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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the wake of rapidly shifting rhetoric and policies that further criminalize immigrants and communities of color, several organizations across the country have developed new tools for response and support for the directly impacted individuals and their families, There have been numerous cases of migrants being detained after going to a routine check-in at the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or BI Incorporated (the private company that ICE contracts with to manage the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program). Family members literally disappear, often without being allowed to inform their friends or relatives, creating panic among their loved ones, destroying families and devastating our communities.
On October 21st, 2017, supported by the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action (MICA) Project, the St. Louis Coalition on Sanctuary, and IFCLA, Alex Garcia sought the protection of sanctuary. Faced with unjust deportation to Honduras, Alex and his family made the brave choice to fight his removal by taking sanctuary in order to continue to pressure Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to renew his Stay of Removal.
On September 1st, Latinos en Axión and IFCLA organized a vigil for immigration justice on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis. Supported by the Archdiocese of St. Louis and several local clergy, about fifty people chanted, prayed, and listened to stories of two Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients. The timing of this rally was incredibly important, as three major issues were at stake with regard to immigration justice: first, Texas’ SB4 was expected to go into effect on that same day, and would have outlawed so-called sanctuary cities and prohibited local law enforcement agencies from preventing officers from demanding to see proof of citizenship. Thankfully, some of the harshest pieces of this legislation were challenged in court, and were not upheld. Second, the DACA “ultimatum” deadline was set for September 5th.
In mid-September, several national advocates released insider information regarding "Operation Mega," wherein Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) aimed to rapidly detain nearly 10,000 individuals in a near-nationwide wave of increased enforcement. This move was strategic and timely: ICE intends to use up the remaining resources and available detention bed space rapidly, in an effort to convince Congress to give their agency billions of dollars of funding for continued enforcement activity during the next fiscal year.
As you probably know, the Trump Administration announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5, 2017. The Administration announced this information with the caveat that it will allow any current DACA recipient whose permit expires before March 5, 2018, the opportunity to apply for renewal by October 5, 2017. This announcement has unjustly stripped away a legal pathway to access education and work for thousands of young DREAMers—immigrant youth who call the United States home. It places thousands of families in a precarious situation, unsure of what will become of their future. Additionally, for a select group of DREAMers, it placed them under tremendous stress to collect the $495 renewal fee in less than a month.
Senator Claire McCaskill often makes statements about the importance of our immigrant neighbors, and she has spoken in support of DACA, DREAMers and against senseless enforcement spending. Now is the time for the Senator to become a champion for these causes that so directly impact her community. In order to both support her and encourage her leadership, IFCLA organized a pray-in at her office on Delmar. At this action, clergy, community members, and DACA recipients came together to share their stories, name our values, and ask for the Senator’s leadership.
In July, with support from the St. Louis Coalition on Sanctuary, IFCLA sent Sara John along with Jose Alfredo Chavez from Latinos en Axión to the National Sanctuary Movement Annual Convening. The conference was held at the Austin Theological Seminary on July 28-29, 2019. This space was organized by Rev. Noel Anderson and Myrna Orozco Gallos, of the Sanctuary Movement (see www.sanctuarynotdeportation.org). About 40 participants from across the country attended the conference, which offered four primary objectives: develop a coordinated messaging framework for the Sanctuary Movement; coordinate our work moving forward and have space for strategy conversations; provide training opportunities for those seeking to engage in this work for the first time; and provide space for networking, fellowship and learning from each other.
In August, IFCLA organized a coalition meeting with Joeana Middleton, the Regional Director at Senator Claire McCaskill's office in St. Louis. While we are aware that Senator McCaskill supports immigrant rights and has voted to uphold them in the past, we also know that in times when immigrant families are under attack, we need her to not only be a voter but a champion of immigrant rights. In order to encourage her to do so, twelve individuals from more than six of the leading immigrant service provider organizations in our area showed up in a clear demonstration of our collective power. This included representatives from the DACA community, as well as representatives from local legal firms the Migrant Immigrant Community Action Project and St. Francis Community Services Southside.