On June 12, 2021, Fray Juan Antonio Orozco Alvarado, O.F.M., a Franciscan friar, headed to church to celebrate Mass in Tepehuana de Pajaritos, Durango, Mexico and was caught in crossfire between two rival gangs and died, along with several other unnamed persons. As part of our work with the Franciscan Network on Migration, we are sharing the statement put out by the advocacy team on this killing. The Statement is available in both English and Spanish below.
We call on Mexico to implement the recommendations that various human rights mechanisms have made in the context of the protection of human rights of migrants, asylum seekers and human right defenders that work with them.
In the context of the 103rd Session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – and its follow-up letter to the Mexican government – our organizations join the Committee’s findings on the lack of implementation and the insufficient implementation of some of the recommendations made in 2019. In particular, after almost two years, the implementation of recommendations related to migrants, asylum seekers and those requiring complementary protection is inadequate and the current situation is, in fact, a regression.
The lack of implementation of the CERD recommendations by Mexico is framed in the context of migration policies towards militarization, criminalization, systematic detentions and use of force that incite discrimination against migrants and asylum seekers. This context has been aggravated after the implementation of measures to control the Covid-19 pandemic.
We have witnessed an increased number of security forces, including the military and the National Guard Forces (NGF), in migratory verification and control tasks. From June 2019 to December 2020, the military and the NGF detained 152 thousands migrants in the southern border. The National Defence Ministry (SEDENA) – and not the NGF – conducted 67% of this detentions, including the detention of 27 thousands children.
We have identified an excessive, arbitrary, and indiscriminate use of force during the “caravans” with multiple human rights violations. The same pattern has been identified against protests inside migration detention centers when migrants tried to fight for their rights and better conditions during their detention. Sometimes these protests occur with irreparable consequences, like the death of a Guatemalan migrant in the Migrant Detention Center in Tenosique in April 2020.
We have also documented how the National Institute of Migration (INM) has denied access to the asylum-seeking procedure for those needing international protection. Those who have expressed the intention to access this proceeding have on many occasions been sent to detention centers without appropriate revision of their requests. Our organizations have even documented that people with asylum-seeking requests, or with recognized refugee status, have been detained and deported to countries where their lives are at risk.
Furthermore, with the arrival of African and Asian migrants, as well as from Haiti, the Mexican government has not adopted an integral migration policy to respond to their needs, such as adequate interpretation and enough human rights information.
The racism against people and families from Haiti – for those who have been victims of violence, trauma and family separation – is institutional. One of these cases is Maxene André who died on the 6th of August 2019 inside the Migration Centre “Siglo XXI” in Tapachula, Chiapas. André was sick and isolated for 15 days out of the 20 days that he was in detention.
The response by the Mexican government and institutions has incited xenophobia and discrimination against migrants entering through the southern border, particularly by deploying the INM at the borders in collaboration with the NGF and members from the SEDENA to stop migrants and asylum seekers to enter, especially through the southern border. These practices have been documented and published in different press-releases and reports, in which the criminalization of people entering to Mexico in “irregular” migration status, and allegedly carriers of a disease, is evident. This situation was more evident with the sanitary measures implemented in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which have been not only discriminatory but also with the purpose to deter migration.
On the other hand, there are around 1500 people, mainly from Central America, in vulnerable and risky situations in the camp installed since the 18th of February 2021 in Tijuana city, known as “El Chaparral”. In this camp there are inappropriate sanitary, hygienic, and secure conditions, and a lack of health services and adequate food. In addition, the spread of racist, discriminatory and xenophobic messages and actions creates stressful and tense environments in the camp. Until now, the local and federal authorities have not implemented any humanitarian assistance or preventive measures to address these acts of discrimination.
We also raise awareness of the particular situation of non-accompanied children. On the 11th of November 2020, a Decree was officially published, which modified and reform several articles on migrant children of the Migration Law and the Law on Refugees, Complementary Protection and Political Asylum. However, in practice, the detention of non-accompanied children continues, particularly detentions in inadequate places; being separated from their families, the lack of access to the right to request asylum for themselves. Until now, there are no adequate regulations, protocols, or operative manuals that would effectively implement the reforms.
