Interfaith Letter Opposing DHS' Harmful "Remain in Mexico" Policy

IFCLA is honored to be a signer organization of this letter in opposition to the Department of Homeland Security’s Harmful “Remain in Mexico” Policy. Thank you to our national partners at CLINIC, Interfaith Immigration Coalition, and Church World Service for organizing this opportunity.

Background

The administration continues its attacks on vulnerable asylum seekers arriving at our southern border. It's latest plan, the Remain in Mexico Policy, requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases are pending in the U.S. immigration courts. This policy exposes asylum seekers to great risk of harm, curtails their access to counsel, and does not present a solution to the root causes of Central American migration flows.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Remain in Mexico policy places children, families, and others seeking protection in great danger. Today, we must send the message loud and clear that DHS must stop this policy. The interfaith letter below opposes the harmful Remain in Mexico policy and calls on the Secretary of Homeland Security to prioritize human lives above its baseless and immoral policy.

Letter

February 20, 2019

Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen
Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20016

RE: INTERFAITH LETTER REQUESTING TERMINATION OF REMAIN IN MEXICO POLICY

Secretary Nielsen:

We, the XX undersigned leaders of diverse faith communities and XX faith-based organizations, write to condemn the baseless and immoral Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the Remain in Mexico Policy. We request the immediate termination of this egregious policy which returns vulnerable asylum seekers to Mexico and puts them at risk of further harm while they wait for their case to be processed in the United States.

Our faith traditions compel us to welcome one another with love and compassion, regardless of place of birth, religion, or ethnicity. Our diverse moral teachings find consistency in the absolute value of the human person and our obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us. We call on you to uphold our country’s asylum law and respect asylum seekers and others seeking protection as the human beings they are and to work to address the root causes that drive people from their homes in search of safety.

The Remain in Mexico policy must be terminated immediately for the following reasons:

I. The policy puts people fleeing danger back in harm’s way

Our country’s asylum laws are based upon the international principle of non-refouelment – a promise that we as the United States will not send people back to countries where their lives or freedom will be at risk. These laws were designed by Congress to protect the world’s most vulnerable people from persecution. They codify our longstanding policy to be a beacon of hope to those seeking safety and security, the same values that make up the building blocks of America’s faith traditions.

Asylum seekers arriving at our southern border have been driven from their homes by unspeakable and unrelenting violence. Countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have some of the highest homicide rates in the world for countries that are not classified as being at war.

Requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed puts them at risk of the very harm they are fleeing as well as new dangers. Since July 2017, the dangers facing refugees and migrants in Mexico have escalated. Asylum seekers forced to return to Mexico face risk of homelessness, malnourishment, disease, assault, kidnapping and death . Recent reports confirm that Mexican authorities continue to improperly return asylum seekers to their countries of persecution and that the deficiencies in the Mexican asylum system have grown . Reports show exceedingly high impunity rates for crimes against migrants and asylum seekers and that crimes against asylum seekers and migrants—including assault, extortion, kidnapping, rape, and murder—largely go uninvestigated and unpunished. Additionally, the policy has serious implications for children asylum seekers – leaving them without access to education and other factors that will permanently affect their development, health, and well-being.

DHS’ Remain in Mexico policy will require certain asylum seekers arriving at the southern border to remain in Mexico as they wait for their cases to proceed in the United States. Current backlogs in U.S. immigration courts indicate that these wait times could be months or even years. Instead of meaningful work to address the root causes that cause people to flee, this policy will re-traumatize and hurt people fleeing for their lives, running counter to Congressional intent, pragmatism, and deeply held American and faith values.

II. The policy jeopardizes access to counsel, due process, and overall ability for a person to find safety in the United States

A just and moral immigration system requires the highest standard of justice and mercy. Asylum seekers’ due process right to access legal counsel while waiting in Mexico is seriously compromised by the policy. Navigating our complex asylum system while unrepresented is incredibly difficult when a person is inside the U.S., let alone waiting in dangerous conditions in Mexico. Legal representation is key in helping a person put forward their best case. It is crucial to assist people with language barriers and help explain the reasons they fled, the violence and trauma experienced and the fears of returning home.

