the US economy and travel freely—and safely—between their home country and the US.

There is no simple answer, but there is also not one single acceptable answer. There is a halfway point between granting full amnesty to all undocumented immigrants and walling off the border while deporting every single one. A meaningful change at the legislative level and a very visible change at the border enforcement level will help spread an accurate message to desperate Central Americans—and the smugglers who exploit them—that although the US border isn’t open for business, a new way of following practical and effective rules is the best way to reach the safety of the United States.

 

 

Saving Marta by Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith lives in Santa Fe and travels to the border every month to photograph, write about and assist humanitarian programs like Vision in Action, Pastor Galván’s asylum.  Vision in Action is a private mental hospital that was founded by Jose Antonio Galvan about 18 years ago. He is a former addict who was deported from the US and then lived on the streets of Juarez until he became clean and decided to dedicate himself to helping the mentally ill. Almost all of his funds come from donations.  Smith can be reached at  Morgan-smith@comcast.net.

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Saving Marta

 

L-R: Elia, Marta and Leticia. Photo by Morgan Smith

L-R: Elia, Marta and Leticia. Photo by Morgan Smith

 

It’s a blazing hot July Sunday – 103 degrees – and I’m standing in the desert outside of Pastor José Antonio Galván’s mental asylum west of Juárez. Eight municipal police officers have arrived, most of them carrying automatic weapons. Now two of them pull a woman out of one of their cars. She is wearing only filthy underwear. Her hair is matted. This is Marta.

Earlier the police had called Pastor Galván to say that they were going to place this woman with him. She had been living on the streets of Juárez and no other facility would take her.

Fortunately, Sunday is when Dr. Vicente Pantoja, Galván’s consulting psychiatrist visits so he is able to assist. Nonetheless, when the police tell you to take someone, you do it. There’s no negotiation. As for Pantoja, he is one of only eleven psychiatrists in Juárez, a city of about 1.5 million.

Earlier, Pantoja talked about the differences between our mental health system with its rigid rules about things like the interchange between staff and patients and the Mexican system with its heavy reliance on simple human contact. I see this when Pantoja arrives and the patients rush over to hug him just as they do with Pastor Galván. I see this when they comfort each other. “Es como una familia aqui,” Pantoja says.

Several patients take Marta into the facility and soon a new Marta appears. She has been bathed by several of the women patients, wears a clean blue smock with little fish on it and her filthy, matted hair has been shaved. A male patient named Benito is gently trimming her long, cracked, dangerous looking fingernails. When he points to her broken, torn toenails, however, she shrieks and runs across the courtyard to a cement bench in the shade.

“Let her calm down.” Galván says. With her shaved head, wide shoulders and thick tattooed arms, she looks like a wild animal.

Finally a tiny patient named Elia approaches, sits next to her and puts her hand on her shoulder. Elia has a speech defect; the only word I can understand is “foto” because she likes to be photographed. Nonetheless, she has a sense of when other patients need consoling. Her older sister, Leticia – smaller and even more incoherent – joins her.

They lean towards Marta who has covered her face with her hand. We can see how well trimmed her fingernails are now but we can’t see her expression. We watch in silence as the minutes tick by. Is she about to explode? She is big enough to hurt both Elia and Leticia.

Finally her hand comes down and we can see her face. She is smiling. Maybe now she’s part of the family. This is what Pantoja was talking about. This is the environment that Galván has created, one of caring and affection, an environment of dignity.

 

About 6 weeks later, a patient named Blanca kisses Marta whose hair has partially grown out.  Photo by Morgan Smith

About 6 weeks later, a patient named Blanca kisses Marta whose hair has partially grown out. Photo by Morgan Smith

 

 

 

Q & A with author Todd Miller

Todd Miller is  a Tucson-based freelance journalist who has covered the U.S.- Mexico border for the last 15 years for publications including The Nation, NACLA Report on the Americas, and Mother Jones. His first book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Homeland Security explores border security post 9/11 and examines what he calls the “new world border.”  To learn more, visit his website.

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You’ve been reporting about the border for several years now, what made you decide to focus on border patrol and what surprised you the most in your findings?

One of the first acts of journalism that I did was photograph a crew from the U.S. Army corps of engineers when they were building the wall between Douglas and Agua Prieta in the late 1990s. That was when Border Patrol was concentrating agents and technology, and building walls in the urban areas along the 2,000 mile U.S. Mexico border. Then in 2001 I was working for a binational organization in Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora when 9/11 hit. With this, I witnessed first hand the advent of the homeland security era of the Border Patrol. The results of this have been nothing less than startling.