Lastly, in addition to the widespread context of strengthening migratory policies, our organizations have witnessed intense months of hostilities, harassment, surveillance, defamation and aggressions against human right defenders, shelters and spaces attending migrants. On the 19th of January 2021, during a human rights monitoring activity carried out by the “Colectivo de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos del Sureste Mexicano”, human right defenders were followed and kept under surveillance by members of the NGF, SEDENA and the Marine. This happened in a context were human right defenders, shelters and civil society organizations are the ones providing humanitarian assistance and protecting migrants.
During Covid-19, and in addition to acts and statements that criminalize human right defenders, there has been a use of the health emergency to falsely argue that accompanying migrant and defend human rights pose a “risk” of contamination to the local communities. This has been the case in various shelters and for human right defenders such as in the “El Chaparral” camp in Tijuana. For this reason, we are concerned that Mexico did not provide information to the CERD on the implementation of the recommendations related to the protection of human right defenders working with people on the move.
The lack of governmental actions to implement the Committee’s recommendations is just a sign of the systemic denial of the fundamental rights of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who are discriminated against because of their nationality.
We call on Mexico to comply with its international obligations and particularly to implement the recommendations that various human rights mechanisms have made in the context of the protection of human rights of migrants, asylum seekers and human right defenders that work with them.
Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova A. C.
Programa de Asuntos Migratorios, Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México Red Franciscana para Migrantes en Centroamérica, México y Estados Unidos
Red Franciscana para Migrantes en México
Red Jesuita con Migrantes Centroamérica y Norteamérica
Servicio Jesuita a Refugiados México
Below is a message from Br. Jaime Campos, OFM introducing the annual report of the Franciscan Network on Migration. The Quixote Center is the fiscal sponsor for the Franciscan Network on Migration in the United States, and John Marchese serves on the coordinating committee. If you would like to support this work, you can make a tax-deductible contribution to the Franciscan Network here.
On behalf of our Steering Committee, I am pleased to present to you the Franciscan Network for Migration’s 2020 Annual Report. This first report fills us with joy because it is the result of the efforts of women and men who have set out to serve migrants and have woven a network nourished by the rich Franciscan spiritual values of fraternity and minority. As we incorporate into our life and mission the attitudes of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees, we give life to the desire for universal brother and sisterhood, and the Kingdom of God becomes present in our midst.
Forming this network has required the dedication, patience, discipline and hope of everyone involved. I warmly thank those who, along with their daily work that they carry out in grassroots communities and organizations, share their lives with others in order to rediscover and come together around the migratory crisis that a large part of the world is experiencing and that has increased with the Sars2-COVID-19 pandemic.
From this reality, between struggles and hopes, the members of the network have joined to multiply the good towards our migrant brothers and sisters; working in a network that emerges from creativity, accompaniment and prayer. At times, the terrain exposes them to stretches of reflection and unity, as well as bifurcations of an overwhelming reality. But in each segment of the journey, they contribute, build and renew with their dedication the decision to walk together in this great project.
Our efforts have focused on the region of Central America, Mexico and the United States. In the following pages you will read about how the network has been woven, about the people who have joined, about the organizations that are part of this fabric, and about the instruments that we have used to form a network of work, encounter, and fraternity that is committed to the human rights of migrants.
In August of 2010, members of the Los Zetas cartel murdered 72 migrants on a ranch near San Fernando in northeastern Mexico. Last year the Washington Office on Latin America posted a reflection on the 10-year anniversary:
The tragedy in San Fernando—which saw the migrants kidnapped and killed, reportedly for refusing to work for the criminal group—was no anomaly. In 2010, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) estimated that approximately 20,000 migrants were kidnapped in Mexico. Ten years later, kidnapping remains one of the most common crimes that migrants report experiencing. Authorities have identified hundreds of migrant remains pulled from mass graves—such as the 48 graves with 196 people, discovered in 2011in San Fernando, and another with 49 torsos, found in 2012 in Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon—raising the question of how many of the tens of thousands of unidentified remains in Mexico may belong to missing migrants. A 2019 study found that about one in three migrants experience some form of violence when transiting through Mexico.