Regarding the availability of counsel at ports of entry, the policy states that the U.S. “is currently unable to provide access to counsel during the assessment given the limited capacity and resources at ports-of-entry and Border Patrol stations as well as the need for the orderly and efficient processing of individuals.” While awaiting a court date in Mexico, the ability to obtain a U.S. legal representative will be nearly insurmountable. In the slim chance a person is able to retain legal representation, the logistics of speaking to and providing them with the necessary documentation to support their asylum claim would be costly, confusing, and negatively impact a person’s case. Given these unnecessary barriers, the policy will prevent asylum seekers from having a fair and equitable opportunity to seek protection and find refuge.

Across faith traditions, we are taught to meet asylum seekers with open arms, to welcome them, and offer them safety and protection. Together, as faith leaders and faith-based organizations, we call on you to rescind the Remain in Mexico policy and reaffirm our moral and legal obligations to welcome and process all asylum seekers and others seeking protection. We urge you to uphold the rights and dignity of all people.

If you have any questions or require any additional information, please contact Jill Marie Bussey, Advocacy Director at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) at jbussey@cliniclegal.org.

Show Your Love and #DefundHate This Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a day to show love and appreciation for the important people in our lives. Take a moment on this holiday to show immigrants that you stand with them by taking action to #DefundHate. Action on this day can influence the lifetimes of immigrants and their loved ones. The government could shut down again tomorrow, but our voices can play a part in stopping it! Join faith and community leaders in calling Congress and urging them to prevent funding for deportation, detention, and militarization. Ask them to ensure that tomorrow’s hearing does not implement more drastic changes to our already immoral immigration system. ICE took more people into custody than Congress allowed in 2018, and continued to get funding throughout the last government shutdown. This unethical favoritism has to end now in favor of humane immigration reform.

It is not too late to show your love for our community and your desire to #DefundHate!

Contact Congress TODAY (202-224-3121) and demand:

  • Reject funding for a border wall or more detention beds

  • Keep the government open!

  • Block ICE from stealing funds from other government accounts (i.e. FEMA)

  • Stop criminalization of immigrants!

  • Reject funding that militarize, incarcerate, or build barriers that would threaten our neighbors and communities.

These extreme militarization tactics harm our neighbors each and every day. As a community rooted in love and faith, we believe in the inherent dignity of every person and the necessity of liberation in this country. Government shutdowns cause far more harm than good, especially to our most vulnerable communities - those we are called to love. Call, tweet or share now to show love for your neighbors and community by demanding to #DefundHate.  


Recap: IFCLA's Week of Gratitude

Thank you all so much for the support and community you provided during IFCLA’s Week of Gratitude! The week was successful on many levels; besides the atmosphere of fun and connection achieved, IFCLA gained sixteen new sustainers and multiple one-time donations over the course of the week! These new sustainer commitments will help IFCLA immensely over the course of the next year, and we are more grateful than we can say. Let’s recap our week:

At our Monthly Meeting on Monday, November 26th, we screened our Alex Belongs Here video for the first time and talked about ways that we can commit to personal actions towards justice in the face of a government that is often uncooperative with our efforts. We discussed the importance of building a powerful and educated base and vowed to work together to cultivate that base in the coming year.

On Giving Tuesday, November 27th, we reached our goal of gaining 10 new sustainers! Thank you all for your contributions and for spreading the word about supporting IFCLA!

At our Dinner Dialogue on Wednesday, November 28th, we heard from local immigration activists and advocates about ways to make 2019 a success; the panelists focused on the importance of unifying our efforts and working together as a cohesive unit for justice in the future. All throughout IFCLA’s website, you can find further opportunities to get involved.

On Thursday, November 29th, we set aside heavy discussions for a night to enjoy the powerful simplicity of fun! We enjoyed dinner and margaritas while we learned about the history and traditions of the game of loteria - and then played the night away!

At our Salsa Swap and Program Fair on Friday, November 30th, we held conversations about IFCLA’s different programs and how they functioned in 2018. We also talked about specific initiatives that have taken place; board member Ellen Zeigemeier spoke about IFCLA’s work in conjunction with the Honduras Solidarity Network and executive director Sara John spoke about her September trip to Washington, D.C., to support Alex Garcia’s wife Carly in her advocating for her husband.

We are so grateful for the community of kind and generous supporters that we are surrounded with at IFCLA, and we look forward to continuing this new Week of Gratitude tradition in years to come!


Call to Action: Demand that Congress Defund Hate!

ae33ca44-76af-4f79-97bc-416284f47129.jpg

The Department of Homeland Security’s current budget will expire on December 7, 2018. Now is the time to contact your members of Congress and let them know that the actions of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are unacceptable, morally reprehensible, and do not reflect our values or our vision of community.

