Seeing the people who cross the border

April 14, 2019

I’ve now had five opportunities to visit La Casa del Migrante in Juárez, Mexico. Originally founded by the Misioneros de San Carlos, known as Scalabrini priests named after their founder in Italy many years ago, it has always been a shelter for migrants and, since 2011, has been managed by the charismatic Padre Javier Calvillo.

In an emergency, I’m told that it could provide space for 1,000 migrants. That seems like a huge stretch. During my visits, there are usually between 400 and 500 migrants staying there and it is very crowded. When migrants reach Juárez, they are exhausted, broke, lost and subject to being victimized by local criminals. Juárez is, after all, still considered to be one of the four most dangerous cities in the world.

They are steered to La Casa where there is food, safety, shelter and medical care. Then they are given a number that denotes their place in line for an initial asylum hearing with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The fact that CBP only holds about 20 interviews a day seems like a deliberate slowdown; many migrants don’t meet the strict definition of asylum and could be screened out in minutes.

Historically, those who pass that first interview have been allowed to remain in the United States with relatives or sponsors, pending their final judicial hearing. Now President Donald Trump wants to send them back to Mexico pending that hearing. This is a disastrous and inhumane idea that would immediately overwhelm places like La Casa and cause a humanitarian crisis beyond anything we have seen to date.

During my visits, I’ve had the opportunity to interview several dozen migrants and take their photographs, when they give permission. Whether or not they qualify for asylum here, they have all made lengthy and dangerous journeys from countries that are in chaos; the per capita murder rate in Honduras is 15 times higher than in the U.S. So I admire and respect them and would hope that our government begins to treat them with human decency.

Morgan Smith has been traveling to the border at least monthly for the last eight years in order to document conditions there and assist various humanitarian organizations. He can be reached at morgan-smith@comcast.net.

Forum on immigration

The League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County is sponsoring a public forum on immigration from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the Unitarian Church of Santa Fe, 107 W. Barcelona Road. Panelists include Marcela Diaz, Somos Un Pueblo Unido; Allegra Love, Santa Fe Dreamers Project; Rebekah Wolf, New Mexico Immigrant Law Center; and Mayor Alan Webber.