For Border Patrol Nation, I interviewed public information officers in places like Puerto Rico, El Paso, Tucson, and Detroit. However, I also interviewed many individual agents who had a wide range of perspectives. I interviewed from the most gung-ho to those with serious critiques about the agency. I met their kids, and went to their homes. I found that most agents think that they are in an insular world, and nobody really understands what they do. Many feel they are criticized by all sides of the political spectrum. I felt like when I was able to humanize the agent, I was able to see that they were only a small part— though a powerful part—of a much bigger world. Border Patrolling has become an industry, a technological innovation, a problem to be “solved” by engineers. There are many, many people of all perspectives involved with this domestic national security monolith, of which Border Patrol by virtue of its uniformed presence is its most public face. That was one surprise. The other surprise was when this world revealed itself, I saw that it was much bigger, and had penetrated the country (and more and more the world) in more startling and powerful ways than I was even aware of. To find these angles became, in a sense, one of the prime missions of the book.

Could you explain what you mean by the “new world border”?

This term comes from a chapter where I spend quite a bit of time on the Dominican Haiti international boundary. There, before my eyes, was a rustic version of the U.S.-Mexico border. Along the Massacre River, which demarcates the divide between the two countries that share the same island, were protest barricades placed crookedly and serving as a rudimentary barricade. Behind the barricades the Dominican Border Patrol, known as CESFRONT, sat their Xs, watching their sections of border like agents in the United States. When I asked these Dominican agents if they had received training from the U.S. Border Patrol they said yes. Not only has there been training, but also the United States sent resources. In fact, the whole idea that the Dominican Republic needed its own border patrol came from a U.S. report issued in 2006. Turns out, the United States, and its Border Patrol, has done trainings across the globe in more than 100 different countries. And it further turns out that the global market for border security is in an “unprecedented growth period,” hundreds of billions of dollars potentially. From Asia to Africa, from the Middle East to southern Europe, from Brazil to Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, hardened enforced boundaries are becoming the norm, particularly between the global south (and its different gradations—the Dominicans can police the Haitians, but the Dominicans need to be policed by the United States) with the global north. As former Customs and Border Protection chief David Aguilar said, Border Patrol’s work in the “hemisphere” is to protect “our way of life.”

You say that since 9/11,  Border Patrol has more than doubled its ranks, has roughly 21,000 agents nationwide and continues to expand. What do you see as the outcome of this growth and expansion?

At a recent community meeting on the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona the speaker—who was looking into Homeland Security abuse on the Nation–asked a group of approximately 100 O’odham seated there how many had been pulled over by the U.S. Border Patrol. For those that don’t know, the Tohono O’odham reservation shares a 70 mile border with Mexico, but their aboriginal land extend hundreds of miles into Mexico. When the borderline was drawn through its territory in 1853, the O’odham were not consulted. Yet, for years, and up until around 9/11 the O’odham simply ignored the boundary line, crossing back and forth to visit family, go to school, go to work, go to cultural and ceremonial sites. Up until the 1990s there was almost no Border Patrol presence (the agency began in 1924).

Now, at that community meeting, every single person raised their hand. Every single person had been pulled over, at least once, by Border Patrol. The degree of the shift of the Homeland Security presence on the Tohono O’odham Nation is a perfect reflection of Border Patrol growth. If you were to go to the O’odham reservation right now, you might see more green-striped Border Patrol vehicles, than normal ones. There are ATV and horse patrols. There are surveillance towers and surveillance drones overhead. There are Blackhawk helicopters and military style Forward Operating Bases.

People on the rez are complaining of tailgating, of Border Patrol spotlighting into their vehicles at night. People talk of interrogations, being pulled out of their cars, of being pepper sprayed. On all paved roads leading out of the reservation there are checkpoints: Heading west towards Phoenix in Gila Bend, Heading north to Casa Grand, Heading east to Tucson. If you speak the Tohono O’odham language to the agents, like Tohono O’odham member Ofelia Rivas, expect secondary and your car to be searched. You will be detained. This is one of the sharpest examples—but only one example of many– of the giant Homeland Security complex spreading across the country into many places—including places where it had very little presence before such as Rochester, New York or Erie, Pennsylvania. Since this type of expansion is basically unquestioned, unless more people step up and challenge it, we can only expect more of the same.

Could you talk more about the Border Patrol youth programs?

