Tucson nonprofits scramble to find shelter space for released migrant families

Nonprofits plan to return to renting hotel rooms to help keep up with the number of migrant families coming through Tucson and avoid having some of them dropped off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at local bus stations.

“The shelters are full right now,” said Teresa Cavendish, director of operations for Catholic Community Services. “Hopefully it will relieve enough of a backlog for ICE that they just don’t need to take people to a bus station or do a street release.”

In October, Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector apprehended 1,163 parents and their children, up from 170 during the same period last year. In Yuma, agents apprehended 2,625 family units, up from 880 in the same period last year. Another 861 parents and their children presented themselves at Arizona ports of entry last month.

There’s typically a rise in apprehensions this time of the year, Cavendish said, but the current number of families is “over and above anything I’ve seen over the last 4 years.”
At least 70 fathers and their children were dropped off at the Tucson Greyhound station by ICE agents Monday and Tuesday. At least another 20 to 30 families were dropped off in Phoenix, according to Leah Sarat with the Restoration Project in Phoenix.

The nonprofits were told it was part of a new practice in which ICE would prioritize the most vulnerable migrants for space in shelters: women traveling with children and fathers traveling with children 3 years old and younger. Migrant fathers traveling with older children would be set free outside of ICE offices or dropped off at a bus station.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

ICE leaving migrant dads and children at Tucson, Phoenix bus stations, shelters say

In this file photo from earlier this year, a Mexican woman altered her pants at Casa Alitas after being released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and fitted with an ankle monitoring bracelet. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star

Under new ICE policy, migrant fathers traveling with children 4 years old or older will be dropped off at local bus stations after being released, instead of taken to area shelters, nonprofit organizations were told.

Shelters will only be contacted regarding mothers traveling with children and fathers with children under 3 years old, according to Gretchen López, who runs the Inn Project, one of the shelters that opened a few years ago to receive families being released by immigration officials.

A request for comment from Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not answered Tuesday evening.

Area nonprofits said they only found out about the new policy after Greyhound workers began to contact them, saying they had an unusual number of families at the bus stations who didn’t know what to do.

At least 70 fathers and their children were dropped off in Tucson between Monday and Tuesday, López said.

Leah Sarat, with the Restoration Project in Phoenix, said at least another 20 to 30 families were dropped off in Phoenix.

López said she went to the bus station in Tucson after 5 p.m. Monday to see what was going on. “I was able to take the majority to the shelter and to a second location run by the Inn Project,” she said. “So far, no one has been left on the street between the various shelters.”

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Mexican coffee cooperative with U.S. customers ‘helps build bridges’

Elvia Carrillo dumps arabica beans into a grinder at Cáfe Justo in Agua Prieta, Sonora. The cooperative’s farmers control the packaging and exporting, and set the price. Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

For coffee farmers in southern Mexico, the cooperative they began 16 years ago has allowed their sons to come home and make a living working the land, and it has also led to a growing number of university graduates in their community.

That is a major turn-around, notes Alonso López, one of 36 cooperative members from Salvador Urbina, in the southern state of Chiapas.

“My parents weren’t able to give me an education, only up to middle school, then we all had to help work the land or migrate to the border or the United States,” López said.

Today, his oldest daughter is studying to be a teacher. “I feel very happy to be able to give my daughter schooling,” he said. “I tell her she has to work hard; it’s her inheritance.”

In 2002, a group of coffee farmers who had migrated north to the border town of Agua Prieta, Sonora, or to the United States founded Café Justo with the help of a $20,000 loan from Frontera de Cristo, a binational ministry from the Presbyterian Church.

The ministry was grappling with how to respond to the realities of migration when a group of 25 farmers approached its board with the proposal, said Mark Adams, U.S. coordinator for the program.

They saw it as a way to try to address root causes of migration.

Sixteen years later, the coffee cooperative has grown from 25 families in the Salvador Urbina community to more than 100 across four communities, including a second group in Chiapas and one each in Nayarit and Veracruz.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Not guilty: Jury acquits Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz of involuntary manslaughter

Araceli Rodriguez, left, mother of the late Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, speaks outside the federal courthouse with supporters after Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Jose’s cross-border shooting death, Nov. 21, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.

Jurors found Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, two hours after they told the judge they were deadlocked and he told them to keep deliberating.

The acquittal came Wednesday in the Tucson courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins.

The jury didn’t fill out the verdict form on a voluntary manslaughter charge, so prosecutors are arguing Swartz could be tried again, but defense attorneys say otherwise.

Because the agent was acquitted of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, he cannot be retried on the higher charge of voluntary manslaughter, the defense attorneys said.

The judge set a status conference on the case, and those questions, for Dec. 11.

Swartz was on trial for the second time in the 2012 cross-border shooting death of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez.

“It’s been a long road” for Swartz, said Sean Chapman, one of two attorneys representing the agent. “And now it’s over. The jury did the right thing.”

He said that Swartz, who is on administrative leave, was weeping and relieved. Chapman said he didn’t know whether Swartz will return to the Border Patrol.

While the prosecutors couldn’t comment on the verdict, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst said they respected the jury’s decision.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Jurors begin deliberating in re-trial of Border Patrol agent in Nogales teen’s killing

Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. Courtesy of the family

Whether Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz shot and killed 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez because he was fed up, or to protect himself and fellow officers from rock throwers, is what a Tucson jury will have to decide.

Attorneys on both sides made their closing arguments to jurors Friday in Swartz’s federal trial on a voluntary manslaughter charge.

An earlier federal jury in Tucson acquitted Swartz of second-degree murder in Elena Rodríguez’s 2012 death, but couldn’t agree on lesser charges. The prosecution decided to retry the case. Swartz is the first Border Patrol agent to be tried in a cross-border shooting.

“Unreasonable and unnecessary. Unreasonable and unnecessary,” that’s what the shooting was, Assistant U.S. District Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier told jurors.

When Swartz fired through the border fence at Nogales, down into Mexico 16 times, hitting Elena Rodríguez 10 times in the back and head, it wasn’t about defending human life, she said, it was about not giving in.

“There’s no justification for what happened that night,” Feldmeier said, saying use of deadly force should be a last resort.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.