Some of my favorite stories of 2014

Here are some of the most interesting stories I worked on in 2014.

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200 freed from immigration custody in Arizona

More than 200 people have been released from immigration custody in Arizona in the last month following the Department of Homeland Security’s new enforcement priorities, ICE officials said.

On Nov. 20, President Obama announced that parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents may apply for temporary relief from deportation and for work permits. He also expanded a similar program for children brought to the country illegally. About 140,000 people may benefit in Arizona, the D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute estimates.

The same day, citing limited resources, the DHS issued new guidance on who is a priority for deportation, including who agents and officers should stop, question and arrest, and which people they should release.

Nationwide, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released 618 people as of Dec. 27, following case reviews of people in custody. That includes detainees who appear to qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents, as well those who no longer fall within DHS’ specified enforcement priorities based on their case histories, ICE officials said in an email.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Women volunteers work for a better Mexico

Volunteer Doña Lupita Mota, 73, stirs the soup she is making for lunch while talking with Alma Angelica Macias Mejia, middle, and Esther Torres at the Home of Hope and Peace. Photo by A.E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star.

NOGALES, SONORA — Doña Lupita Mota grabs her cane and pink Betty Boop tote bag, blows a kiss to her two cockatiels, and says goodbye to her 76-year-old husband before she heads out the door.

She has to be at the Home of Hope and Peace by 9 a.m.

It’s not far, but the 73-year-old totters up a steep dirt road, then grabs on tight to a metal railing as she pulls her way to the top of a long stairway that winds up the hill.

Every day she can, she makes the trek to help prepare lunch for more than 100 hungry children from impoverished neighborhoods. This might be the only warm meal they have all day.

The Home of Hope and Peace is a grass-roots organization that works to empower Nogales residents to create their own opportunities so people don’t feel forced to immigrate to the U.S., risking arrest or death in the desert.

The center is in the heart of the area it aims to help. To the north is the steel border fence. To the south, tiny houses, some held in place by old tires, cling to the hillside.

“It’s about building a more just community in order to have a generation of boys and girls who don’t only see the border as a place of deportations and misfortunes,” said the center’s director, Jeannette Pazos, “but also of opportunities.”

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Report: Migrants often deported without personal belongings

Sara Camarillos, 41, picks out clothes at the Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Sonora. She was deported more than a week ago after being caught by the Tucson sector Border Patrol. Photo by Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star.

NOGALES, Sonora — Sara Camarillos arrived here more than a week ago, without a dime in her pocket and no official identification.

The 41-year-old tried to cross the border illegally through Altar but was caught by the Border Patrol. She carried a backpack with a change of clothes, her Mexican voter ID, about $20 in pesos, a camera card with pictures of her children and a piece of paper listing her relatives’ phone numbers.

For someone who lives off subsistence farming, that $20 can mean getting back home safely.

Camarillos said she was transferred about five times in the 11 days she was detained. She’s not sure where because she can’t read or write.

She said she never got a list of what she was carrying the day she was apprehended.

“When they were going to deport me I asked about my things and I was told I would get them before I was sent back,” she said Tuesday from the Aid Center for Deported Migrants.

And when she was dropped off at the port of entry, she said, she was told her consulate would help her.

She never got her belongings.

Camarillos’ story is a common one, especially among those who go through multiple detention centers or those criminally prosecuted and serve more than 30-day sentences, a local immigrant rights group said.

Through a report titled “Shakedown,” set to be released today, No More Deaths members said they want to shed light on a problem that is largely invisible, but one that hugely impacts migrants when they are most vulnerable.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Binational border ministry Frontera de Cristo celebrates 30th year

Miriam Maldonado, with Frontera de Cristo, helps children hold banners containing messages of love and peace that adorn a church service celebrating the 30th anniversary of the binational ministry in Douglas and Agua Prieta. Photo by Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star.

AGUA PRIETA, Son. — Borders are often divisive but they can sometimes also help bring people together, as with Frontera de Cristo.

The binational Presbyterian ministry celebrated its 30th anniversary Saturday with a service, food and music and about 100 people from both sides of the border — with some coming from as far as Florida.