In every city and town on the southern U.S. border, and increasingly in the north are programs that the U.S. Border Patrol has with youth. One of these is called the Explorer program, which comes from the Boy Scouts of America. With the Border Patrol, teenagers learn handcuffing techniques and with “red guns” (fake guns) take down potential terrorists and other threats. They learn how to do interrogations (or “field interviews” as Border Patrol calls them) and to question people about their documents. When I met with the Explorer post in El Paso at dawn, they were doing uniform inspections, and then marched in lock step around the Border Patrol Training Center. The kids learn what it takes to become an agent. And, as many agents have pointed out, Border Patrol can identify possible recruits for an agency that is always expanding and always on the lookout for more agents.

But there is more to the creating of the fertile ground upon which the homeland security state can grow. As one of the agents working with the kids told me—it’s more than recruiting. He told me about the Thanksgiving parade in El Paso. He said that when the Border Patrol marched at that parade, they would get a mixed reaction at best. But, he said, a couple years ago the youth Explorer post began to march right along with them. The applause from the crowd was wild. The families, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends of the kids were all in the audience. The kids, this agent told me, were “the key” to Border Patrol’s relationship with the community.

You write, “Predawn house raids have become a routine tactic for ICE, it’s a time when most people are at their most vulnerable: at home and unconscious.” Why do you think the Homeland Security agents have been using such tactics?

The predawn raid is a military tactic to get to somebody when they are at their most defenseless. The Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic documents cases of ICE agents storming into people’s homes– in one occasion pulling the covers off of a sleeping woman, shining a bright flashlight into her face and her child’s face who began to wail in terror. In another incident, in Massachusetts, ICE agents kicked in the front door of a house, leaving splintered wooden fragments on the floor. Like in a war, they commanded every one to lie down and stay still. They shined bright lights directly into people’s faces. These tactics, and others– such as Border Patrol agents shooting into and killing people in Mexico—give credence to the idea that Homeland Security is acting in some sort of war posture, even in their domestic operations. The priority mission of Customs and Border Protection, for example, in the post 9/11 era is to stop “terrorists” and “weapons of mass destruction” from penetrating our borders. They are on the front lines, the rhetoric goes. They have lots of weaponry and high-powered and sophisticated surveillance equipment at their disposal. They have drones flying overhead, some with radar systems imported from U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan, such as the VADER system. They have high-tech war rooms with expensive video walls for “situational awareness.” The tactics of war are very much a part of today’s Homeland Security operations. Predawn raids are just one part of that.

What would you propose as a solution?

What I know, first and foremost, that a much more holistic dialogue is needed which includes a variety of voices such as those most impacted by the Border Patrol expansion like the Tohono O’odham people mentioned above. The notion, even the term “border security” I believe needs to be challenged. It implies that this expanding security monolith is indeed protecting “us” from some sort of ill-defined “them” who are out to get us. By far the brunt of Border Patrol arrests are of people who are coming north to find a job. People who probably didn’t want to leave their communities, their loved ones, the food that they eat, and the language that they speak, but felt their hand was forced by an untenable economic situation or a situation of spiraling violence and threat—or both—speaks to the need for a much more profound analysis around the immigration debate.

The fact that the immigration reform bill (passed in the Senate a year ago) is more than 1000 pages long– and with the Hoeven-Corker amendment includes a provision for $46 billion designated to “border security”–with no mention at all about, say, the impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement in Mexico, seems like an omission of extraordinary proportions. If U.S. economic policy– or say a set of policies such as IMF structural adjustment (in effect in Mexico since 1982)–has anything at all to do with anyone losing their livelihood and having to move or migrate in order to find work, such policies need to be scrutinized. And this needs to be a part of any immigration reform debate. In the immigration debates, and thus the immigration reform bills, this part of it is so roundly ignored that to bring it up almost seems like you are coming from left field, and at times openly disdained.

However it was former INS chief Doris Meissner who argued to Congress in 1993—indeed she was arguing for the militarized border apparatus that we see now with Operations Hold-the-Line, Gatekeeper, and Safeguard—who said “Responding to the likely short- to medium-term impacts of NAFTA will require strengthening our enforcement efforts along the border.” Before it even happened, Meissner prophesied Mexico’s post-NAFTA exodus.

Right now economic systems in the world are structured in such a way that we are seeing unprecedented inequality, few extremely rich and many, many poor. The solution lies in a wider discussion that includes unprecedented world-wide inequality as an important reason why so many people are migrating and that treats cross-border immigration as an international issue.

