In February, staff members from NMILC visited the Mexico-US border, touring a youth “shelter”, local processing center, and segments of the wall. This is the first of a three-part series sharing their thoughts about the experience. The views expressed herein are those of NMILC’s staff members.
Southwest Key is an “Immigrant Children’s Shelter” located on the outskirts of El Paso. In this detention facility, children ages 6-17, most of them from Guatemala and other countries in Central America, wait to be placed with family members or friends able to take them in while they go through court proceedings in the US. Here are some reflections from staff members who toured the facility.
Kate Hopkins, Legal Assistant
Southwest Keys was a poignant embodiment of the unjust and unsustainable nature of our current immigration laws. Too often we hear the argument over immigration reform grossly oversimplified to a stalemate between those who think that if you break the law you need to suffer the consequences and those who think that anyone who breaks immigration laws should be forgiven, just because. But the truth is that that isn’t the argument at all. Those of us who see the immigration system as broken are not arguing that those who break the law for immigration purposes should just be forgiven. We are arguing that the laws themselves are unjust and do not sit naturally with our standards of what is humane and what is not, which is why they are being broken so often in the first place.
The Immigrant Children’s Shelter for me served as a powerful example of this disconnect. In the eyes of the court, the children in the shelter are considered to have done something “illegal” and thus expected to be held in detention and deal with the consequences of having broken the law. In the eyes of literally any humane human being, however, they are seen as children and thus deserving protection and help. They should be able to do whatever they need to do in order to be safe and secure, even cross borders. When these two ideas meet, the result is shelters like Southwest Key, which are really just detention centers with brightly painted walls.
Children who come to the United States unaccompanied are not illegal. They should not be criminalized. They are brave and young and deserving of help and protection because for them, for one reason or another, being alone in a foreign country is a better alternative to being at home.
Adriel Orozco, Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow
Though Southwest Keys is called a “shelter,” it was hard to ignore the fences that lined the exterior of the building and that were topped with barbed wire. We were also constantly reminded that we couldn’t open certain doors without sounding off the alarms. During lunch, one young boy from El Salvador told me that he had been in detention for more than 4 months. He had an uncle and aunt in the midwest who were willing to care for him, but red tape and lack of resources were preventing his family from meeting the definition of a “safe place” that is required by the government. So he continued to wait, hoping that one day the administrative process would allow him to get out of detention and be with his family.
Zoe Bowman, Legal Assistant
If you visit the website for Southwest Keys, you’re taken to a sunshiney non-
profit page with a motto that reads, “Opening doors to opportunity so individuals can achieve their dreams.” And indeed, when touring the detention facility outside El Paso, you are assured over and over again just how great it is here. How the kids are so happy and thank goodness Southwest Keys is here to protect these poor children. They’re so convincing, that at one point I referred to Southwest Keys as a school.
But the truth is that Southwest Keys is not a school. And it’s not where these children need to go. Shelter is another word for detention center which is another word for prison. And when you look at the beige cluster of boxy buildings and barbed wire on the outskirts of El Paso, you can see it as just that. Southwest Keys doesn’t open “doors to opportunity”, it traps children for months at a time, even when they have friends or family members in the US waiting for them. The existence of Southwest Keys and places like it presupposes that unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America need to be locked up.
At NMILC, we are fighting for a just legal system for all immigrants, including those who are currently detained in prisons. We recently started working with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project to provide a legal information program at an adult detention facility in Cibola County. Each trip to the facility costs us about $200 in transportation and materials costs and staff time. If you are interested in sponsoring a trip to the facility, please make a donation here and specify “Cibola County detention facility” in the acknowledgement line. Your support makes programs like this possible. Thank you for standing with ALL immigrants in New Mexico.
On March 4, 2017, we are hosting a citizenship fair with the goal of assisting as many New Mexicans as possible as they complete their citizenship applications.
Lawful permanent residents who are eligible to apply for citizenship will have the opportunity to complete their applications with the help of trained volunteers and will have their completed application reviewed by an immigration attorney.
If you or someone you know is interested in applying for citizenship, please pre-register today by calling our office at (505) 247-1023.
