Missing migrants: “Impossible to not feel responsible to carry on the search”

Robin Reineke, co-founder of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, pulls out personal effects of a deceased unidentified migrant. Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

Karen Flores never gave up on finding her mother.

She and her father traveled to the Southern Arizona desert in search of Nancy Ganoza, hired attorneys, went to Mexico and followed any lead — no matter how small — hoping to find the 44-year-old mother of two who disappeared on her way to the United States from her native Peru.

When you have a missing loved one, you are not able to become the best version of yourself, said Flores. “It’s something that haunts you every day. You don’t know if they are dead or if they need your help.”

The Tucson-based Colibrí Center for Human Rights has more than 3,000 open cases of migrants who went missing along the border, primarily in Arizona but also in Texas.

While Border Patrol apprehensions are down, the reports to the center grow. Colibrí currently has nearly 300 families waiting to get a call back, including those looking for a loved one who was trying to get back to the U.S. after being deported, said the center’s executive director and co-founder Robin Reineke.

Identifying the missing migrants and connecting them with their families is a hard and time-consuming task and while there are only a few groups in the country that specialize in it, funding is increasingly challenging, Reineke said.

“We are trying to create a centralized system so families don’t feel they have to report to different places, and to help families reclaim their loved ones’ humanity, to stop the deep anguish families feel,” she said.

“We are working really hard to get support to continue this project,” she said, but “our runway is about nine months right now.”

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

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There’s just a lot of misinformation out there…

About two dozen people, mostly Guatemalan parents and their children, wait around the pedestrian entrance of the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales as Customs and Border Protection allow about a handful of people at a time to be processed. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star

Happy to be invited to talk about immigration on the Little Faith podcast.

Check out the episode here.

CEO of Catholic Charities visits border, Tucson shelter to see asylum seekers

Valentina, a 25-year-old migrant mother from Guerrero, Mexico, holds 1-year-old son Edwin as 6-year-old Raudel looks on at Casa Alitas, a midtown migrant shelter operated by Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona. Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.

While Sister Donna Markham had seen images of children and their parents waiting outside the Nogales port of entry, the reality was 10 times more painful, she said.

“This is the first time I see people sitting outside lined up at a border like that, sitting in the heat and waiting to be tended to,” said Markham, chief executive officer and president of Catholic Charities USA, as her eyes welled with tears. “That was pretty shocking for me. And to be with people and to know how frightened they are, they don’t know what’s going to happen to them.”

Markham was in Tucson Thursday as part of a Southern Arizona visit that included talking with officials of the binational organization Kino Border Initiative in Nogales and meeting with families lined up outside the pedestrian area of the port of entry waiting for Customs and Border Protection officers to process them.

She also visited Casa Alitas, a local shelter of Catholic Community Services, where families arrived after being released by immigration officials — including some of those processed at the port of entry.

Since mid-May, the line of people, mostly from Central America and Mexico, waiting to seek asylum in the United States has continued to grow at the Nogales port of entry as the government processes a few families at a time.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Feds: Understaffing, competing priorities lead to asylum-seeker waits at Nogales

In June, there were 742 parents or guardians and their children processed at Arizona’s ports of entry, along with 143 minors who arrived alone, CBP figures show. Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

The month-to-month numbers of families and minors being processed at Arizona’s ports of entry don’t tell the full story of why some wait up to two weeks for an opportunity to ask for asylum, officials said Monday.

“Arizona is one of the most understaffed field offices that we have,” said Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations.

“The port of Nogales has 142 vacancies themselves. We temporarily reassigned officers from elsewhere to help deal with the responsibilities down there. So the variables will change month-to-month as to what we can handle and what we cannot,” he said.

Since mid-May, the line of people waiting at the Nogales port of entry for a shot at seeking refuge in the United States has grown as the wait gets longer.

In June, there were 742 parents or guardians and their children processed at Arizona’s ports of entry, along with 143 minors who arrived alone. That’s down from about 1,000 families and 169 unaccompanied minors in May, CBP figures show.

The number of people processed, though, is not that different than in December, when there were 1,036 families and 217 unaccompanied minors who came through. There weren’t any lines then.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva tours Tucson shelter for young immigrants separated from parents

“It’s clean, but it’s still a place where kids can’t leave,” U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva says after touring a shelter for migrant children north of downtown. Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star

Nearly 80 immigrant children separated from their parents at the border are housed at a shelter north of downtown Tucson, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva told reporters Friday after he toured the facility.

Since the Trump administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for border enforcement, there have been 3,000 children reclassified as unaccompanied minors across the U.S.-Mexico border, including about 100 under the age of 5, after their parents were referred for prosecution for crossing the border illegally.

But government officials have refused to provide local numbers.

Casa Estrella del Norte, the shelter visited by Grijalva, is one of about three in the Tucson area. There are at least nine others in the greater Phoenix area, according to a map put together by ProPublica.

“It’s clean, but it’s still a place where kids can’t leave,” Grijalva said after the more than hourlong tour. “At the end of the day it is still disheartening to see kids in legal limbo trying to figure out what’s going to be their status in the future.”

There are about 300 minors currently housed at the shelter — about 60 girls and the rest boys — which is operating at capacity.

Grijalva said the focus at the moment is to expedite the reunifications of those separated from their parents, which is taking about 45 days.

“It’s going to be difficult,” said Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat. “The staff was very honest — the reunification is not going to be an easy task.”

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Here’s what’s going on with family separations at the border

In this photo taken in mid-May of 2018, about two dozen people, mostly Guatemalan parents and their children, waited around the pedestrian entrance of the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales to be processed by Customs and Border Protection. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star

Pictures of children behind what appear to be cages, reports of 1,500 children lost, stories of parents being separated from their children to be criminally prosecuted, and photos of long lines of families waiting outside ports of entry have filled the news recently. But what is really happening?

The Trump administration is reacting to rising month-to-month numbers of mostly Central American families and unaccompanied minors coming to the United States. The administration says they are trying to take advantage of the country’s asylum laws.

To deter people from coming in the first place, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a “zero tolerance” policy in which Border Patrol agents are instructed to refer for prosecution everyone they apprehend, including parents traveling with their children.

The administration is separating children under two situations: one, if the parent can’t prove it’s their child; and two, if the parent is criminally prosecuted, said Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, in a recent congressional hearing held by U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson.

While CBP hasn’t provided numbers of parents prosecuted and separated in Arizona since the policy went into effect, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman said Friday that the Border Patrol along the entire U.S.-Mexico border held 1,995 minors traveling with 1,940 adults between April 19 and May 31 while the adults were prosecuted.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Tucsonans help raise money, awareness for Guatemala volcano victims

Modesto Boror, left, Sebastian Quinac and Guillermina Xajab talk about efforts to help families affected by the Guatemala eruptions. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star

One of the last times Guatemala’s Volcán de Fuego erupted, the Quinac family took to their home’s straw roof with shovels by their side. As ash from the volcano began to fall, they pushed it away before it sparked a fire.

After they secured their home, they checked on their field. It was already covered with ash.

“Everything looked gray, and two or three days later, everything was burned,” said Sebastian Quinac, a Guatemala native living in Tucson.

And that event was small compared to the latest eruption, he said.

More than 100 people have died and nearly 200 remain missing since June 3. Nearly 13,000 residents who live on the slopes of the volcano have been evacuated so far. About 5,000 of them are being housed in temporary shelters.

As the recovery operation continues amid ongoing volcanic activity, UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, cites concerns for the more than 1.7 million people now estimated to be affected by what it calls a “humanitarian tragedy.”

To help them, two Tucson groups are organizing efforts to raise funds and meet different needs.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.