In response to the violence that so many migrants face, and in honor of those killed in San Fernando specifically, the Franciscan order launched La 72, a shelter for migrants in Tenosique, Tabasco near the Mexico/Guatemala border in the months after the massacre. In the years since the shelter opened they have served tens of thousands of migrants from Central America and elsewhere, offering a meal, a room, and at times, assistance navigating Mexico’s migration system.
In 2019 La 72 joined with other shelters in Mexico and Central America to create the Franciscan Network on Migration. The network provides opportunities for the coordination of the shelters’ work during the ongoing crisis generated by U.S. border policy, Mexico’s increased enforcement, and ongoing forced displacement from Central America.
The need for the work is ongoing. In January of this year, in an attack reminiscent of the massacre at San Fernando, the bodies of 19 migrants were found in two vans. They had been shot, and then the bodies burned. Ultimately, the police were implicated in the attack along with cartels. Just this week came reports of a group of 120 migrants who have gone missing, last seen in Puebla. From a report on the situation: “The 120 migrants were being transported by coyotes, suffering mistreatment and abuse, but then were found by National Guard and local Tlaxclala authorities after one in the group was able to call for assistance through WhatsApp.” The concern is that they are possibly back with coyotes, as the group has not been heard from.
The dangers migrants face is increasing as the Biden administration continues to pressure Mexico, and now Guatemala and Honduras, to clamp down on their borders and block passage of people trying to head north. The border closures and militarization of enforcement only serves to drive people into more dangerous situations. For many, the only chance they have for respite on this journey is through one of the many privately run shelters in the country.
The Quixote Center is the fiscal sponsor for the Franciscan Network on Migration. You can donate to support their work here.
As we commemorate Earth Day this week, it is fitting to consider the Pope’s reflection on his namesake: “I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically […] He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace” (LS 10). That lesson is one that animates the work of the Franciscan Network on Migration.
Fundamentally, people who migrate have in a very literal sense become alienated from their original homeland. A major cause of such alienation is that the land becomes unreliable as a place to support human existence. While we have increasingly begun to hear about “climate change refugees,” it might be more meaningful to consider the even broader category of “environmental refugees,” people who flee their land because the material conditions necessary for human thriving are in short supply. Who are we talking about? To take just a couple of examples, the people whose soil is contaminated by environmental waste or lack access to water because a hydroelectric dam diverts the flow of water that once nourished their land may experience environmental displacement. Environmental conditions like these may very well give rise to further climate change at both the local and global levels but environmental degradation is a broader category than climate change and a significant driver of human migration.
Such conditions are highlighted in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Sì (On Care For Our Common Home) promulgated in 2015. “There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever” (LS 25). He discusses the roots of this sort of environmental destruction in a pattern of consumption that pays little heed to the needs of the systems of life on this planet, of which people are one part.
But if people are a principal cause, they are not all implicated individually or equally. Instead, Francis writes: “Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. A true ‘ecological debt’ exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time.” (LS 51) This debt of the wealthy countries with massive rates of consumption demands payment – but the costs cannot only be financial. When people are forced from their lands by actions taken abroad, it seems clear that any reasonable attempt to repair the harm must include a new place where life can thrive. For this reason, it is time to call for a new understanding of refugee and asylum claims grounded in an understanding that the wealthier countries have been able to insulate themselves from harm but have disproportionately acted in ways that were harmful to their more vulnerable global neighbors.
