Volunteering in Tijuana
For Martin Luther King day and week, Paloma Barreiro, our immigration lawyer and Bruna Wakefield, our former legal assistant, and I volunteered with Al Otro Lado in Tijuana #ALOTROLADO.
During our six days of service, we mostly helped families in the Remain in Mexico program. This policy is also known in the human rights community as the MPP- for Migration Persecution Protocols or #Bordercruelty. This draconious policy forces asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while they wait for their court hearings. I learned about the danger, and lack of resources asylum-seeking families are facing in Mexico. Many of the times, showing up to court can be impossible. Because there are possibly no legal services that can support the tens of thousands of families who are now in Mexico, our job was to prepare families to represent themselves in court.
We helped families prepare their asylum petitions and supporting evidence at the Al Otro Lado office in Tijuana. We also explained how the court system and the law works, and helped families to understand the best ways of telling their stories to the judges. We also prepared declarations with families that were in great danger in Mexico. The families I assisted included a woman who was kidnapped and sexually abused for over a month, a family whose persecutors found them in Tijuana, and were trying to kill them, and a mom who about to give birth.
During my time in Tijuana, I prepared approximately five asylum petitions and four declarations along with supporting evidence. I also provided nearly five detailed consultations.
The most rewarding part of the work was to realize that we were empowering asylum seekers to fight the system. I also learned so much from the strength and love shared by the families. The most challenging part was to acknowledge that many of the claims would fail no matter how meritorious the cases were because of the system created by racism and xenophobia that prevails in our government.
Our most significant success was to assist paroling two very pregnant moms and their families into the United States during our very last hours of volunteering. I worked with one of the moms and her eight-year-old son throughout the week to prepare a parole packet, which would allow them to fight their asylum case in the United States. They came to Tijuana from Honduras fleeing domestic violence and gang violence in Honduras. After reaching the border, CBP placed them in a "hielera" for many days. Then, CBP sent them back to Mexico to wait for each of their court hearings. In Mexico, they were subject to much violence and lack of access to housing and health care. The eight-year-old boy was sick, and the mom was nine months pregnant and did not have a plan for the birth of her baby. To make matters worse, immigration officers knowingly scheduled her court hearing for her due date. She would never make it to court.
Our team stood with the families outside of the port of entry for a few hours. It was cold and dark. We did not give up until CBP granted parole. A few days after being back in the United States, I learned that one of the moms gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby girl in a safe place and that they were ready to reunite with family members in New York. I was so happy for them and happy to find out our efforts made a difference in their lives.
There is an unprecedented human rights crisis in the border, and much help is needed. If you are able, please volunteer or stand up for the families in any way you can.
We thank Project Corazon L4GG #L4GG for funding our volunteer work.