Photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh
According to the US government, at least 42,000 immigrants were forced to return to Mexico after crossing the border. By law, they must stay in Mexico until their immigration court hearings, which are often set months or years in the future.
one hundred and forty four miles from the border, about 80 people gathered in the Chapman Auditorium last Thursday, October 17, for the International Humanitarian Crisis Initiative (IHCI) panel discussing the U.S. immigration policy “Stay in Mexico” . The five panelists included not only Trinity faculty, but also professionals with immigration experience within the San Antonio community.
Claire Nakayama, Senior and President of IHCI, introduced the panel. (Nakayama is a member of the campus Publications Board.) She thanked the Philosophy Department, the Student Government Association, and Trinity Diversity Connection for their collaboration with the event. Nakayama also introduced communications professor Robert Huesca, who moderated the panel.
Before introducing each panelist, Huesca shared his own thoughts on the Stay in Mexico policy, which requires those who arrive at the US-Mexico border to seek asylum to remain in Mexico while their case is processed. Huseca thinks the Trump administration’s policies are harmful to immigrants.
“President Trump and his supporters want to remake America 1939. That’s why we’re here tonight,” Huesca said.
After the presentations, the first topic of the panel was to define the Stay in Mexico policy. Panelist Sarah Ramey, an immigration lawyer for the Migrant Center for Human Rights, explained that the policy has been in place since January 25 of this year. The policy requires asylum seekers to wait for their court hearings in Mexico rather than the United States, but it doesn’t just apply to immigrants from Mexico. According to Ramey, the Migration Center has worked with immigrants from more than 30 countries.
“We are largely talking about Central Americans. Also Cubans, Venezuelans, Yemenis,” Ramey said. “It’s a large group of people.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen first announced plans for Mexico’s stay-at-home policy, officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols, in a memo released in December 2018. According to the memo, the Undocumented immigrants have exploited asylum loopholes at alarming rates.
“[When the policy is implemented,] greater attention may be given to helping legitimate asylum seekers more quickly, as fraudsters are discouraged from making the trip,” the memo reads in part.
Ramey expressed strong disagreement with this reasoning. She said that in her experience at the Migrant Center, she did not encounter asylum seekers trying to take advantage of the system.
“There are no escapes for the most part,” Ramey said. “We don’t see people trying to sneak into the country for nefarious purposes…I can say that with confidence because I’ve been doing this for seven years and talking to people for seven years.”
Sister and panelist Denise LaRock, who works with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, highlighted the desperate and impoverished state of many asylum seekers. She said boys in Central American countries like Honduras are recruited into gangs as young as nine. Boys will often be killed if they refuse to join gangs. According to LaRock, this problem is also linked to domestic violence and sexual abuse.
“Teenage girls are supposed to sexually serve the gangs,” LaRock said.
Senior Francisco Macías, panel member and volunteer legal intern at the Refugee and Immigrant Legal Education and Services Center (RAICES), agreed that gang activity creates extreme danger and fear.
“I would say gangs are [ad hoc] governments of these countries,” Macías said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Everything will get better; other people will take care of it. But they are not.
Panelist Professor of Anthropology and Sociology David Spener pointed out that while gang violence is a significant issue, state governments have also played a role.
“People are recruited into gang activity when states fail them,” Spener said. “Even if they weren’t fleeing the violence, they would likely be forced to flee for subsistence reasons.”
Panelists also discussed the conditions of poverty in migrant camps in Mexico. LaRock said the US government has misinterpreted Mexico as being able to provide food, work and shelter to asylum seekers, when in fact it often only offers shabby housing and threats of violence by drug cartels. LaRock described his visit to a migrant camp in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
“The shelters are just a few sterile homes,” LaRock said. “Families live in these arid places. I was working there and there was this little girl who said to me, ‘Do you have pencils? Do you have coloring sheets? They have nothing… These people are suffering terribly and people don’t know.
Panelist and political science professor Rosa Aloisi agrees.
“Many protections are violated, such as the right to family life,” Aloisi said.
Since IHCI focuses on sending volunteers out into the community, the organization rarely holds events on campus. According to Nakayama, the club started planning the Stay in Mexico panel last semester. In an interview after the panel, Nakayama said he was pleased with both the attendance and the content of the event.
“Honestly, I’m shocked at how well it turned out, and I think it was really necessary to have an event like this right now, especially with the current political climate,” said Nakayama. “Our main goal in this event was honestly to bridge the gap between community and campus by bringing all of these different perspectives together, and I think we were able to do that.”
Daniela Montúfar, a 2019 Trinity graduate, was also pleased with the panel. Montúfar started the IHCI in 2015 with a group of other international students, called to action by international conflicts such as the Syrian Civil War. Montúfar said she was proud of the organization’s progress since then.
“When we started, we were just trying to bring people in, to show them how important it was,” Montúfar said. “And the turnout today, I think, is one of the highest we’ve ever had. It is very good to see that there is progress. »
Those interested in volunteering through the IHCI should contact Claire Nakayama at [email protected]
Correction: The original version of this story stated that there were six panelists.