As we acknowledge and commemorate Earth Day this week, we should be mindful of the new refugees who must seek higher ground – sometimes literally as sea levels rise, but also metaphorically as desert soil often cannot provide enough food and water to support human needs – much as biblical famine and flood drove Abraham and Noah to find new places to live. The way in which we enforce national borders, however, has made such forced relocation into a cruel shell game where each space that might be a better home may be made unavailable to people in a moment of dire need. This pattern simply cannot persist. Justice and basic human decency demand better treatment. Moreover, Catholic social tradition is clear on the universal destination of goods – a position that has “stressed the social purpose of all forms of property” (LS 93), including the land itself.
The call to an “ecological conversion” thus entails a call to change our relationship to the environment around us from one of dominance and coercion to one of peaceful coexistence, healing, and restoration. Alongside that commitment, we must also make space to welcome those who seek life in new communities when their old ones have suffered environmental harm. The Franciscan Network on Migration has made that mission of welcoming and inclusion tangible by opening doors to shelters, kitchens, clinics, and legal aid for thousands of migrants in search of new spaces alongside us in “our common home.”
Victoria Esperanza Salazar Arriaza was murdered on March 27 in the Tumbe Ka neighborhood of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. She was killed by members of a municipal public security patrol, who first handcuffed her and then continued to press on her body to subdue her, breaking her neck in the process. Victoria was originally from El Salvador and was in Mexico with her two youngest daughters, as refugees.
Victoria was a Salvadoran migrant who was murdered by the police in Tulum, Mexico today. After detaining her, the police held her face down with their knee on her back and despite her yells of pain and that she couldn’t breathe, they refused to release her pic.twitter.com/z3VDpOnNKX
Victoria’s case is not isolated. Thousands of migrant women fleeing violence in their countries of origin paradoxically become victims of direct, structural, and symbolic violence in Mexican territory, making them a vulnerable group, making urgent the call for dignified care and respect for their human rights, in accordance with the law, as established in Article 1 of the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States and in various International Treaties signed and ratified by the Mexican State.
Violence, brought about by immigration policies applied by the Military and the National Guard, exacerbates racism and xenophobia on the part of the authorities at all three levels of government: municipal, state and federal.
The Quixote Center, as a member of the Franciscan Network on Migration, joins with them in rejecting this femicide, which is fraught with xenophobia, racism and discrimination on the part of the police authorities.
Migrants are not criminals, they are not a criminal threat; but in cases such as this one, they are victims of corrupt police and local governments. We join the call by her relatives in demanding justice — zero tolerance for impunity in this case, which has drawn attention and been publicized on social networks. The officers involved have been detained at this time, but justice, as we know, still requires much more work.
Accordingly, we join the Franciscan Network on Migration in demanding from the Mexican authorities at all three levels:
Respect for the human rights of each and every migrant regardless of their immigration status.
Policies aimed at preventing and eliminating all types of discrimination and xenophobia by the authorities.
The intervention of the Consulate of El Salvador and Mexican authorities, to provide protection to the daughters of Victoria Esperanza Salazar Arriaza, exposed to physical and psychological violence, where the best interests of minors prevail.
To the Attorney General of Quintana Roo, the correct handling of the investigation file, with respect for due process, as well as reparation for damages and non-repetition of the violation of the human rights of migrants.
In conformity with the rule of law, we strongly urge that victims be offered adequate reparation, including compensation, rehabilitation, and satisfaction (including restitution of reputation and public recognition of the damage suffered).
For more information on this case:
“Who Was Victoria Salazar? Woman’s Death at Tulum Police Hands Evokes George Floyd” in Newsweek, March 29, 2021
“Missing Teen, Daughter of Woman Killed in Mexican Police Custody, Is Found” in VOANews, March 31, 2021
The Quixote Center works with, and is the fiscal sponsor in the United States for the Franciscam Network on Migration. The network coordinates the activity of shelters in Central America, Mexico and the United States that serve migrant communities – principally, though not exclusively, from Central America. Our work with the Franciscan Network has also brought us into coalition work with Franciscans International and other groups that address multilateral issues concerning migration as well. Below we offer a few updates from this work.
