February 29th, 2020
On Monday, three of us (Joanna, Suzanne, and myself) gave a presentation at the Racine Library about our trip to the Mexican border last October. The talk was organized by Linda Boyle of the Racine Interfaith Coalition. A couple dozen people showed for the session, including a reporter from the Racine Journal Times.
The reporter, Adam Rogan, spoke with us after the presentation was finished. He had taken pictures, and he had made notes. He was a pleasant young man.
I thought that was the end of it…until this morning. My wife and I stopped at Mocha Lisa after daily Mass, and I saw the copy of the Racine Journal Times. A story about our talk on immigration was on the front page.
The article is as follows:
RACINE — “You don’t belong here.”
That’s what a group of Wisconsin Catholic immigration advocates visiting the U.S.-Mexico border were told by an American who has sheltered thousands of migrants over the past four decades.
That shelter provider, Ruben Garcia of El Paso, Texas, told the Wisconsinites he doesn’t want advocates coming down to the border so much. Garcia wanted them to be focused on advocating to change the divisive policies that have led to massive encampments of migrants now stuck in Mexico after being denied entry to the United States.
Monday evening at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St., a panel of those advocates from Milwaukee’s Catholic Coalition for Migrants and Refugees (CCMR) shared what they witnessed during recent visits to both sides of the border.
The panel was heavily critical of the Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially known as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” or MPP. The intent of MPP is for would-be immigrants to stay in Mexico — rather than the United States — while awaiting court dates that could grant them asylum status.
More than 55,000 migrants have been kept in Mexico because of this policy, 95% of whom don’t have lawyers, according to CCMR; fewer than 150 have gained asylum thus far.
But on Friday, a state appeals court overturned MPP, in part because of arguments activists made that Remain in Mexico did little to actually protect migrants, considering the rampant gang violence and lack of healthy living conditions south of the border.
One of the arguments the Trump Administration made in defending the policy was that migrants often didn’t show up for their court dates when they were being allowed into the United States to wait.
According to a fact-check from The Washington Post, 44% of migrants who were not in custody failed to show up for their court proceedings; that fact-check was published in response to Vice President Mike Pence’s claim that 90% of migrants were not showing up for court dates.
Despite the court’s ruling, local Catholic activists are not expecting much real change.
“I think what’s going to happen is … they’re going to deport people even quicker,” said Joanna Boey, a CCMR member who has visited the border multiple times and spoke Monday at the Racine Public Library. “Recently when courts have made decisions … Immigration kind of just ignored it,” such as when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained two individuals inside a courthouse earlier this month without a judicial warrant allowing such an arrest; ICE said a judge’s order shouldn’t supercede their federal directive.
“Our officers will not have their hands tied by sanctuary rules when enforcing immigration laws to remove criminal aliens from our communities,” stated David Jennings, ICE’s field office director in San Francisco.
In December 2018, Boey visited a shelter in Texas filled with more than 800 migrants. When she visited earlier this year, that same shelter had only a couple of families staying there, a result of the Remain in Mexico/MPP policy.
Letting migrants await asylum court hearings in the United States (while being tracked by ankle bracelets) is better for people, Boey said, considering how U.S. cities tend to be safer than Mexican border towns. And keeping migrants out of detention facilities is good too, according to Boey.
“It’s not just that they get due process,” she said. “It’s that they can be with their families and their kids and not face indefinite detention.”
According to data compiled by Syracuse University, immigration judges denied about 70% of asylum pleas in 2019. That’s a sharp increase from 2012, when around 42% of asylum requests were rejected. From 2002-05, about 60% of asylum requests were denied, before dropping further at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency and the beginning of Barack Obama’s.
While waiting in Mexico, more than 95% of migrants are showing up for court hearings that often occur via video conference with American judges on the other side of the border, according to the Frank Pauc, a military veteran and CCMR member.
Despite the high denial rate, “they still come,” Pauc said.
One of the main reasons Boey thinks Friday’s reversal of MPP won’t make a difference is that the U.S. government has been finding other ways to keep migrants out of the country, such as setting up a partnership with the Guatemalan government that allows the U.S. to deport migrants directly to Guatemala even if the people have never been to that country.
The U.S. has also been deporting people more quickly than it has in years’ past, which Boey thinks is an affront to due process because it doesn’t give enough time for migrants to find legal representation.
The question of deterrence
The primary issue, according to the CCMR, is that the U.S. makes it too difficult for asylum seekers to prove they actually need asylum.
“You have to understand: Just because somebody wants to kill you isn’t enough to prove asylum,” Pauc said, describing U.S. policy.
Asylum seekers can only get asylum if they can prove they are being persecuted for one of five reasons: their race; religion; country of origin; social group; or political beliefs. Being specifically targeted by a drug cartel, for example, is not enough, Pauc explained.
The CCMR takes issue with the U.S.’s, and primarily the Trump Administration’s, goal of immigration “deterrence” by using tactics such as separating children of migrants from their parents (which has since been partially stopped per court order) to deter would-be migrants from even trying to get to the United States.
CCMR asserted that, by not directly working to address the situation at the border, the U.S. was complicit in human rights violations.
‘What do I do next?’
Conditions are getting better for migrants just south of the border, Boey said, since the Mexican government has erected semipermanent tents, portable toilets and started trying to provide more clean water.
Regardless, most of the migrants, according to the CCMR, should be receiving asylum status considering how many of them are fleeing war, hopeless economic conditions and gang violence; the No. 1 fear for many of them is becoming trafficked by drug cartels.
Boey told the story of a Honduran family she met. The father had “sold everything they had” because “he wanted a future for his kids.” When they got to the U.S.-Mexico border and were turned back, the man tried to become a street food vendor while waiting for a court date but was threatened by a gang that forced him to stop trying to earn an income.
That father was considering sending two of his children across the border without the rest of the family, hoping they might be afforded a better life in the U.S. than staying with the family in poverty.
“These are people who are constantly thinking: What do I do next?” Boey said. “I was hungry today, and I went to my fridge and was frustrated because there wasn’t very much food … These people they don’t even have that luxury.”
Prayers for a movement
The Catholic Coalition for Migrants and Refugees is galvanizing American Catholics to advocate for real change, and to encourage other Christian denominations to do the same.
“This movement to make a difference has been taking place in our own community,” said Linda Boyle, co-president of the Racine Interfaith Coalition, which cohosted Monday’s panel.
CCMR’s next focus is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. That policy said that certain undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children could be eligible for work permits and remain in the U.S., although it does not include a path to citizenship.
DACA was enacted in 2012, but applications were no longer being accepted as of Sept. 5, 2017.
President Donald Trump is working to have DACA repealed, saying it is unconstitutional. A U.S. Supreme Court decision is expected this spring or summer on whether those whose American residency had been protected under DACA would lose their protections.
Mark Peters, who is part of the CCMR and works for Priests of the Sacred Heart religious congregation, said, “We need to be out in the streets” if DACA is repealed.