In order to avoid a government shutdown, Congress must pass a new budget bill. Ask Congress to hold DHS, CBP and ICE accountable for their dehumanizing policies of mass incarceration, deportation and family separation by cutting their funding. They need to hear your voice, loud and clear, demanding that we stop pouring money into the detention and deportation machine. We refuse to give CBP more dollars to tear gas children or put our kids and families in internment camps. We refuse to give ICE more dollars for private contracts that criminalize asylum seekers through the abuse of the ankle monitor program. We refuse to fund hatred against immigrants.

CALL NOW!

Step 1: Dial 1-844-332-6361 and follow instructions to connect you with your Member
of Congress. You can also enter your address on this website to determine who are your legislators. | Marca 1-844-332-6361 y siga las instrucciones para conectarse con sus legislador. Ademas puede meter su dirección en este sitio de web para averiguar quienes son sus legisladores.

Step 2: Use the following scripts as a guide. You are encouraged to add an example of
why this is important to you and for your community. | Use los siguientes parrafitos como guía, intente incluir un ejemplo de porqué esto es importante para usted y su comunidad.

All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Targeting unarmed and defenseless families with violence is disgraceful and unacceptable. Stop funding mass incarceration, family separation and deportation. Do not allocate funds to build a wall on the southern border and cut funding to the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

I’m calling on [Member of Congress] to commit to supporting cuts in funding to ICE and CBP and reject any border wall funding.  ICE and CBP have a long track record of abuse, mismanagement of funds, and retaliation against those who speak out against them. We demand that [Member of Congress] speak to leadership and take a public stand in support of  significant budget cuts to ICE and CBP.

Step 3: Repeat steps 1 & 2 to connect with your remaining Members of Congress, it’s
important that your representative and your senators hear from you! | Repite pasos 1 & 2 para conectarse con todos sus legisladores, es muy importante que ambos su representante y sus senadores escuchen su voz!

dwn_end_family_detention.jpg

Focusing on Love at the Border

On November 16-18, I had the privilege of joining dozens of members of the Loretto Community - vowed sisters, comembers, fellow volunteers, and friends - at the SOA Watch Border Encuentro in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Powerful, beautiful experiences abounded over the course of the weekend. We beat makeshift drums in the streets outside of weapons manufacturer Milkor USA in Tucson; we listened and learned at workshops in ambos Nogales put on by impassioned and organized leaders; we sang along solemnly to a closing litany of those killed or disappeared in the borderlands - more unnamed than named.


I could write about many things in this reflection. I could give statistics and facts about WHINSEC (formerly the School of the Americas, or SOA) and the rates at which its graduates have murdered and pillaged Latin Americans and their lands. I could tell about the atrocities committed at the border by ICE and CBP; I could tell the story of 16 year old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, shot ten times in the back by border patrol in 2014 for throwing rocks across the border. There are many heavy, angry stories I could share - they live inside me, and I am sure they live inside many of you, too. They deserve to be told, and they are being told by many incredible people. But in this reflection, I want to tell what I experienced on the Friday night of the Encuentro - I want to tell of tenderness.


On Friday, the Loretto delegation drove from Tucson to Eloy for a rally to be held outside Eloy Detention Center, where thousands of adult immigrants are detained. Along with hundreds of other organizers and protesters, we stood across the street from the center and listened to musicians, indigenous poets, and immigrants formerly detained at Eloy. Their voices were prophetic and prescient, and they all led up to the moment when we crossed the street to stand on the sidewalk directly adjacent to the block on which the detention center sits.


We stood facing the windows of the center; against the background of night, the windows were bright distant lights. We sang loud songs of hope - “No estan solos, you are not alone”, among many others - and as our voices carried over the desert, we saw the people inside waving to us, flickering their lights, opening and closing curtains. We turned on the flashlights on our phones and held them above our heads, waved them wildly. We saw each other in a way that I could not have anticipated. We saw each other physically, yes, but in that moment, we saw each other in an even deeper way.


Young people brought out a banner made of the flags of Latin America tied together at the corners, and a bright brass band kept our tunes all night. We chanted anti-ICE chants, sure, but the focus was less on our anger and more on our love for and human connection with those inside the detention center. Between us and them on the sprawling expanse of desert stood ICE officers leaning against their patrol cars, but on the mic, an organizer reminded us, “We know who we’re focusing on. We know who we’re here to see, who we’re here to connect with. Don’t get distracted by what’s in the way!”