FREE CITIZENSHIP FAIR
SATURDAY, MARCH 4, 2017
10 AM – 5 PM
ACE LEADERSHIP HIGH SCHOOL
1240 BELLAMAH AVE NW, ALBUQUERQUE, NM 87104
En el 4 de marzo, 2017, ofrecemos una féria de la ciudadanía, con la meta de ayudar a lo más gente posible en llenar sus solicitudes para ciudadanía.
Si eres residente permanente (LPR), y si eres elegible para ciudadanía en los EE.UU., un voluntario calificado te ayudará en preparer tu solicitud, y entonces un abogado de inmigración la revisará.
Si tienes interés en solicitar la ciudadanía, or si conoces a alguien que tiene interés, favor de pre-registrarte hoy teléfoneando a nuestra oficina en (505) 247-1023. Se habla Español.
Sábado, 4 de marzo, 2017 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
1240 Bellamah Avenue NW
Albuquerque, NM 87104
“I want dreamers to come from the United States. I want the people in the United States that have children, I want them to have dreams also. We’re always talking about dreamers for other people. I want the children that are growing up in the United States to be dreamers also. They’re not dreaming right now.” -Trump at a February press conference in North Carolina1
The target of President-elect Donald Trump’s above statement are the “DREAMers”: undocumented youth in the United States with hopes and dreams for a better future. The term comes from the DREAM Act (short for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), a legislative bill that would provide undocumented youth who grew up and were educated in the United States with a path towards permanent residency. Despite being reintroduced multiple times since its initial presentation in 2001, the DREAM Act has never made it through Congress. Many DREAMers now rely on the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, an executive action that provides beneficiaries with temporary protection from deportation and a work permit. It is estimated that 15,000 youth in New Mexico alone are eligible for DACA, and 700,000 people throughout the US have already received immigration relief through this program.
As you may have heard (or could probably guess), President-elect Trump has promised to eliminate DACA immediately upon assuming office. And unfortunately, because it is an executive action, he can. In the statement above, as well as many other statements made both before and after his election, Trump makes two objectionable assumptions about DREAMers. First, underlying much of Trump’s rhetoric is the assumption that DREAMers are not ‘American’. Yes, these youth were not born in the United States, but this country is certainly their home. All DACA recipients arrived in the US as a child and have a US high school diploma, GED, or are in the process of getting one. Additionally, Trump continually purports that the success of immigrants comes at the expense of people who were born here. Ensuring that immigrants can work legally and without fear of deportation will make the whole country stronger, not weaker.
Having had the opportunity through NMILC to work with DREAMers on DACA cases, I can attest to their work ethic, compassion, and dedication to their families. Here are the stories of two DREAMers in New Mexico that I have had the honor of working with.
Patricia2 is 21 and came to the United States with her parents when she was three years old. Her parents left everything behind in a rural area of Chihuahua, Mexico, in hopes of giving Patricia the opportunity to receive an education in the US. She applied for DACA as soon as she could and has been able to work ever since, supporting herself while taking a full course load at the University of New Mexico with the goal of becoming a doctor. When Patricia’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, Patricia began supporting her parents and helping them pay their medical bills. Patricia just renewed her DACA and is hoping it is approved before Trump takes office so she can continue attending UNM and supporting her family.
Maria is the single mother of a bouncy five-year-old. For years, she lived with her abusive ex-husband. After applying for DACA, she felt safer reporting the abuse to the police and was able to support herself and her daughter with her new work permit. When she called the police, a domestic violence shelter connected her with NMILC, where an attorney informed her that she was also eligible for a special visa for victims of violent crime. Her work permit through DACA allows Maria to have a job she likes and not worry about being separated from her daughter as she follows the two year wait period for her visa.
We don’t know exactly what will happen with the program on January 20th, but we hope that Dreamers like Maria and Patricia will be able to continue to benefit from the peace of mind that DACA brings.We know that we’re stronger together; when more young people in the US have security and employment opportunities, it benefits not only those individuals but their families, their community, and their country.
What are some steps NMILC is taking now?
1. Donald Trump on DREAMers: DACA Is ‘Great’ But Gives Disadvantage to US-Born Children
2. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.