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Three Reports: Border Crisis Discussion with Enrique Morones

Authors:  Jeremy Ogul, Miriam Raftery, Dick Hatch

Over 50,000 young Central American children have sought refugee status in the United States this year.  Some are fleeing gang violence and drug trafficking, others are escaping grinding poverty or trying to reunite with family already here.  Heart-wrenching photos flood TV and internet – children risking life and limb atop fast-moving trains… youngsters crammed into inadequate holding facilities… angry protestors raising signs and voices… concerned counter voices offering succor… politicians swaying in the ensuing squall.  The images are vivid, the discussion heated – and prolonged.

And the children wait, caught in a seemingly endless – and excruciating – limbo.

Moved by their plight, the people of the United Church of Christ of La Mesa (UCCLM), have mobilized to seek knowledge, encourage concern and offer help and support.   Following a letter-writing campaign and a visit with Rep. Susan Davis, they were ready to take the next step, one they invited the community to share.

At 3:00pm, Sunday, August 17, Enrique Morones of the Border Angels/Angeles de la Frontera, speaking to a large audience and several local media reps, discussed the work of the Border Angels and the issues behind the headlines – the politics and economics behind the exodus of refugees – and suggested ways to respond to the refugees with both compassion and practicality.

Following are a trio of reports highlighting various aspects of this outstanding presentation:

1.    “La Mesa Church Seeks to Help Immigrant Children” by Jeremy Ogul
2.    “Border Children:  La Mesa Church Forum Highlights Problems and Solutions” by Miriam Raftery
3.    “Discussion:  Border Crisis” by Dick Hatch

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La Mesa Church Seeks to Help Immigrant Children

by Jeremy Ogul, Editor, La Mesa Courier,

http://scoopsandiego.com/la_mesa_courier
(used with permission)

 

Enrique Morones, Founder of Border Angels

Enrique Morones, Founder of Border Angels

As the news emerged earlier this summer of a tidal wave of unaccompanied children crossing the border from Central America, the Rev. Kaji Douša gave a sermon to her congregation at the United Church of Christ of La Mesa. Framing it as a humanitarian issue, Douša pointed to Matthew 25:40, which says: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Since hearing that sermon, an ad hoc committee has mobilized to determine what the La Mesa congregation can do to help the immigrant children, many of whom are seeking asylum from violent gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. They started writing letters to their members of Congress, which eventually led to an in-person meeting with Rep. Susan Davis. They also started donating to charities working with immigrants, according to Doug Brunson, a member of the congregation.

On Aug. 17, the church invited Border Angels founder and immigrant rights activist Enrique Morones to speak about the issue to an audience of about 50 people.

The number of Central American immigrants surged over the past year because of false promises made by the coyotes, or human smugglers, who stand to profit if they can convince desperate families to pay large sums in the hopes of landing their children in the U.S., Morones said. To counteract that problem, the Obama administration needs to support programs that encourage asylum-seekers to obtain authorization to enter the U.S. in their home countries before they travel here, as well as programs that educate Central Americans about the large number of immigrants who die in the desert as they try to cross the border, Morones said.

“Remember, there’s no visas — very few visas. Very few people qualify,” Morones said. “The biggest question that they’re asked: How much money do you make?”

Immigration authorities tend to reject applications from those who would be depending on government assistance once they arrive in the U.S., he said.

In late June, protesters in Murrieta successfully blocked buses full of women and children immigrants who were on their way to a nearby Border Patrol facility. Morones said he was appalled by the hatred and anger that the protesters directed toward the immigrants, especially the children.Enrique Morones with cross

“These children don’t speak English, but they can understand hate,” Morones said.

That was when the Border Angels kicked into high gear on behalf of the Central American immigrants. The organization helps newly-arrived immigrants find places to stay and also provides them with food, clothing and supplies as they prepare for their court hearings. The organization has collected more than 50 tons of donations since June, according to Morones.

“We have been bombarded, in a good way,” he said.

When church members asked what they could do to help, Morones said monetary donations are the most helpful, but in-kind contributions can also make a big difference. Border Angels is compiling lists of people who want to provide a place for immigrants to stay, lists of attorneys willing to work pro bono on behalf of immigrants and lists of teachers who want to help provide educational opportunities to the children while they are here.

There is also a need for specific items such as suitcases, toys, gift cards, cases of water, new children’s clothing and snacks.

Though the church does not want to be overtly political, helping the wave of Central Americans is a good example of how the church sees its role in the community, said Brunson.

“The vision we have for our congregation is to be known as an extravagantly welcoming, justice- and service-oriented, theologically progressive youth-involving congregation in East County,” Brunson said.

The group’s next step is to decide whether the members of the church want to do more than just write checks to charities. For example, there may be a congregant who would be willing to take on a child as a foster parent, Brunson said.