Assistance for shelters in Honduras
Following hurricanes Eta and Iota, which both struck Honduras (and Nicaragua) within two weeks of each other, and followed nearly identical paths, Franciscan shelters in Tegucigalpa began offering services to people who were suffering from trauma. This led to a more formal program to mobilize therapists, and therapy students from universities in the country to provide therapy services to children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and related anxiety.
In December, the Quixote Center facilitated delivery of $4,500 to support this effort. If you would like to offer support to the Network for this and projects like it, you can do that here. Having funds available to meet critical needs is one of the key ways we can support migrants and mitigate the conditions that often give rise to migration in the first place.
The Franciscan Network is looking for volunteers to help staff shelters and other sites in Mexico (Frontera Digna in Piedras Negras and La 72 in Tenosique), Honduras (Tegucigalpa) and the United States (Migrant Center in New York City). Since Spanish is necessary for nearly all of the sites, the application form and information are only available in Spanish. For several opportunities (including NYC), room and board is not provided, so one must either be local or have access to room and board in the area.
You can find out more information, and application details here.
Mexican Franciscans offer online course on migration
The Committee on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation of the Order of Friars Minor in Mexico is sponsoring a nine-part course on both theoretical and practical concerns related to the situation of migrants. The course will be offered entirely in Spanish on Wednesday nights from January 20-March 17, from 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET. If you are interested, more details are available here and you can register here.
The Quixote Center serves as the fiscal sponsor for the Franciscan Network on Migration’s fundraising activities in the United States. We participate in the Network’s discussions on advocacy and work closely with Network coordinator Lori Winther to craft strategies concerning communications about network activities. Below are updates directly from the shelters in Mexico. If you are able to support this work you can make a secure, tax- deductible donation to the Franciscan Network on Migration here.
La 72, House for Migrants Tenosique, Tabasco, Mexico
During the first months of the pandemic, La 72 had institutionalized various health and protection measures for migrants, staff and volunteers. Since mid-October, the shelter has coordinated a re-opening with certain precautionary measures to ensure the protection of the people inside.
With the collaborating organization Medicos Sin Fronteras, they have determined that they can have up to 150 people in the shelter at a time. They monitor the count of people entering (20-30 a day) and those leaving the shelter. In special cases, they receive more than the 150 limit but try to keep the number consistent.
Everyone has to wear masks, and there are new guidelines for grooming, hand washing, and the use of antibacterial gel. People who want to go out can only do so twice a week to go shopping, to eat, to the doctor, etc. Those who go to work can do it daily with permission. They check every person who passes through the gate for temperature. Any suspected cases are transferred to what is normally the juvenile module for quarantine and COVID testing. To date, they have had one verified COVID case and 3 suspected cases.
There are also 200-250 people living on the court next to the house. They do not want to enter the shelter due to movement restrictions. La 72 offers them support for their migration cases as refugees or for suffering human rights violations, etc. and 100-150 can enter to sleep in the chapel between 8:30 pm until 6:30 am.
One of the changes that has affected migration the most is that the train, sometimes called “La Bestia,” stopped operating since the end of August due to the conversion of the routes for the new tourist “Mayan Train.” People now come walking or hitchhike in cars. They have established new routes from Petén, through Salto de Agua and Palenque (there is more information in the Casa Betania report on this below). UNICEF is carrying out a study on the impact of the construction of the routes for the Mayan Train, and has interviewed local and indigenous communities, and the different houses and shelters. They are seeing a lack of respect for indigenous people as well as environmental and social impacts.
Other impediments: At the moment it is also impossible to go through Veracruz or Monterrey on foot. There are many INM (National Institute of Migration) checkpoints there and people are deported. They are not seeing many people traveling south either, because Mexico is deporting them. What you see is the perseverance and tenacity of the people. They need to migrate and the obstacles don’t matter. However, more people every day are seeing that Mexico will be their destination. They end up staying as refugees in the big cities of northern Mexico.
