IHCI panel examines Remain in Mexico policy

christianjbrewster.wordpress.com+Photo+credit%3A+Oliver+Chapin-Eiserloh

christianjbrewster.wordpress.com Photo credit: Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh

Photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh

According to the U.S. government, at least 42,000 migrants have been forced back into Mexico after crossing the border. By law, they must remain in Mexico until their immigration court hearings, which are often set for months or years in the future.

One hundred and forty-four miles from the border, about 80 people gathered in the Chapman Auditorium this past Thursday, Oct. 17, for the International Humanitarian Crisis Initiative’s (IHCI) panel discussing the U.S. “Remain in Mexico” immigration policy. The five panelists included not only Trinity professors but also professionals with immigration experience within the San Antonio community.

Senior and IHCI president Claire Nakayama introduced the panel. (Nakayama is a member of the Board of Campus Publications.) She thanked the philosophy department, Student Government Association and Trinity Diversity Connection for their collaboration on the event. Nakayama also introduced communication professor Robert Huesca, who moderated the panel.

Before introducing each panelist, Huesca shared his own thoughts about the Remain in Mexico policy, which requires that those who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum stay in Mexico while their case is processed. Huseca believes the Trump administration’s policies are harmful to immigrants.

“President Trump and his supporters want to make America 1939 again. That’s why we’re here tonight,” Huesca said.

After introductions, the panel’s first topic was defining the Remain in Mexico policy. Panelist Sarah Ramey, immigration attorney for the Migrant Center for Human Rights, explained that the policy has been in place since Jan. 25 of this year. The policy requires asylum-seekers to await their court hearings in Mexico rather than in the United States, but it does not just apply to immigrants from Mexico. According to Ramey, the Migration Center has worked with immigrants from over 30 countries.

“We are talking largely about Central Americans. Also Cubans, Venezuelans, people from Yemen,” Ramey said. “This is a broad group of people.”

Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen first announced the plans for the Remain in Mexico policy, officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols, in a memo released in December 2018. According to the memo, undocumented immigrants have exploited asylum loopholes at alarming rates.

“[When the policy is implemented,] more attention can be focused on more quickly assisting legitimate asylum-seekers, as fraudsters are disincentivized from making the journey,” the memo reads in part.

Ramey expressed firm disagreement with this reasoning. She said that in her experience at the Migrant Center, she has not encountered asylum-seekers trying to take advantage of the system.

“There are not loopholes for the most part,” Ramey said. “We do not see people who try to sneak into the country for nefarious purposes … I can say this confidently because I’ve been doing this for seven years and talking to people for seven years.”

Sister and panelist Denise LaRock, who works with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, emphasized the desperate and impoverished state of many asylum-seekers. She said that boys in Central American countries like Honduras are recruited into gangs when they are as young as nine. The boys will often be killed if they refuse to join gangs. According to LaRock, this problem is also tied to domestic violence and sexual abuse.

“Adolescent girls are expected to sexually serve the gangs,” LaRock said.

Senior Francisco Macías, a member of the panel and a pro bono legal intern at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), agreed that gang activity creates extreme danger and fear.

“I would say gangs are the [ad hoc] governments of these countries,” Macías said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Everything’s going to get better; other people are going to take care of it.’ But they’re not.”

Anthropology and sociology professor David Spener, panelist, pointed out that although gang violence is a significant problem, state governments have also played a role.

“People get recruited for gang activity when the states fail them,” Spener said. “Even if they weren’t fleeing violence, they would probably be forced to flee for reasons of subsistence.”

Panelists also discussed the impoverished conditions at migrant camps in Mexico. LaRock said that the U.S. government has mischaracterized Mexico as being able to provide food, work and shelter for asylum-seekers, when in fact it often offers only shabby accommodations and threats of violence by drug cartels. LaRock described her visit to a migrant camp in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

“The shelters are just a couple of barren houses that they have,” LaRock said. “The families are living in these barren places. I was working at one, and there was this little girl who said, ‘Do you have any crayons? Do you have any coloring sheets?’ They have nothing … These people are suffering terribly, and people don’t know.”

Panelist and political science professor Rosa Aloisi agreed.

“There are many protections that are being violated, like the right to family life,” Aloisi said.

Since IHCI focuses on sending volunteers out into the community, the organization rarely hosts on-campus events. According to Nakayama, the club started planning the Remain in Mexico panel last semester. In an interview after the panel, Nakayama reported being happy with both the turnout and content of the event.

“I am honestly shocked at how well it turned out, and I think it was really necessary to have an event like this right now, especially with the current political climate,” Nakayama said. “Our main goal in this event was honestly to bridge the gap between community and campus by bringing together all these different perspectives, and I think that we were able to do that.”

Daniela Montúfar, a 2019 Trinity graduate, was also pleased with the panel. Montúfar started IHCI in 2015 with a group of other international students, called to action by international conflicts such as the Syrian Civil War. Montúfar said she is proud of the organization’s progress since then.

“When we first started, it was just us trying to make people come, make them see how important this was,” Montúfar said. “And the turnout today I think is one of the highest we’ve ever had. It’s very good to see that there’s progress being made.”

Those interested in volunteering through IHCI should contact Claire Nakayama at [email protected]

Correction: The original version of this story said there were six panelists.