HEADLINES: Border Crisis — October 29, 2014

button_icon_immigration_headlinesReaching back to the sanctuary movement of the 1980’s, people of faith continue to serve those most in need, whether it’s through sanctuary, providing a house of welcome, giving the gift of family, or offering classes and educational resources to help migrants understand the complexities of the immigration process. Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Border Crisis. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

Workshop at EPCC to Help Young Undocumented Immigrants Learn About DACA [El Paso Times]

Border Deaths Drop to 15 Year Low [ABC News]

Poll: Immigrants Seen as Economic Plus With Border Crisis Over [NBC News]

Immigration Reform 2014 Update: Senate Democrats Urge Homeland Security to Protect Mothers and Children in Need of Asylum [Christian Post]

Evangelicals Boost Clinics to Help Immigrants Navigate Legal Headaches [The Washington Post]

Young Immigrants Who Can’t Vote Urge New Citizens to go to Polls [The Tennessean]

Immigrant Reform Economy Benefits: Comprehensive Reform is ‘Economic Imperative’ for US, Says Labor Secretary Thomas Perez [Latin Post]

United States Detains Mothers and Children at Alarming Rates — National Action Alert

button_icon_national_alert2The world watches as the United States detains mothers and children at alarming rates. This week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an international body that monitors human rights in the Americas, will be holding a series of hearings on its recent investigations into the U.S. government’s response to the increase in children and families seeking refuge in the United States from Central America. The hearings this week, following an IACHR trip to the Karnes County family detention facility, will focus on the apprehension, detention, and deportation of thousands of Central American families and children since June.

The Commission’s primary concerns include the lack of access to legal representation for children and families seeking asylum, the government’s unprecedented rapid expansion of family detention facilities, and the failure to rely on effective alternatives to detention.

Vulnerable people need access to legal counsel. It is well-documented that many of these women and children languishing in family detention qualify for international protection which would allow them to lawfully remain in the United States. Unfortunately, the location of these facilities makes it difficult for immigration counsel to provide legal representation. Research has shown that 78% of children with representation will likely be granted the international protection they deserve while only 10% of child asylum-seekers without counsel are granted protection. Just last week, an immigration judge granted asylum to yet another mother and her children currently being held in the Artesia family detention facility. This marks the seventh out of seven successful asylum cases out of Artesia represented by volunteer attorneys from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

Women and children seeking refuge should not be detained. Since June, the U.S. government has increased capacity for family detention from a little over 85 beds to 2,400 beds. The government plans to reach a capacity of 4,000 beds to house these women and children by the spring of 2015. LIRS has consistently opposed the practice of family detention, as it is extremely expensive, prevents full and fair access to legal representation and information, and is severely damaging to mental health. Further, it risks re-traumatizing survivors of torture, trafficking and violence.

Recently, Rebecca van Uitert, a volunteer attorney representing a mother and her seven-year-old daughter currently being held in the Artesia facility, shared her first-hand experience with the harmful impact of detention on a child:

She was traumatized by the violence back home, and is now being re-traumatized on a daily basis by the punitive setting in which she’s being held, resulting in severe emotional distress and inability to eat/keep down any food. She’s lost so much weight that a doctor at the facility told the mother that if she didn’t force her daughter to eat and gain some weight, they would be placing a PICC line (i.e., a peripherally inserted central catheter) in the girl for emergency nutrition. In desperation, the mother asked for bottles with milk to be provided instead. Mom now holds her seven-year-old daughter in her arms like a baby at meal times to feed her by bottle.

As people of faith, we believe that vulnerable newcomers deserve better and will continue our call to end this inhumane and unacceptable practice. Join us in raising your voice by:

  • Reading and sharing “Locking Up Family Values, Again” the update to our 2007 report, “Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families” which will be released later this week. “Locking Up Family Values, Again” will be accessible at lirs.org/familyvalues.
  • Visiting LIRS’s Action Center to tell urge your elected representatives to end family detention.
  • Donating to help ensure other mothers and children have access to life-saving volunteer legal representation.

Thank you for standing for welcome.

LIRS Staff Member Observes Hearings for Unaccompanied Children, What She Saw Was Heartbreaking

VulnerableChildrenFlee200Today, I’d like to share a guest post from Jessica Jones, LIRS Children and Youth Policy Advocate. Jessica recently sat in on the hearings of several unaccompanied children. When she arrived at the courtroom, she didn’t expect to be a lifeline to families. But what unfolded shows how by lending a bit of time and compassion, lives can be transformed. 

I recently visited the Baltimore Immigration Court to observe the juvenile docket. What I witnessed was heartbreaking. Roughly six or seven families sat in the long benches before the judge, all with one or two recently arrived unaccompanied children. On the left side of the court room sat the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) attorney with a stack of files next to him. On the right the desk remained empty; no attorneys for kids sat at the table, only a Spanish interpreter. As I observed the cases one by one, parents or other sponsors for the children stood up and answered the judge’s questions and received new dates to come into court.