Casa Betania Santa Martha, Salto de Agua, Chiapas, Mexico
The parish of San Fernando de Guadalupe has been cared for by the Missionaries of the Divine Word (SVD) for 33 years. Currently, in the Casa Betania-Santa Martha Project, five SVDs of five different nationalities work alongside four Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary (FMM) currently from Congo, the Philippines, and Mexico. The house is in the middle of Palenque and Villahermosa; the municipal seat is Salto de Agua. Normally, the border closest to the house is called “La Técnica.” About 70% of the migrants crossed this border nearby.
Right now the train, “La Bestia”, has stopped circulating on this route, people are entering more through El Ceibo and El Naranjo. Before, people came and got on the train between these borders and Tenosique, now they have to walk the long distance between these points, and Casa Betania is on the route. As a result the shelter has experienced a huge increase in numbers. Since August it has been increasing again, and now they are receiving around 100 people a day. The majority of the population are Hondurans (85%), Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, a few Cubans and Venezuelans. Some Africans have arrived.
The pandemic caused them many challenges; they heard that many houses were closing due to the pandemic. But seeing the migrants, the faces, hearing the stories, the team decided to keep the house open. 10 or 15 people arrived a day during the first phase of the epidemic. Most are male, but a variety of groups are arriving – women, children, unaccompanied minors, whole families, single girls, etc.
People can stay for 3 days. But they always try to personalize the situation of each one, for example if they have a disease or need a procedure, they can stay longer. Right now they have a family that was robbed asking for shelter and they are also being given additional time.
The relationship between the people has been, above all, positive. At first there were comments on social networks questioning the authorities about why they kept letting the migrants stay, always blaming the migrants for any bad that happens. But there were more people supporting them. Right now there is no formal opposition blocking their passage. The health authorities set rules for them, for example, once the migrants enter the shelter, that they do not leave, that they are not entering and leaving the shelter. Migrants, above all, do not believe in COVID, or it is a denial above all the complex situation they live, their dreams, their struggles to migrate. Well, it makes them live this denial. And so there is a bit of resistance facing the requirements, the use of the mask, the hand washing, the gel. They try to disinfect cutlery, tables, surfaces very well, and there are people who do not accept the value of these measures. But it is explained to people, raising awareness, and little by little they accept that this is the new normal.
About contagion, each person who arrives takes their temperature. If they suspect a contagion, there is an area reserved for quarantine. Currently there is a person who is positive. A couple arrived, and the young man had a fever. They were immediately taken to the hospital for an exam, and the boy tested positive. The two are isolated.
One of the sisters speaks to the women about violence on the road and hospital care for migrants who have been raped on the road.
A great challenge is that in this municipality, the authorities are not very competent to help migrants. When they need paperwork, they have to move to Palenque. It implies a day of work for the transfer.
Casa Betania Needs: They critically need volunteers. With only 4 or 5 people they are serving 100+ per day. Volunteers are available to live within the limitations they have there. There is a room in the house of a woman from the town, and the women volunteers stay in this house. The men are in a space in the shelter. They have to be of legal age, willing to work with migrants, who can follow the general rules of no drugs, no alcohol, no violence.
Materially, they especially need flip-flops for the bathroom.
Comedor San Francisco de Asís Mazatlán, Mexico
In the dining room that they operated in the parish before the pandemic, they still offer showers, distribute food (water, whey, fruit, tuna, etc.) in bags, and in special cases migrants can sleep there or they can serve lunches, as before, according to the health code.
The flow of migrants is increasing again to 9 to 10 migrants per day, some to the north, others deported. Most of the migrants continue north. They are a mix of Venezuelans and Central Americans, but very few Haitians and others at this time. They still cannot fully open with volunteers, for the safety of the volunteers.
The migrants stay under a bridge near the train tracks. Or they just eat, bathe, and leave. The INM sometimes asks for support from the parish or the DIF (National System for Integral Family Development), for people with physical disabilities, etc.