With the constant talk of immigration reform, how do you hope your book will inform policy makers?

Border Patrol Nation offers a contribution to an ever-evolving landscape, and I hope it indeed will inform both our policy-makers and their constituents and at least contribute to a more robust debate. The idea that the debate around “border security” is one that occurs at the fringes has to stop. The idea that money is continually thrown to this border fortifying initiative without much debate at all needs to stop. If there’s one contribution that my book makes at this level, it is at the very least that this debate needs to happen. But I also hope the book drives home the point that this debate is also important to the very direction of our country and to what we are becoming.

If people were to take just one thing from this book, what do you think that should be?

Aren’t there much more important things—such as basic services like education, housing, or public transportation—where we can put the billions designated now to Homeland Security? If there is a security crisis in the United States it is that people are losing their homes, their jobs, their transportation. It is not from a non-existent terrorist lurking on the other side of an international boundary line.

 

 

 

Keith Dannemiller on La Bestia

Guest Post: Keith Dannemiller

The Mexico City-based photographer recounts his experience covering the dangers faced by migrants particularly those who face “La Bestia.”  To learn more about Keith and his work visit his website.

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Baby Pictures

One month ago I photographed babes in the arms of mothers who were climbing atop a hulking brute of a locomotive. They were courageously trying to protect their infants by making a get away northward, through a land full of monsters.

Before beginning this odyssey in southern Mexico, most had left untenable situations in Honduras: San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba and the Cayos Cochinos were places they said they once lived. According to their stories, they had traded a living hell at home for a temporary one in a land where they knew the devil stole their money, trafficked their sex and maybe took their lives, in exchange for letting them ride the railroad he now controlled.

They had just a flimsy, illusory notion of a new life in the US for themselves and the kids accompanying them. If they make it. Si Diós quiere. Their belief in a different lot, sown from fear and fed by rumor, would, nonetheless, help to get them through the sweltering day sand terrifying nights to come.

The river is low at this time of year before the rains begin.You can roll up your pant legs, remove your shoes and tie the laces together, sling them over your shoulder and wade across the Rio Suchiate from Tecún Umán, Guatemala to Ciudad Hidalgo in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Or for 20 Mexican pesos, you can hire a boatman to pole you through the shallow waters while you sit on a jerry-built platform made of under -inflated monster truck tire inner tubes and discarded, flat commercial pallets. Many migrants heading north choose this entry point into Mexico, because immigration controls on the river are lax and more than likely non-­existent.

If a rare INM (Instituto Nacional de Migración, Mexican immigration control) agent happens to be waiting on the other side, a short financial discussion between him and your guide will let you continue on your way.

Before 2005, after crossing the Suchiate, the journey on La Bestia, this infamous freight train ridden by the intrepid and desperate, began in Ciudad Hidalgo. Hurricane Stan changed all that. Some 240 kilometers of track were damaged and the migrants and refugees who had entered Mexico without papers had to now make their way northwest to the town of Arriaga, Chiapas. Back then, as now, this part of the journey was done either on foot, or in a series of buses, trucks and local public transportation.

Although the company that operates the train line here, Ferrocarriles del Istmo de Tehauntepec, promises to reopen the Ciudad Hidalgo ­Arriaga leg, Arriaga continues to be one of the necessary assembly points in the south for those boarding La Bestia.

I was photographing for the IOM, the International Organization for Migration, and wanted the work to show the current conditions of migrants in southern Mexico, as they head north to the U.S. border. This movement of truly epic proportions, is now fueled not so much by economic necessity, but increasingly by drug ­related violence in Central America.

The migrant of yesterday has become the refugee of today. The photos had to show, on an intimate, human scale, this demographic change that is taking place.

After spending a day at various points along the Rio Suchiate, we headed to Huixtla and the San Francisco de Asis migrant shelter. I was accompanied by two fearless and dedicated women, Rosa García Ita of UNHCR and Jacqueline Villafaña of the IOM. While monitoring the situation along the migrant route by phone, they received word that the cars of La Bestia, after sitting idle for 8 days, were being assembled in Arriaga for the trip north. We made the two hour trip by car and arrived at eleven o’clock to an ant-­like progression of people advancing up the sides of the railway cars under an unforgiving sun. The Beast was preparing to be ridden.

“The pictures are there. You just take them.”