The judge then called on a mother who sat behind me with her daughter. The judge explained her son’s case was not on her calendar. Instead the court still had her son as residing at Lackland Air Force Base (which has been closed for weeks) and scheduled to appear for a judge in San Antonio at the end of September. The mother looked confused. The judge then turned to the DHS attorney and asked him to look into it and send an email to the DHS attorney there to find out about it.

The DHS attorney replied, “Oh, I can’t do anything about it.”

The Judge responded, “You can send an email to inquire about it—can’t you?”

He relented saying, “Yes, I could do that.”

The judge then turned to mother and explained how she needed to fill out a change of address form and make sure to send it to the court in San Antonio because her son’s case was coming up. The mother looked completely puzzled. I sat there heartbroken, knowing full well that the mother did not understand what was happening. I knew as I sat there the mother had no idea that her son could mistakenly be removed in abstentia if the court did not receive the notice. The clerk shortly provided the mother with the form. The form was in English.

The mother turned to me asking, “Hablas español?”

I replied that I did not. She looked at me, handed me the form and pointed to me and gestured that I fill it out. She then handed her son’s packet of information that she received from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The mother then handed me her green card. As I ruffled through the ORR packet, I was dismayed by how many of the forms were actually in English. I found the form I needed, verified her address and her son’s address, and filled out the form. I then pointed to where the mother needed to sign the form. She shakily scratched out a few initials and then handed it back to me. I then gave the form back to the clerk asking for two copies. I asked the interpreter to help me translate.

I went over all the details the judge said. She still looked puzzled. I then explained that I would mail the form to the San Antonio court and gave her the other photocopy.

She said, “What can I pay you?”

I replied, “Nothing; I am a volunteer.”

Her daughter gave me a big smile and said in English, “Thank you!”

For the rest of the morning as the courtroom slowly emptied out, I only noticed one attorney who came in to assist a child. The judge then turned to the other cases on her docket, which included presumably other cases of children failing to appear for their court case. I wondered how many of these were families bravely trying to make sense of a very complicated immigration process. How many of them would not receive adequate notice? How many would be unable to understand what notice they were provided?

Here in Baltimore, there’s a juvenile docket every day. I am plagued by the question of how many children with their sponsors show up to court only to find out there is no one there to help them. It saddened me to see yet again our so-called justice system for these unaccompanied children—a shadowy due process.

Take action and help reunite families like these. Send a message to Congress through the LIRS Action Center. 


Reports, Voters, and Obama — Top Picks of the Immigration and Refugee Blogosphere


Anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to make itself present in political ads, campaign speeches, and debates. But are voters singing a different tune than those vying to represent them? Through the ballot, as we see this week in a piece from America’s Voice, Americans again have voted to limit ICE’s reach to protect migrants. Will they do the same against congressional representatives in November?

Please email me or comment if you have any thoughts about this week’s Top Picks. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog, and I look forward to sharing the best online commentary on immigration and refugee issues.


From Fleeing the Death Squad in El Salvador to Lutheran Pastor — Pastor Pedro Portillo Shares His Story

Pastor Pedro and members of his church, Igelsia Lutheran Transfiguraction in Mesquite, Texas.

Pastor Pedro and members of his church, Iglesia Luterana Transfiguracion in Mesquite, Texas.

Today, I’m delighted to share the courageous story of Pastor Pedro Portillo. In the 1980’s, Pastor Portillo fled persecution by a paramilitary group called Death Squad in El Salvador. Now a Lutheran pastor at Iglesia Luterana La Transfiguracion (The Transfiguration Lutheran Church) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Pastor Pedro tells of his life in El Salvador before he fled, and how all Americans play a role in creating a stronger, more welcoming and just society.

This interview was conducted by Folabi Olagbaju, LIRS National Grassroots Director, and Clarissa Perkins, LIRS Marketing Project Manager.

Clarissa Perkins (CP): Can you tell us a bit about your journey to the United States as an immigrant?

Pastor Pedro Portillo (PP): I came to the United States in 1980 after Archbishop Romero was assassinated in El Salvador. I was persecuted because I was a surviving young boy by a paramilitary group that was called Death Squad in the ’80s. This evil military group was illegally protecting the 14 richest families who owned 85% of the common good of the entire country of El Salvador for more than 50 years.

I went with Bishop Romero to many towns and assisted him as an altar boy in the worship services. I remembered he would buy me ice cream at the end of the day.

I grew up in the farm helping my father after I would come home from school. I would take care of the chickens and the cows. I would also help plant corn, beans, and rice, very similar to the way many children do today.