The ministry was born in 1984 out of the idea of having two churches on both sides of the border truly working together, said founding member Jerry Stacy, who traveled from San Antonio to be part of the event.

“We wanted to learn how to build bridges of common understanding and friendship,” he said.

Frontera de Cristo is one of seven binational ministries of the Presbyterian church from San Diego/Tijuana to McAllen/Reynosa.

It’s one of the most progressive, Stacy said. “They’ve even gone beyond the border.”

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Tucsonans protest Mexico’s handling of missing-students case

Daniela Castro locks hand with other protesters outside the Mexican Consulate in Tucson in support of the 43 Ayotzinapa college students who disappeared in September. Photo by Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star.

Holding signs with the pictures of each of the 43 missing students in Mexico, more than 150 protesters gathered Thursday in front of Tucson’s Mexican Consulate demanding answers and seeking justice.

“The students who disappeared are the future of Mexico,” said Tony Ortiz, a 32-year-old Oaxaca native who came to the United States 10 years ago. “If we want the injustice to stop, we need people to study, to prepare themselves and for the deaths to stop.”

“We are disillusioned things haven’t changed,” said Tucson protester Monica Velasco, Ortiz’s wife.

Protesters handed a petition to Ricardo Pineda, the Mexican consul in Tucson, to be delivered to the Mexican foreign minister. In it, they demand a rapid resolution to the case, that the 43 students missing since September be returned alive and that all of those involved face justice.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Border Patrol recruitment push seeks women

Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Julie Gallagher, left, and Agent Crystal Amarillas scan the desert near Sells. Just 5 percent of Border Patrol agents are women. The percentage in supervisory or specialized jobs is even smaller. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.

The Border Patrol is hiring, and women are especially encouraged to apply.

After previous recruitment attempts had limited success, one of the largest law-enforcement agencies in the country is stepping up its efforts to increase the share of women who work as agents in the Southwest. One of the reasons for the special recruitment is the number of female border crossers, which jumped to nearly 121,000 last fiscal year — a 173 percent increase from 2011.

To increase its pool of female applicants, Customs and Border Protection sought for the first time a Title 5 waiver from the Office of Personnel Management to restrict the 10-day announcement to women only. There’s no specific number of positions allotted to women, but the agency is seeking to hire 1,600 agents through this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The waiver does not mean jobs can be offered only to women, but it allows the agency to specifically recruit them.

“First and foremost, we are agents first,” said Leslie Lawson, patrol agent in charge of the Nogales station. “Whether male or female, we need agents that are tenacious, who have physical stamina, are able to learn Spanish and the law, and feel comfortable and confident in an environment where you might be working by yourself.”

Of nearly 21,000 Border Patrol agents, only 5 percent are women, a share that has remained stagnant during the last several years.

The number of those in top leadership positions or specialized units is lower.

Only two of 22 sector chiefs are women; two others recently retired. The Border Patrol didn’t provide the number of station chiefs who are female before deadline, but in 2011 the Star reported women led only five of the 122 stations — including Lawson.

The Border Patrol Tactical Unit has no female agents, and only four women have become members of the specialized Border Patrol, Search, Trauma and Rescue Unit.

In the past, the Border Patrol has recruited on military bases, colleges and through women’s magazines to increase diversity, but the numbers remained the same.

The Border Patrol recognized years ago that its recruiting efforts were not meeting its needs for more female agents, Lawson said.

Along with the need for more female agents to facilitate the screening of female detainees, Lawson said the agency wants to increase its diversity to better represent the populations it serves.

Agency work groups have shown the issue is both recruitment and retention, she said.

“As we women enter our childbearing years, just like in a lot of other professions, we may be the ones to choose to leave the workforce in order to raise our kids,” she said. The Nogales station includes a lactation room.

The shift work and the remoteness of some of the locations agents are assigned to are also issues that other agencies don’t have to deal with, Lawson said.

Across all federal law-enforcement agencies, women make up about 14 percent, said Catherine Sanz, president of Women in Federal Law Enforcement, a nonprofit agency that seeks to address the reasons why women are underrepresented in sworn law-enforcement positions.

“Every agency I’ve spoken to says they have trouble recruiting women,” she said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.