We ended the night singing “Cariñito” and “Cielito Lindo.” Not political songs, not anti-establishment chants: tried and true traditional love songs. Among all the hatred, all the anger, all the fear and abuse and mistreatment, we were there to sing love songs to our neighbors, our family members, our loved ones. We were there to love.


Press Advisory: Interfaith Press Conference & Faith Dialogue

St. Louis – Faith leaders en route to the tent prison in Tornillo, TX., where immigrant teens are being detained, will hold an interfaith press conference and “diálogo de fe” (faith dialogue) event at Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood, Missouri, on Monday, November 12 at 6:30 p.m. to demand that all immigrant families be reunited.

Freedom of Information Act Request Seeks Answers from Immigration Authorities on the Use of Ankle Monitors and Detention Practices in St. Louis

IFCLA files a FOIA request demanding transparency from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the use of ankle monitors in St. Louis as the next step in the struggle for justice with immigrants in our community.

ACTION: Rise Up Against Indefinite Family Detention!

The Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA) was enacted in 1997 to protect immigrant children in government custody. Under the FSA, children were not allowed to be held for longer than 20 days in detention facilities due to the proven harmful effects on their development and well-being. The Trump administration has released an amended version of this ruling that would permit undocumented children and parents who enter the U.S. to be held indefinitely in unlicensed and unregulated facilities. Under the proposed regulation, “emergency” loopholes could result in the denial of basic needs or services to families in detention, as well as reduced access to due process. Plus, children would no longer be required to be transferred to Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours of being detained.

So, what can you do about this injustice? There is a 60-day period for the public to comment on the revisions to the FSA and the government cannot proceed until all comments have been reviewed. The 60-day window for comments ends on Tuesday, November 6th. The government is required to review all comments pertaining to proposed regulations. This is a chance for your voice to be heard. Stand in solidarity with our neighbors and let the government know that you do not support the indefinite detention of families. We know that mass incarceration is not the solution to family separation.

Create your own comment or use the sample language below:

I oppose the proposed rule “Apprehension, Processing, Care and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children” because indefinite detention of families is abusive and inhumane. It has been proven that even short stays in detention facilities can be detrimental to a child’s health and well-being. Alternatives to detention, such as the Family Case Management System, exist to reduce the harmful effects of detention. This regulation will allow the current administration to operate facilities with no oversight and will be costly to taxpayers. A human being should be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. Please, oppose the proposed changes and preserve the Flores protections for immigrant children.

Click here to submit your comment to the Federal Register!

You can read more about the Flores Settlement Act and the changes that the Trump administration wants to make here.


Marissa Ornelas: Walking with the Women and Children of the South Texas Family Residential Center

At IFCLA’s Dinner Dialogo on Friday, Oct. 5th, SLU junior and dedicated friend of IFCLA Marissa Ornelas spoke about her ten-week experience at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, over the summer of 2018. Marissa shared informative facts and figures about the immigration system and the way that the Dilley detention center functions, but she also shared poignant and powerful first-person testimonies of the hardship and injustices she witnessed during her time there.

Marissa spoke with clarity about the current state of the US immigration system, detailing immigrants’ journeys from hieleras (freezers) to perreras (dog cages) in detention centers like the one in Dilley. She worked with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, a team of legal professionals and volunteers who help detained mothers and children prepare for their credible fear interviews, which, if deemed “positive,” allow their asylum case to begin and sometimes allows her and her children’s release from jail. Marissa frequently worked 12-hour days, prepping client after client for interviews that were sure to be traumatic, as they necessitate an immigrant recounting all the personal trauma that led them to flee their country of origin - often stories of intense gang violence, sexual violence, political corruption or police violence, or unsafe domestic situations.

Marissa explained that the atmosphere at the detention center was strict and unjust. She cited instances when ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents confiscated or threw away important documents, causing families to redo integral steps of their immigration processes. She mentioned the lack of record-keeping that led to dangerous oversights such as re-vaccinating children with the same vaccinations multiple times. She told us that the water supply in Dilley was contaminated and children were often very sick, but there were so few doctors on site that families often tried to handle medical emergencies alone. In specific relation to her work preparing women for their credible fear interviews, she told her audience that in Dilley, there are no mental health resources for women and children who have experienced incredible amounts of trauma, both in their home countries and in the US.