Presently, El Salvador does not have civil war of the corrupt government as they did in the ’80s, but we do have a stream of violence against the children and young adults of poor families. They have been persecuted and recruited by several violent groups who have spread their wrath of destruction throughout Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Over the last 10 years, 60% of the total population of children and families have experienced life-threatening situations and have survived.

My professional life in the United States has been fruitful, but also very challenging in my ministry. My talents and gift in some way have been accepted and rejected as an immigrant who has a different skin color, culture, and a strong English accent.

CP: What do you appreciate most about living in the United States?

PP: I do appreciate from the bottom of my heart my decision to come to the United States. It has been a blessing  for my family and for the thousands of people who I have served over the last 31 years in my pastoral ministry. I got to achieve the American dream, similar to the many people of European descent who came to America. I do believe all those thousands of dislocated children will do the same to the present and to the future American society.

CP: What have been the greatest challenges of new Americans in your community?

PP: The greatest challenges that I always have faced is discrimination from some members of the elderly community and some racist people who resist any change in their community.

CP: You are a pastor in Texas. How do you welcome new immigrants and help them feel at home here?

PP: As a Lutheran pastor, I became a bridge connecting all kinds of community leaders from our neighboring cities throughout Dallas County. Through meetings and prayers, I have been helping to educate people to properly understand the newest immigrants in American society. The last 10 years, Irving and other cities in north Texas have drastically changed with the influx of new immigrants from all over Latin America, Africa, and Asia. We have over 48 different languages spoken in our diverse city. The Muslim community is also growing rapidly in our city and they come from all over the world!

PP: What has been your response to the recent surge of children from Central America?

PP: In our neighboring cities of Dallas County, I have been directly involved with many different committees. Examples are: Irving Independent School District, Dallas Independent School District, police, City Council, multiple state representatives and businesses who try to work together with us to create a strong society.

I had visited Congress members, state representatives, commissioners, City County judges and immigration officers to talk to and welcome all children who have families in Texas. I also participate in many media activities, in English and Spanish newspapers, to create peace and solidarity with these poor children in the entire community. I do believe, in family, business, political and faith community involvements. I do believe in creating awareness in business leaders and members to welcome these children of God who are coming from Central America. We need to be the voice for the voiceless in this modern world.

For more information on “welcoming these children of God,” visit lirs.org/bordercrisis.

HEADLINES: Border Crisis — October 23, 2014

button_icon_immigration_headlinesEven though the number of unaccompanied minors streaming across the border has decreased in recent months, the factors that forced many from their homes still exist. Drug gangs still run in Guatemala, people are still disappearing in El Salvador, Honduras is still the murder capital of the world, and the United States still continues to fast track deportations, sending many back to almost certain death. Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Border Crisis. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

For Some Migrants, a Familiar Journey From the Desert to Detention [Al Jazeera America]

Journey to the U.S. Border: One Family’s Story Through a Desperate Mother’s Eyes [AL.com]

Hondurans Flee Violence, Then Are Deported by U.S. to Face More, Rights Group Charges [The Washington Post]

Why Immigration Talk in Senate Races Took a Hard Right [NBC News]

Hondurans Fled to the U.S. Because Their Lives Were In Danger. The U.S. Sent Them Back [Vox]

U.S. Extends Protection to Honduran Immigrants [The Daily Beast]

In Affluent Connecticut, Latinos Help Immigrants Succeed [NBC News]

An Immigrant Family From Guatemala’s Tearful Reunion in S.F. [SF Gate]

Haitian Family Reunification Victory! Obama Administration Announces Program to Expedite Family Reunification

button_icon_national_alert2Last Friday, I was greatly heartened to see the Obama Administration announce that they will begin to expedite family reunification for certain eligible Haitians.

Called the Haitian Family Reunification Parole (HFRP) program, the program will accelerate family reunification for Haitians who are living in Haiti and have U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members in the United States. Slated to commence in 2015, it will allow Haitians living in Haiti who already have an approved family-based immigrant visa petition to come to the United States and join their families about two years earlier than they could have without the program. Once in the United States, they will have the opportunity to apply for work authorization.

Family unity is a fundamental, underlying goal of our immigration system and a priority for LIRS, our network, and our coalition partners. The HFRP program illustrates the humane and compassionate actions that the Administration can implement to alleviate the suffering of migrants and refugees. We look forward to intended action by President Obama in the coming weeks to further alleviate the separation of families caused by our current outdated immigration system.

While this positive development for Haitians inspires optimism, we must still remember that for migrant and refugee families who remain separated, each day is extremely difficult. The Administration must seize all opportunities to help those waiting to rejoin families, and Congress must pass legislation to allow more migrant and refugee families to reunite.