Jeremy OgulJeremy Ogul is a staff writer with SDCNN and the editor of La Mesa Courier and Mission Valley News.

 

 

 

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BORDER CHILDREN: LA MESA CHURCH FORUM HIGHLIGHTS PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

By Miriam Raftery, Editor, East County Magazine, www.eastcountymagazine.org

Enrique Morones with T-shirtParishioners and guests at the United Church of Christ in La Mesa lined up to purchase T-shirts proclaiming “Love has no borders,” after hearing an impassioned presentation on the plight of border children August 17th.

Wearing a “Save the Children” tie, pediatrician Dr. Richard Short introduced guest speaker Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels (www.borderangels.com).   The church congregation has committed to support Border Angels’ efforts to aid immigrant children and families fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.  Over 60,000 have flocked to America seeking asylum here, including families and children placed in detention centers here in San Diego County.

“Everybody looks to the president or the mayor. But what can we do?” Morones asked.  He emphasized that the Central American refugees are fleeing to numerous nations, not only the United States.

He gave a chilling eyewitness account of the confrontation in Murrieta recently, where anti-immigration protesters awaited the first busloads of the immigrants in our region.  “I saw the worst of the American spirit when I saw these people shouting these horrible things at children. I had tears in my eyes,” Morones recalls.   But he says it was police, not protesters, who ultimately stood in front of the busses and stopped them.

“There was a counter protester,” he notes, adding that the demonstrators “hit him, spit on him, and the police didn’t do anything.”

But when the buses carrying “moms and children” later came to a Chula Vista facility, the scene was far different, says Morones.  “WE had a press conference the next day and said `We’ll welcome these children. This could be our Rosa Parks moment,” he added of the opportunity to educate Americans about the immigration crisis.

Border Angels swiftly took in over 50 tons of donated goods—clothing, food and toys—enough to fill half a football field. The group has lined up free legal services to aid those seeking refuge and has also sought to intervene directly to protect their safety.

Some have faced dangers even in the detention centers, beyond overcrowding. Morones said a woman in a Santee shelter reported her daughter was nearly raped.  “We called the Sheriff. They didn’t arrest the man,” he adds.

Border Angels rescued the family of four, paying to put them up in a hotel.  They have worked to find 25 families willing to be host families for unaccompanied children or families awaiting processing by immigration authorities or courts.  All host families undergo background checks.

Some have faced backlash from groups espousing hate. A man who took in the immigrant family that Border Angels helped received death threats, Morones said. “The District Attorney offered him protection.” While anti-immigrant voices called for a boycott of the man’s business, Poppa’s Fresh Fish, others in the community came forward in support. “His business has quadrupled,” Morones reports.

More help is needed.  Morones said Border Angels needs water, toys, large suitcases, backpacks, gift cards (to take the children to the zoo or museums, for example) and cash.

More families willing to be temporary host families or foster parents are also needed. Most of the unaccompanied minors coming here have family they seek to reunited with, but that can be challenging. Morones told of a 10-year-old who thought America would be like a small town, where he could merely give the first name of his relative.

Once relatives are located, the vast majority of the child immigrants are sent to stay with family while awaiting hearings to determine if they will be granted asylum, permanent residency, or deported.  In some cases, their family members are not undocumented, but have legal status in the U.S.

Some who have no family here are being held in facilities in Lemon Grove and El Cajon, where they stay an average of a couple of weeks, learning English, getting medical attention, and in some cases, winding up with foster parents willing to raise the children.

Parents in Central America are so desperate to save their children from death at the hands of gangs and drug cartels that they are entrusting them to strangers—and the way here is dangerous.  Smugglers lie and tell families that if youngsters come here they will automatically receive visas and can bring other family members later on.  Some children perish on the journey or are harmed en route.

The influx has slowed, as word spreads that this is not the case. Morones predicts the number will likely reach 80,000 children arriving at U.S. borders and giving themselves up to Border Patrol by year’s end.  Mexican immigrant has already slowed 40%, but the new wave of Central Americans are now the highest population of immigrants.

Many of those coming here now are the grandchildren of people caught up in civil wars or experiencing the results of NAFTA and CAFTA, free trade agreements that destroyed commerce and agricultural jobs in Mexico and Central America, sending people north across the border. The number one reason for Latino immigrants to come here is the desire to feed their families; number two is a hope to reunite with their family members, says Morones.

Nationwide, about 35% of all  undocumented immigrants are non-Latinos, mainly Europeans and Asians, whose visas have expired. The other 65% are Latinos – but there are no visas available for them.

Morones seeks to dispel two myths about immigration.