But Marissa spoke of more than just the traumatic and unjust parts of her time in Dilley. She offered powerful anecdotes of the resilience and strength of the women she met and worked with, and of the innocent playfulness of children she encountered. She shared with the audience her vision for the future: a nationwide organization that helps families recently released from detention centers integrate into American life.

Marissa’s contribution to immigration justice has been powerful and whole-hearted, and IFCLA is proud to call her part of our family. But even if you can’t spend ten weeks working full-time without pay at an immigration detention center, you can do your part to demand just immigration policies. On September 7, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) proposed regulation changes that would terminate the Flores Settlement, discontinuing the precedent that limits children’s detention to twenty days.

The period for public comment on this regulation is open NOW. Click here for a public comment template from the Immigration Justice Campaign, which you can use to submit a formal public comment on the Federal Register here.

It is up to all of us to demand an end to immigrant detention; as Marissa so aptly told us, whether children are separated from their parents or not, all immigrant detention is dehumanizing and unjust. Help us fight back!


ICE's $1 Billion Special Request Denied by Congress

Great news! ICE’s request for one billion dollars as part of a short-term spending bill was denied by Congress last week. The Department of Homeland Security requested an ‘anomaly,’ or request for extra funding, in order to continue expansion of the immigrant detention system, but – in an unprecedented move for Congress - the request was not part of the final budget package passed through the Senate, which should pass through the House in coming weeks.

The power of public pushback against ICE’s sneaky request caused Congress to reject it! Detention Watch Network and their #DefundHate coalition partners “conducted 46 DC or in-district meetings with Members of Congress or their staff, held emergency organizer calls in English and Spanish, put out two action alerts, drove hundreds of calls to congressional offices, and delivered over 60,000 petition signatures to Senators Schumer and Shelby”. This rejection by Congress is a huge success and powerful testament to the effectiveness of community organizing.

But this is not the end of this journey. We have seen the havoc that ICE’s enormous budget has wrought across our country – from family separation and indefinite detention in detention centers along the border to the separation of Alex Garcia from his family right here in Maplewood. Our work is not over. We must continue to make our voices heard so that in the future, we can demand more! We must demand that Congress not only reject extra funding requests but cut ICE’s funding after the expiration of the short-term spending bill. We must keep fighting for cuts to ICE’s funding to bring justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters.

What can we do now to continue the work to defund ICE? Call, write or visit your members of Congress! Use #DefundHate’s House and Senate scorecards to hold your members of Congress accountable for their actions surrounding ICE and CBP funding.

Mass Incarceration is Not the Solution to Family Separation

Mass Incarceration is Not the Solution to Family Separation

We stand firmly in opposition to the latest prevention-through-deterrence tactics used along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is wrong to separate and detain families. It is wrong to put children in cages, jails, tents, or "tender age" shelters. These recent policy changes are shocking, appalling, and morally reprehensible — but if we are surprised, it is only because we have not been paying attention.

April General Meeting and Open House

Open House guests Giovanni Madriz and Judy Williamson socialize after the IFCLA General Meeting.

Open House guests Giovanni Madriz and Judy Williamson socialize after the IFCLA General Meeting.

Each month, IFCLA hosts a General Meeting to share staff updates and progress from working groups, as well as opportunities for volunteers to deepen their involvement. In April, we also added a special open house at the new office space, 5021 Adkins, Room 122, on the campus of St. John the Baptist in South City. 

About a dozen attended to see the new IFCLA office, share experiences of immigration advocacy throughout their lifetimes, and to investigate current opportunities for involvement. Staff, board, and volunteers shared key updates from:

  • The Communications working group, which is in the process of drafting strategy and updating the website.

  • The St. Louis Coalition for Sanctuary working group. Some of the attendees remarked that participating in educational programming and volunteering, particularly related to the vecino program at Christ Church UCC, is an opportunity for them to understand and take action to keep from despairing in the current political climate. In particular, a volunteer, Judy, brought up the Vecino program, a project of Christ Church UCC where individuals keep watch for Immigration Customs and Enforcement at Christ Church UCC in Maplewood where Alex Garcia is living in Sanctuary. Vecinos (meaning neighbor in spanish) take a shift at the church, acting as a first responder in case ICE does arrive on-site, acting as witnesses and notifying key individuals. Judy Williamson said of participating in the program, “One of the advantages is that you have a community of vecinos; it is a joy for me. I was feeling hopeless because of the rhetoric against immigrants I am seeing in the U.S. right now, and participating has helped me deal with that.” For Judy, understanding that others in the U.S. do care about individuals from other countries was of particular importance. 