Take action through the LIRS Action Center. Click here to call on your representatives to further protect migrants and refugees.  

Elections, Voters, and Ads — Top Picks of the Immigration and Refugee Blogosphere

button_icon_top_picksFrom Colorado to Kentucky, immigration continues to take center stage as mid-term campaigns enter their final weeks. However, it is time for the rhetoric to stop and for action to start in order to prevent repeating the story that Aura Bogado brings to us this week in ColorLines.

Please email me or comment if you have any thoughts about this week’s Top Picks. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog, and I look forward to sharing the best online commentary on immigration and refugee issues.


HEADLINES: Border Crisis — October 15, 2014

button_icon_immigration_headlinesImmigration remains a hot topic along the campaign trail as congressional representatives enter the last few weeks of their mid-term campaigns. While politicians argue, migrants and refugees are forced to risk their lives in pursuit of a better life in this country. It is time for politicians to put aside their partisan differences and to work together on immigration reform. Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Border Crisis. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

In Rickety Boats, Cuban Migrants Again Flee to U.S. [The New York Times]

Central American Kids Wait in Life-Or-Death Limbo to See if They Can Stay in the U.S. [PRI]

Wave of Immigrants to U.S. Resurges [The Wall Street Journal]

U.S. Aims to Decrease Child Migration Through Sponsored Programs in Central America [PBS Newshour]

Mexico’s President Talks Reform and the Immigration Debate [CNN]

White House Doubts Shutdown Fight Over Immigration Reform [The Hill]

Immigration Reform a Bipartisan Litmus Test for Democrats [The Washington Times]

Massive New Family Detention Facility to Open in Texas — National Action Alert

button_icon_national_alert2The federal immigration enforcement authorities recently announced they will open a massive family detention facility in Dilley, Texas. The Dilley facility will detain 2,400 mothers and children once it is fully operational and will be the largest and most expensive immigration detention center in the nation. It will also be the third family detention facility to be opened since June.

Amazingly, it is being constructed in direct response to children and families fleeing violence in Central America and seeking safety in the United States. Recent estimates have found that the Dilley facility could cost taxpayers up to $300 per person per day, or almost $260 million a year.

More important than financial cost, detention is entirely inappropriate for vulnerable women and children, especially those fleeing violence and persecution. Studies show that detention re-traumatizes survivors of trafficking and abuse. Additionally, detention in remote facilities with limited contact with the outside world severely impedes the ability to communicate with a lawyer or even gain a basic understanding of legal rights.

We already know that many of the women and children held in these facilities qualify for legal relief as asylum seekers. Just last week, a third woman being held in the Artesia, New Mexico family detention facility was granted asylum by an Immigration Judge. The Honduran woman, who is identified by her initials D.M.L. to protect her identity, testified to vicious abuse and constant threats from her husband before fleeing to the United States with her two daughters to seek safety.

While the horrific details of D.M.L.’s case are not unlike many of the stories shared by other mothers and children in these family detention facilities, D.M.L had access to a pro-bono attorney who helped her navigate the system and present her claim.

Despite this, the circumstances of detention centers make it extremely difficult to properly defend families. Lisa Laurel Weinberg, D.M.L.’s attorney, said that she was given the case only seven days before D.M.L’s asylum trial. She had four days to prepare the case from scratch and submit it to the Immigration Court in Arlington, VA. And perhaps most shockingly, because there were no medical professionals at Artesia, Ms. Weinberg was not able to document D.M.L.’s extensive scarring caused by her abusive husband.

“The fact that this particular woman, with a very strong political asylum case did not have legal representation one week before her trial does not reflect on the attorneys on the ground in Artesia,” Ms. Weinberg told us. “It reflects that the system of keeping families in detention hundreds of miles away from legal assistance prevents women and children from adequately accessing justice, undermines their right to due process and procedural protections, and puts them at risk for erroneous deportation.” The week before Ms. Weinberg took D.M.L’s case, there were over 550 women and children being held in Artesia, and just four attorneys on the ground.

“The current system is not just or humane,” Ms. Weinberg said.

D.M.L was incredibly lucky to have Ms. Weinberg represent her. But the last three domestic asylum cases from Artesia have been successful, meaning that these women and children need to be heard and protected. All vulnerable women and children deserve to have the opportunity to tell their stories and receive justice and protection.

LIRS has consistently rejected the inhumane practice of family detention. As people of faith called to welcome the newcomer and protect the vulnerable, we support the expanded use of Alternatives to Detention (ATDs), like LIRS’s Community Support Initiative, that are less costly and far more humane than traditional detention practices.

Please consider joining us in raising your voice through LIRS’s Action Center to ensure that your elected representatives know that people of faith reject family detention and stand for welcome for all persons seeking safety on our shores.