Pre-pandemic, a woman in the community offered to donate a house to better host the migrants. However, the house is not suitable for the men who make up the majority of the migrants who pass this route. The house is far from the parish and would be without an administrator on-site. There is not much space and everyone would be too crowded. There is no patio, it is completely enclosed. Sometimes there are arguments or problems. There is a lot of drug trafficking in the area, too, and they don’t have room for movement. People cannot be easily separated when tensions arise.
For these reasons, the friars plan to use the house to serve families or perhaps women, perhaps for two or three families at a time. Maybe use the house for medical care. In terms of legal paperwork, they already have right of use, but are awaiting deeds.
In other space, they plan to separate a section of the patio of their church, mainly to provide shade with a canopy (tin) roof and a large tree. There they could place cots, hammocks or mats for the men to sleep. There are two gates to the street. With a wall they will divide the areas between the parishioners and the migrants. This would give them more space for the migrants to relax and as Franciscans already live here, they would also be better supervised and supported.
They are presenting this plan for approval to their provincial government of the Franciscans at a meeting in Tijuana this month. If the plan is approved, a plan that involves blocking part of the entrance to the sanctuary from their worship space, they would need money to make these more basic plans. It would be better than what they have had, but not as good as what was originally proposed. The opportunity to buy the land where they hoped to build is no longer available.
The funds they obtained from the Central Mission of the Franciscans in Germany have been spent to cover food costs in recent months and they are running out of supplies. They are thinking of initiating a local campaign to collect more supplies.
Frontera Digna Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico
The Frontera Digna shelter is an institution that welcomes vulnerable migrants, refugees, and deportees. Due to the insecure situations that migrants experience, they arrive with an immense burden of incidents and cruelty that they have had to experience on the road and this shelter offers them relief: water so they can bathe, food, clothing, medicine. They receive spiritual support and care, nutritional assistance, and other accompaniment when required. We respond to the situations that each of them have, maintaining hope and strengthening.
In early 2020, staff at Frontera Digna were preparing a new “Compartiendo Esperanza” shelter exclusively for up to 80 women and children. In April, immigration authorities requested the use of the new shelter for 160 people in deportation proceedings from Mexico. You can read more about what happened here.
As we are very close to the border, people sometimes try to cross several times. There are helicopters, drones, dogs, sensors that detect movements, migrants even believe that when they turn on their phone, the sensors can detect them. However, they can cross and walk 3-6 days until the North American migration authorities capture and detain them, sometimes until they have lost everything along the way. We always hear, “I almost made it.” They try many times.
When they arrive with us, the deportees ask for food, clothes (sometimes they arrive in their prison suit or pajamas, flip flops). They ask to bathe and come very hungry. Sometimes they arrive dehydrated, in poor health, with traumas related to encounters with criminals, kidnappings, extortion, etc.
Temporarily closed for lodging, Frontera Digna served an average of 100 migrants every day before the COVID pandemic. Currently, they are providing pantry service, food and cleaning products and soaps, and follow up with pregnant women who are living in rented rooms. They also offered migrants the right to enter, rest a few hours and shower, but the municipality ordered them to only distribute food, bring clothes to wash, prohibiting others from entering the shelter.
There are migrants who are waiting for their asylum appointments in Nuevo Laredo, and many are arriving in Piedras Negras. They rent tiny rooms, now that the shelters are closed due to COVID. The person in charge of the INM who keeps the list to request asylum, reports that in the Piedras Negras detention center, around 160 deportees, are processed daily.
About the rented rooms, the police recently raided some buildings because the owners did not have the proper permits. The migrants were taken to detention even though some were awaiting asylum and had legal status in Mexico. They deported those who did not have papers to stay. They are constantly deporting people.