The group also discussed upcoming event planning, including speakers and the Dinner Diálogos series (please see the website’s events page for additional details). The group shared ideas for audiences for IFCLA’s Immigration 101 courses, which are a four-hour courses on the history of intervention in Latin America, the causes of migration to the United States, and the immigration system. Attendees were also invited to submit names for IFCLA’s Advisory Committee, which met on Saturday, April 28, and is currently seeking additional members. 

The meeting ended with time for everyone to continue conversation and share in the food and drink present.

Marissa: Reflection on a trip to the border

Pictured left to right: Jessie Chappel, Yareli Urbina, Marissa Ornelas, Katie Meola

Pictured left to right: Jessie Chappel, Yareli Urbina, Marissa Ornelas, Katie Meola

For a long time I was naive to the destruction that the United States had been a part of in Central America. To this day Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have some of the highest murder rates. At the South Texas Family Residential Center, I saw the consequences of this destruction first hand. The women and children that are imprisoned in the detention center are fleeing poverty, gang threats, and domestic violence. During my time in the detention center I was responsible for translating and prepping women for their credible fear hearings. From 8:00am till 6:00pm I heard the stories of women who had made the courageous decision to leave their home countries with their small children with the hope of a better life.  

Unfortunately United States asylum law is not that welcoming, I learned that a person has to have suffered personal persecution in order to be given protection from the United States. This means that a person that has left their home country because of a war, general violence, or poverty does not get protection. I quickly realized that even if a person had been personally victimized they could still be denied asylum. It seemed so unfair to have to explain to the women that the law does not protect everyone. The treatment of the women and children once they made it to the United States was horrific. The women told stories of their experiences in the hieleras and perreras and of the treatment they received from ICE officials. In one of my interviews a women tried to grapple with this treatment. She said, “ Why do they treat us so bad? We are human beings.” I could not explain the hatred that fuels the ICE officers actions and the United States immigration policies.

I am here because my grandparents made the decision to leave Mexico to give their children a better life. I am the product of my grandparents dreams, sacrifice, and hard work.  In the women and children I met in the detention center, I saw my grandma, mom, aunts, and cousins. In an odd way, I found hope and strength in the women, since they had endured so much and in the face of it all were strong enough to make the trip to the United States. To imprison people who are fleeing poverty and violence that the United States has played a role in, reeks of injustice.

For so long people have decided to look the other way and to act is if what is happening in Dilley is fair. It’s time to stop turning the other way and to see the injustice that is happening here. It is time to work to close detention centers like these that exist across the United States. Family detention must come to an end because no human being is illegal and every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Visiting Missouri's State Capitol

2017

 
EC1EE0CD-D1C9-4B74-B78E-B39C75C33A26.jpg
 

We've sustained a small but persistent presence in Missouri's state capitol this year. With leadership and bill tracking from Aimee Abizera, the Executive Director of the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA), we have been active speaking out against anti-immigrant legislation in our state. 

In January, IFCLA's Program Coordinator, Sara John, offered oral testimony before the Senate Committee hearing on Senate Bill 34, along with attorney Ken Schmitt of US Legal Solutions, Aimee from MIRA, Sarah Baker ( ACLU-MO), and Jeannette Mott Oxford ( EmpowerMO). Unfortunately, the bill was voted out of committee and onto the Senate floor. 

IFCLA sent representatives to Jefferson City in February as part of ACLU's statewide advocacy day. Our faithful interns, Mary Louise Pabello and Geraldine Hannon, spent a day with our allies, speaking up for human rights issues. We were back again in March as part of MIRA's statewide advocacy day - and were honored to be introduced on the Senate floor by Sen. Jill Schupp! But once again, our voices were not heard, and the Senate perfected SB 34 late that evening. 

On April 11, we were back again! This time, IFCLA was represented by Sara John, Mary Louise Pabello, former-SLU-intern-turned-Core-Committee-member Ellie Urbina, and current SLU student Marissa Ornelas. We again accompanied the testimonies of Sarah Baker, Aimee Abizera and Jeannette Mott Oxford. The afternoon sessions of the House and Senate went long, so the Committee hearing didn't begin until 7:30pm, and we didn't get to speak out against SB 34 until nearly 9pm! All 3 of these courageous young women of color spoke clearly and confidently against SB 34, sharing their individual testimony as immigrants, bringing all the emotion that comes with the vulnerability of sharing one's story of self in the face of power. We might be up against Goliath (again), but David was looking pretty strong in the voices of Ellie, Marissa and Mary Louise! 