“Myth number one: “People say get in line. There is no line,” he says of those of Latino heritage.  Those applying are asked how much money they make, so those most in need are unable to get visas to come here if they live in Mexico, Central or South America, he says. Morones own parents came here on a visa before he was born, but now those are no longer available to people in similar circumstances.

“Myth number two is that we are a country of laws,” Morones adds.  He notes that in the past, American laws allowed child labor, slavery, and barred women from voting.  “Some laws are immoral and need to be changed,” he states.

Other myths are that immigrants are apt to be criminals; the Justice Department has said that undocumented immigrants are ten times less likely to be criminals than other people in America.  It’s also a myth that the immigrants could have serious health issues; health problems found are no worse than those among immigrants crowded into Ellis Island in the past and can be easily treated, says Morones.

So what will become of the 60,000 unaccompanied children who have already come here?

“Will they stay here? We hope most will, because most are very real cases of asylum,” says Morones.  He hopes people across America will open hearts and homes to help, because “Americans are good people.”

His group asked the Obama administration to take executive action.  Morones has met with President Barack Obama.  “I said, Mr. President, `aqui not alla’ (here not there).”  Following that meeting the U.S. government has taken steps to allow would-be immigrants to apply for visas in their homelands in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The effort aims to prevent people, particularly children, from risking their lives on dangerous journeys north to escape violence.  “It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Morones said.

He reminded the audience that many of their ancestors faced the same kind of anti-immigrant attitude now facing Central American and Mexican immigrants.  Benjamin Franklin wanted to send German immigrants back to Germany, he observed.  “There was a time people said about the Polish and the Irish,” he said. “..What about `Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses?’” he asked, quoting the inscription on the State of Liberty.

He asks why the U.S. gives billions of dollars in aid to countries in the Middle East, but not to neighbors in Central America now in need. “We’ve got to help those countries so that they can help themselves…We could be doing a lot more,” he concludes.

Border Angels began over two decades ago, helping migrant farm workers living in shanty towns in Carlsbad canyons.  Later, living in Los Angeles during the riots that occurred after Rodney King was beaten by police, Morones helped organize a rally with African-Americans, Mexicans and Koreans calling for peace.  After moving back to San Diego in 1994, the year NAFTA was passed, he was horrified to see that big businesses could cross borders for commerce, but people could not.

“This great country had said, `Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,’” he recalled President Ronald Reagan’s words to the Soviet leader. “But the U.S. built its own wall.”Enrique Morones with cross 2

Since then, 10,000 people have died as a result of the U.S-Mexico border wall, Morones told the audience. “Every summer more people die from that wall than from the entire history of the Berlin Wall.”

After an Imperial County group began putting water in the desert to help save lives of undocumented migrants, Border Angels began doing so, too.  Morones  told some horror stories, such as 5-year-old Marco Antonio, who asked his father for water on the journey.  “He asked 18 men for water and none would give him any water. Why? They were already dead.”  In another case, a woman died in the arms of her son, Jesus, after smugglers abandoned her and her young children because they were slowing down the group.

The name  Border Angels came about after a Mexican TV host introduced Morones as the angel of the border, and the name stuck. The group is now a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

Morones travels annually to a graveyard in Holtville, where 650 migrants  are buried, many of them undocumented. The dead there include the first soldier killed in the Iraq War, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant.  Border Angels is a faith-based organization; Morones brings crosses to lay at the graves so that the migrants will not be forgotten; Jews who have participated brought stones in their tradition to honor the dead; Sikhs have brought flowers.

Morones has battled to shut down the Minute Men and block anti-immigrant legislation at the state and federal levels. He organized the immigrant marches on 2005, taking a caravan of 100 cars to Washington D.C., a 10,000 mile journey.  It sparked marches across the country, including 800,000 people in Los Angeles. Marches are held on the anniversary of that occasion every year since.

At the most recent, he met playwright Josefina Lopez.  She was inspired to write a new play, “Detained in the Desert,” that will debut Sesptember 19-20 at Plaza Bonita. One of the characters is based on Morones.

Each Sunday,  Border Angels holds services at Friendship Park, which was dedicated by former First Lady Pat Nixon, who stated, “May there never be a wall between these two nations.”

Border Angels recently organized a concert with symphony players on both sides of the border at the Park.  Earlier this month, Morones said he persuaded Border Patrol to open a rusted emergency door for the first time ever.  “A man said `I’ve never hugged my daughter,’” recalled Morones.  “I gave him a T-shirt as one of our volunteers; we just let them hug. It was a beautiful but very sad moment.”

He noted the partisan divide in Washington on immigrants. “Democrats want them to be citizens. Republicans want militarization of the border. But theimmigrants—most just want to be documented so they won’t be harassed by police.”