On March 19 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order that blocked people from coming across the border. Under Title 42 of the Public Health Services Act border agents have been empowered to expel people as soon as they are encountered, with no access to traditional due process, and thus no ability to pursue asylum claims. The order has also been deployed to deny unaccompanied children access to asylum claims and other basic support. The result of this order is the expulsion of 154,000 people between March 19 and the end of August; 8,800 of them unaccompanied children. The vast majority of people are expelled back to Mexico, though people who are not from Mexico or Central America are sent elsewhere – presumably their home country, but there is little actually known about these folks. Some children, and families, mostly from Haiti, were found to have been put into hotels in Texas and Arizona until they could be removed. People detained, however briefly, under Title 42 are not given alien ID numbers (“A” numbers) that would allow them to be tracked while in detention. In effect, they disappear into the system until they can be removed. Family members are unable to find them, and they have no access to attorneys.
The impacts of Title 42 expulsions have rippled out in all directions from the border. In Mexico it has meant further crowding at the border among those trying to wait out the current crisis and continue their efforts to pursue asylum or other relief in the United States. Others have been forced back through Mexico to the border with Guatemala. Since March, they have been forced to wait until that border re-opens (it has in the last two weeks). Along the way, migrants look for places to stay in shelters that dot the landscape in Mexico. Staff with our partners in the Franciscan Network on Migration, for example, have noted there are more people traveling south these days than north.
Within the United States, Title 42 expulsions have led to a dramatic decline in detentions – as people apprehended at the border are now being expelled rather than transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be held while awaiting processing of their immigration status and/or asylum claims. Fewer people in ICE detention is a good thing, but the underlying reasons are not good – as people are in effect still being detained (halted from moving forward), but removed from oversight. Conditions within ICE detention facilities remain abysmal despite the lower numbers. Fiscal Year 2020 just ended, and during that year twenty-one people died while in ICE custody, the most in over 15 years. So, one of the chief stated purposes of Title 42 expulsions – to enhance safety for detention staff and detainees already in the United States, is patently false.
For those of us working on immigration policy, Title 42 was never a “good idea” simply administered badly. From the beginning it was clearly an effort to weaponize the COVID-19 response to do what the Trump team had otherwise been denied doing by the courts: Kill the asylum process and otherwise close the border to immigrants. It is also, one hopes this is because it is poorly understood, a popular policy, with a majority of U.S. Americans supporting it. That support has raised questions about whether Biden would actually suspend the order should he win the election. Given recent disclosures he absolutely must suspend the order.
Why? If one had any doubts about the duplicitous rationale behind Title 42 expulsions, news came this weekend that the CDC had originally refused to issue the order because there was no public health reason to do so. In fact, the order did not originate with the CDC at all. Rather, it was Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s brainchild. From the Associated Press:
“That was a Stephen Miller special. He was all over that,” said Olivia Troye, a former top aide to Pence, who coordinated the White House coronavirus task force. She recently resigned in protest, saying the administration had placed politics above public health. “There was a lot of pressure on DHS and CDC to push this forward.”
CDC doctors resisted implementing it for weeks because it would do no good in slowing the spread of coronavirus. Eventually Vice-President Pence was brought in to get it done. He called the CDC and told them to issue the order, “or else.” [“They forced us,” said a former health official involved in the process. “It is either do it or get fired” in AP report] The order was issued the next day.
“The decision to halt asylum processes ‘to protect the public health’ is not based on evidence or science,” wrote Dr. Anthony So, an international public health expert at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a letter to Redfield in April. “This order directly endangers tens of thousands of lives and threatens to amplify dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia.”
The order was initially supposed to last for one month as an emergency measure – but that was a lie as well. Indeed, Miller made clear immediately upon implementation that he viewed this as a long-term approach.
Of course, amplifying dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia is precisely the point. It’s an election year after all. Calling the current administration out on its hypocrisy and lies seems almost pointless at this stage. But we take note in the hope that one day, perhaps, there will be some accountability. Shuttering the border and denying people legislatively guaranteed protections based on false pretenses has to be illegal….right? We’ll see.