We'll continue to keep you up-to-date as MIRA leads the resistance to state-level legislative threats to immigrants in our communities. Unfortunately, we're sure there will be more opportunities to challenge SB 34 and other harmful bills before this session is over. 

16th Annual Cambio de Colores Conference at UMSL

June 2017

File_000(3).jpeg

The work of two of IFCLA’s interns, Mary Louise Pabello and Yareli Urbina, was presented as part of the poster session and a verbal presentation at the Xth Annual Cambio de Colores conference held at UMSL June 14-17. The conference theme this year was , “Todos Juntos: Collaboration and Unity in Uncertain Times.” 

Mary Louise and Ellie shared preliminary findings of their immigrant oral history project and community survey regarding immigrant detention in the St. Louis area. As both interns finish up their time at IFLCA, they will prepare to transfer the study and oral history project onto the next leaders of the Migration Justice Committee. Congratulations on a job well done, ladies! 

Mobilizing Coherent Community Responses to Changing Immigration Policies—Conference in Houston, TX

June 2017

On June 7-9, St. Louis was represented by 5 women from three organizations (IFCLA, the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action (MICA) Project, and St. Francis Community Services Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry—CLAM) at a conference in Houston, Texas, sponsored by the Center for Migration Studies of New York, the Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance of Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston, the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, and South Texas College of Law Houston. IFCLA, MICA Project and CLAM are also active participants in St. Louis’s Immigrant Service Providers Network (ISPN), a group that seeks to support the foreign born and their families in the St. Louis region by increasing community resources, advocating for inclusive policies and services, and educating residents and providers. 

This conference presented a unique opportunity to understand the models, systems and processes used by the hosting organizations that have been effective strategies for mobilizing communities in their cities, focusing on the idea of “whole of community” as central to any substantial and effective response. We sought to understand the models and best practices that have seen positive results in Houston and across the country, so that we could more deeply analyze our own efforts in St. Louis, and adapt and implement successful strategies from other case studies to our own context. 

While there, the team participated in site visits, valuable networking opportunities, and attended more than a dozen seminars, panels and small group discussions on topics ranging from the current administration, recent Executive orders, state-level actions like Texas’s SB4, immigration law practice concerns, faith activism and more. 

Immigration attorneys Nicole Cortes and Kris Walentik, along with Sara John, will give a brief presentation about their experiences at the conference and implications for our work and collaborative efforts. The morning presentation will be in mid-August; IFCLA will share the event via email and social media. 

Exploring immigrant experiences and identities through a trip to the borderlands, by Mary Louise Pabello

By Mary Louis Pabello

I have known the struggle of migrants all my life, being myself an immigrant to the US. But after the border trip with Loretto’s Latin America and Caribbean Committee, I find myself asking, “do I really?” Like the young woman I met at Casa Nazareth, my mother crossed countries while three months pregnant, and with two young daughters in tow. Unlike the young woman, however, my mother wasn’t fleeing violence in her home country. My mother wasn’t made to cross miles of desert on foot. My mother had a husband waiting to receive her. This young woman’s husband was in an unidentified detention center. She was alone. No family other than the life she carried, her yet-unborn child who might grow up never knowing their father. 

I saw my father in the men at El Comedor. My father, who took a risk and left behind the only home he’d known, with only the hope that there would be something better on the other side. The one thing setting my father apart from these men? An employment visa issued by the United States government, on the promise of guaranteed work writing computer code for a Canada-based company with an office in St. Louis, Missouri. A skill deemed “useful” according to the State Department’s visa bulletin, vis-á-vis the evolving tech industry. That one piece of paper opened doors for my family, a “path” to naturalization denied to so many others. 

This personal agitation of being “immigrant enough” has come to the forefront during my year as a Loretto Volunteer. A decision to confront that feeling was made intentionally by myself and by my supervisor, Sara, with the purpose being to push my understanding of migration issues and uplift my own story. For example, Sara asked me and two other young women who are the children of immigrant parents testify before the Missouri House Judiciary Committee against SB 34, a bill that sought to create the crime of illegal re-entry for Missouri. Illegal re-entry is already addressed in federal immigration law, so the bill is totally unnecessary and ultimately didn't pass. But testifying on that issue affirmed my own beliefs and experiences. 