I photograph a lot on the streets of Mexico City and in that work have come to believe that these words of the influential photojournalist Robert Capa express perfectly what I attempt to do. Patience,vision, experience all have their role in forming an expressive image, but most important is ‘being there’. To paraphrase Capa, that day in Arriaga, ‘the pictures were everywhere.’And I think that because I had never encountered such a scene anywhere before, the images were abundant.They were easy to make, photographically speaking, but it was difficult  to look at women, babies, young kids,whole families making their ways up the ends of the cars with a backpack, a bottle of water and a piece of cardboard. The babies and kids who couldn’t make it to the top on their own had to be  hoisted, pushed or carried. Teens and pre­teens in groups of four or five, lent a hand to each other on the ladders. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe just last week they were doing much the same, but while hanging around a jungle  gym at school.

Looking through a camera gives a photographer one level of separation from reality and many say, permits the objectivity necessary to present the ‘truth’.  I don’t think so. The making of a photographic image is a finite collection of subjective decisions, beginning with, more likely than not,the ‘what’ that you choose to photograph.  Observing this ominous starting scenario to a dangerous journey, I was forced to ask myself, for visual and technical reasons,but for personal ones too, ‘What is going on?’

The photographs that are present here are meant to answer that question, and generate others about the pasts and the futures that they embody. What exactly is going on in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that so many unaccompanied young kids have no choice but to leave? What will happen further on up this rail way line to the mother with a babe in arms when the monsters appear and impose their brutal revisions?

A Facebook comment on the shared essays aid getting on board that train with your baby was insanity.   I disagree. Resigning oneself to staying behind in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, that’s what is without hope and downright insane. Given the choice, leaving home and boarding ‘La Bestia’ is truly an act of courage.

Keith Dannemiller

México, DF

 

Guest Post: Dream of Return By Jessica Bedolla

Guest Post:  Jessica Bedolla

Jessica Bedolla is from Chula Vista, CA and grew up in the border of Tijuana-San Diego.

She graduated from San Diego State University with a BA in Liberal Arts and Bachelor of Science in Sociology, recently earned her Master Degree from Cal State Northridge in Mass Communication.

Her background is in radio. She has worked for Uniradio Group San Diego, and Entravision Palms Springs.

She is the first one in her family to earn a college degree. During her program at CSUN she collaborated with the organizers of the Los Angeles Hola Mexico Film Festival and the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

She is currently launching her independent media project: Bedsol Media.

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photo-32During the month of March 2014 I traveled to the border town of Mexicali, Baja California Mexico to conduct participatory observation and interviews of recent Mexican deportees. The four people that were forced back were two males, and two females. They talked about their experiences and struggles in the United States and in Mexico. Those interviewed were active citizens who contributed to their communities in the United States, but have no links or ties in Mexico anymore. The common denominator among them is that they arrived in Mexicali morally and emotionally destroyed, with no resources and no aid from the Mexican authorities. Many times they lack proper documentation, and or their education is not valid in Mexico.

The current trends in U.S. immigration policy have resulted in the expulsion of millions of usually undocumented immigrants with the largest percentages coming from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The driving forces to immigrate into the United States continue to be political and instability. Those that depart from their country of origin hope to improve their economic and social conditions and those of their families.  Yet once they arrive in the United States, they must live in the shadows to avoid detection since entering the country without proper documentation constitutes a criminal offense, which can have harsh punishments by federal authorities.

Thus to this date under the current administration of president Obama more than two million have been deported since he took office in 2009.

Furthermore, recent Statistics published by Federal Officials reported that approximately 419,000 people were deported in 2012, surpassing the target of 400,000 people per year.

Clearly, these repatriations create an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and instability for the undocumented population livingphoto-45 in the interior and those who have been deported. Deportations of immigrants and the harsh and persistent application of the current laws directly affect mixed status families, children and spouses by tearing families apart and impacting the Latino community as a whole. One of the deportees lost everything, “my wife remarried and my kids now live in Utah, so here I am alone.”

However, when they are in Mexico they are also invisible and ignored by the government and society. A lot of times they are discriminated for being immigrants. Very few places offer some form of assistance to those who return. That is the case of Border Angels, and Hotel of the Migrant, an organization that serves as the only shelter open 24 hours 7 days a week. The site is in Mexicali and is administered by a civil non-profit organization, located few blocks from Calexico Port of Entry. Deportees are usually dropped off in the middle of the night and in poor conditions. To this day sadly, deportees are marginalized by the American government and ignored by Mexican authorities; they are trapped in a no man’s land. But they won’t give up on their dream of return.