Morones recalled Mohatma Gandhi’s grandson visiting locally and telling a story of a man finding a large number of starfish washed ashore.  When he threw one back into the sea, he was asked why,  since it would make no difference to the many that would die. Gandhi’s grandson replied that it would make a difference to the starfish that he saved.

“That’s the power of one,” Morones concluded, urging everyone present to take action to help immigrants in need, especially children.

Recalling the confrontation in Murrieta, he added,  “Regardless of what you think regarding the issue, to take it out on the kids is just plain wrong.”

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(Reprinted with permission – from http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/border-children-la-mesa-church-forum-highlights-problems-and-solutions)

Hear audio excerpts from Morones’ presentation from East County Magazine radio show originally aired on KNSJ 89.1 FM:  http://www.kiwi6.com/uploads/new

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Discussion: Border Crisis

by Dick Hatch, United Church of Christ of La Mesa

La Mesa discussionEnrique Morones, Director of Border Angels, was introduced by Dr. Richard Short, who facilitated a discussion about the immigrant children border crisis at the United Church of Christ of La Mesa (www.ucclm.org) on August 17, 2014. Border Angels began when Enrique’s friend mentioned that in Carlsbad near her house, immigrant workers were living in the canyons without access to water or adequate clothing. Enrique and some friends started carrying cases of water and clothing to the workers in the canyons.

This was in 1994, said Enrique, when a series of developments made life much more difficult for poor Mexican and Central American people. First, in that year NAFTA began, which encourages commerce to cross borders, but does not allow people to cross. Second, Proposition 187 passed to deny education and medical care to undocumented workers and their families. (Prop 187 was later struck down, but the fact that it passed with a majority of voters sent a strong message to people living in Mexico and Central America.) Third, in that year, staples in the Mexican grocery that were imported from the United States became cheaper than those produced right there in Mexico. The consequences were devastating to Mexican farmers. And finally, 1994 was the year when the United States began construction of the border wall. Because it forces workers to cross the border through the desert rather than crossing in urban areas where the wall exists, it has led to the deaths of more than ten thousand human beings.

When Enrique heard that people were dying every day in the desert, he and friends including many Padres players began carrying water out to the desert and leaving it along the trails. Since family unification is a major driver of immigration, the groups crossing the desert often include children. The children slow the groups down, so the kids and their mothers are often abandoned by the smugglers to die from thirst.

In some Central American countries, police protection is nearly non-existent, and gangs are free to do anything they want. The gangs often target kids, forcing them to join or participate in criminal activities. Young girls are a special target. If the kids or their parents try to resist, they are threatened with death. When such a family hears of someone going north, they may, in desperation, ask the traveler to take the child along. It’s easy to imagine the awful desperation of a family who asks a stranger to take a child on such a dangerous journey. In fact, such children are often later abandoned and left to fend for themselves in border cities or in the desert.

Under Enrique’s leadership, Border Angels has expanded to provide legal services to immigrants, as well as to help in locating foster care and to provide witness to conditions in the government holding facilities. A continuing theme of the movement is No Mas Cruces—no more crosses—taking advantage of the fact that “cross” denotes the dangerous travel through the desert across the border and also the symbol of a death both in English and in Spanish.

Donations to Border Angels can be given on their web site: borderangels.org

Enrique next addressed some myths about immigration from Central America:

• Many of these children’s parents and relatives came on visas, so why can’t today’s immigrants just apply for visas and arrive as documented workers?

Today, there are no visas for these workers.

• Why don’t they just get in line like everyone else?

For immigrants from Mexico and Central America, there is no line. To become a documented immigrant, you must have a rather large amount of money in the bank, and these people are not wealthy.

• Has NAFTA caused this wave of immigration?

No, the immigration from Mexico is largely triggered by NAFTA, but the children coming from Central America are fleeing the high level of violence primarily caused by America’s drug war activities in Central America. America’s deportation of urban gang members to Central America has overwhelmed the already strained police of those countries. In fact, immigration from Mexico has dropped dramatically in recent months, at the same time that overwhelming numbers of Central American children began arriving.

• Are families sending kids on ahead in hopes of getting themselves an advantage in becoming documented?

No, if kids are granted refugee status, that gives their family members no advantage in applying to become documented.

• Are the kids bringing high levels of disease into the country?

No, the kids applying for refugee status are given medical exams early in their processing, and the levels of disease are no higher than you’d find in any group of kids. The centers are experiencing no unusual outbreaks of diseases.

• What happens to the kids who arrive at the border and turn themselves in?

Some are deported in daily flights to Central America. Those who have relatives in the United States who can be located are sent to live with the relatives and given a date to report to a court in that area. Some who do not have relatives who can be located are placed with foster families in border areas. Foster families are needed.

Previously printed in Vision & Voice, the e-magazine of the United Church of Christ of La Mesa.  Used with permission.  Photo by Shirley Savage.

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