Emigrating with papers and becoming naturalized citizens are privileges that are not accessible to every migrant. Those privileges do not invalidate or lessen my migrant experience. If anything, my privilege should (and does) motivate me to do right by the thousands of others who are more impacted by the broken immigration system than I am. 

I will never know the feeling of fleeing violent unrest caused by an unstable government. I will never know the feeling of crossing miles of desert, wondering when or if I will find clean, drinkable water. I will never know the risk of being found and detained by Customs and Border Patrol. I will never face abuse by their hand. I will never know the hurt of families kept separate by inadequate and outdated migration policies. I will never know a life where my parents couldn’t raise me. 

But I have borne witness to those who do know that pain and suffering all too well. Their stories, courage, and perseverance are what continue to motivate me in this work of justice. I hold their hurt along with mine, and together we will march forward. “Hold on just a little while longer; everything’s gonna be alright”. 

Trump's Wall, Detention, & Deportation Regime: Perspectives from Southern Mexico

April 2017

IFCLA was thrilled to welcome Juan Carlos Morales Penetro and Gabriel Torreblanca Flores to St. Louis in April, who shared their expertise and experience as attorneys, Mexican governmental employees, and non-profit migration justice advocates from Puebla, Mexico. 

Juan Carlos recently left his position with the Secretary of Exterior Relations and is now serving as Manager of Migrant Protection and Documentation Services in the Department for Migrant Services for the City of Puebla. Gabriel is an advisor on migration issues to the federal House of Representatives in Mexico City. Both have extensive resumes working for justice for immigrants - not just for mexicanos en el exterior (Mexicans outside of Mexico), but also for the foreign-born who find themselves in Mexican territory (often on a journey from Central America to the United States). Since the inauguration of President Trump, both have seen dramatic shifts in their work to protect Mexicans in the US and in the work of protecting migrants in Mexico. 

Our guests spoke at the Dinner Diálogos event at Fritanga on April 19, and also spoke to students at Saint Louis University, hosted by the student-led Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO). While they were here, they had a chance to meet some of our colleagues who advocate for and serve the Mexican immigrant community in St. Louis. We are excited to build a bi-national partnership and look forward to continuing our collaboration. 

IFCLA & MORE Issue Joint Statement in Wake of Administration’s Announcement on DACA

2017

As we have at times in the past, our organizations and the people we represent joined together again in early September, seeing and feeling the commonality of our oppression and the oneness of our oppressors and issued the following joint statement: 

The recent wave of attacks on our civil rights, including the discriminatory rhetoric repeatedly used by our highest elected officials, undermines black and brown people, immigrant communities, indigenous populations and low income people alike...Part of both of our efforts have been to consistently fight against the caging of our bodies for profit. People of color are overwhelmingly criminalized more for less in this country. The prevailing reason for this devastation and ever-expanding criminalization of our communities is that in doing so, the mass incarceration industry and the individuals that benefit from its growth enjoy extravagant profits. Every opportunity to take advantage of marginalized people are capitalized upon for profit. Policies that continue to do so are directly aligned with the white nationalist agenda that has become more prevalent at local, state and federal levels. 

Earlier this week, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the US government will discontinue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While there are some legislative options to repair this in the next six months, it was an unnecessary move to begin with and one that quite plainly, is morally reprehensible. This act will send the lives of 800,000 individuals, many who live, raise families, go to school, and work in this country into a tailspin, shattering the families and communities to which they belong. People who trusted the US government with sensitive personal information and the lives they have lived in the only country many of them have ever known, are now being told that they will have to leave and make their lives elsewhere; the US government is telling these folks that they are not valued in this country. We must also be clear that the impacts of DACA will be felt among Latinx communities as well as in other immigrant communities. Terminating DACA will make them more vulnerable to a legal system that shows a proven bias towards people of color, a system that is designed to make money from our criminalization… Legislation that keeps dignity first, demonstrates an understanding of the root causes and intricacies of migration as a global phenomenon, and ending the criminalization of communities of color, should be our first priority. 

MORE and IFCLA will continue to align our strategies and efforts over the coming months, in order to more profoundly call out and work against this oppression in all forms. 

To read the full statement, click here

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 1.50.54 PM.png