A Letter from the Border

Dear Friends,

Since I last wrote, there have been such drastic changes in border policies and practices that I thought it best that our Director, Teresa Cavendish, write to you to update you on how we are pivoting to address the horrific consequences of the so-called Migrant Protection Policy, or “Remain in Mexico Plan” that redirects most asylum seekers back into the violence from which they were escaping to await their court proceedings. At the end of Teresa’s letter, you will find talking points written by Alitas Volunteer, Liz Oglesby.

From Teresa:

So much has changed for us at Casa Alitas during this past year, both joyous and heartbreaking.   In 2019 Casa Alitas welcomed more than 19,000 guests through our doors – amazing!  During that year, these doors of Casa Alitas opened into our original Casa shelter, numerous hotel rooms, the Benedictine Monastery, and now into our new home at the Welcome Center.  We welcomed hundreds of new volunteers and supporters into our Casa Alitas community, and together showed time and again how it’s possible to reshape our world through acts of love, compassion, and acceptance offered one person at a time.

Tragically, it’s been just over a year since the so-called Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) – or “Remain in Mexico” – was put in place across our southwestern borders.  In November we learned of families being brought into Tucson by Border Patrol but then put on buses and taken to El Paso to be “MPP’d” into Juarez.  Still, Casa Alitas received from 30 to 80 guests each day who were released to us by ICE, though our hearts ached for the families who were taken to Juarez instead of being allowed to join us.

But now, it’s even worse.  Since January 2nd of this year, Border Patrol has been returning at least 30 people a day back into Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) with orders for these families to report to Ciudad Juarez to begin their asylum hearings.  The families must not only find a way to travel the 350 miles unassisted from Nogales to Juarez in time for these scheduled hearings, but must also find a way to survive within Mexico with little to no resources, and few legitimate opportunities to remain safe and healthy.  We are all hearing about the humanitarian tragedies unfolding within these overwhelmed border towns, which are just as horrific as the violence, deprivation and terror which drove the families from their homes to begin with.

Please take time to read the Info Release regarding the MPP and the #UNINTENDEDTIES informational/shoelace campaign, and contact Casa Alitas at alitas@ccs-soaz.org for ideas on how you can help us share this message with our communities.  If you would like an #UNINTENDEDTIES shoelace to display, please let us know!

What has all of this meant for Casa Alitas?  We still joyfully welcome new guests through our Welcome Center doors each day.  Some days we receive only a few guests, and our hearts ache again for the families who have been kept from the safety and accompaniment that we provide.  We still warmly greet the parents, children, pregnant moms, and occasional singles who come to us, and serve them as only Casa Alitas can.  Lately, the families coming to us seem even more vulnerable:  smaller babies, sicker children, more advanced pregnancies, more significant illnesses and injuries, greater complications, more uncertainties.  But this is what Casa Alitas excels at, and what we love doing!  We will be here for 2 people or 200 people, and we can manage that full range with grace and confidence.  Our home will continue to be the Welcome Center, in its current location within the County facility.  Neither Casa Alitas nor Pima County have any plans to change our relationship, and we will support each other however possible to ensure this very necessary facility remains right where it is.

We also turn our thoughts, energy and creativity towards the border, as we are solidifying plans to provide material assistance to the shelters operating in Nogales, Sonora and other border areas.  These shelters are almost entirely dependent on assistance from the U.S. side of the border in order to support the families who are now stranded, despairing, and losing hope that their simple dreams of safety and peace will ever be realized.

Please feel free to share this letter with others who might be interested in learning more about our important work, and/or who might also like to offer financial support. Your support makes our work possible. Together, we provide help, create hope, and serve all. Your gift strengthens children, families, adults, and communities. Donations can be made directly to CCS at  Support Migrant Aid – Tucson and through our GoFundMe page .  For more information about Casa Alitas shelter programs, please click here.

With deep gratitude,

Teresa Cavendish (Director of Operations, Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona)

Delle McCormick (Casa Alitas Volunteer)

For more information, please read this summary by Liz Oglesby, Associate Professor of Latin American Studies, U of A.

  • Over the past year, this administration has rolled out policies designed to thwart people from safely seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border. All of these policies are being challenged in court.
  • Under the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP),” commonly referred to as “Remain in Mexico,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is sending asylum seekers who arrive at the US-Mexico border (mostly Central Americans) back to Mexico to wait out their immigration proceedings, which can take months or years.
  • The “Remain in Mexico” Policy began in early 2019 and expanded in the summer of 2019, first in California and Texas. In November 2019, the program expanded to Arizona. By the end of 2019, US border officials had sent nearly 60,000 asylum seekers back to dangerous Mexican border cities under this program.
  • Mexican border cities are notoriously violent. Asylum seekers returned there have been targeted for kidnapping, rape, assault, and extortion by drug cartels and gangs. Mexican police also extort and abuse them. They are at risk in shelters, as well as immediately after DHS returns them, or while they are seeking food and work. They are often forced to travel on cartel-controlled roads to attend their asylum hearings hundreds of miles away.
  • During 2019, the independent advocacy organization Human Rights First documented 636 publicly reported cases of kidnapping, gang rape, torture, assault, and other violent attacks against asylum seekers and migrants returned to Mexico—likely only the tip of the iceberg. Among these were 138 kidnappings or attempted kidnappings of children.
  • Drug cartels and gangs can spot returned asylum seekers right away because US border officials routinely strip people of their belts and shoelaces. This is purportedly so detainees don’t harm themselves. But when they are sent back to Mexico, it makes these asylum seekers an immediate target to criminals.
  • Shelters in Mexican border cities are overwhelmed and overcrowded, leaving families with children, often little children, out on the dangerous and cold streets, with no food or money. Conditions are so horrendous that some parents make the excruciatingly painful decision to send their children on alone to try to re-cross the US border.
  • In November 2019, DHS began sending asylum seekers from Honduras and El Salvador to Guatemala, often without telling them where they were going. Once there, these individuals and families were told they had 72 hours to decide to return to their country or request asylum in Guatemala. Guatemalan asylum seekers, in turn, may soon be sent to Honduras or El Salvador. The ACLU calls this a “deadly game of musical chairs” that puts vulnerable people at grave risk by sending them to places the US State Department admits are some of the most dangerous areas in the world.
  • The current administration says these policies keep asylum seekers from disappearing into the US. Yet the government’s own data shows that when asylum seekers are released to the care of US-based sponsors, they regularly attend their immigration hearings (89%), especially when provided with access to attorneys (98%). There is no reason to ship these asylum seekers to Mexico or Guatemala, other than unconscionable cruelty.

Further reading:

“US Expansion of Anti-Asylum Policy in Arizona Will Turn More People Back Toward Harm,” International Refugee Committee, December 3, 2019

“Human Rights First Reports Escalating Human Rights Abuses Against Asylum Seekers Returned to Mexico,” December 5, 2019

“Asylum Seekers Stranded in Mexico Face Homelessness, Kidnapping and Sexual Violence,” ACLU

“I’m Kidnapped: A Father’s Nightmare on the Border,” New York Times, December 21, 2019

“House to Investigate Policy That Ships Asylum Seekers to Mexico,” New York Times, January 14, 2020

“Fact Check: Asylum Seekers Regularly Attend Immigration Court Hearings,” Human Rights First, January 25, 2019

Elizabeth Oglesby, “Forcing Guatemala into a “safe third country” agreement is jaw-droppingly insane,” The Hill, July 29, 2019