Category Archives: Border Life

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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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.

Delays for asylum seekers at Arizona border not explained by traffic data

More than 50 migrants, many from Guatemala, wait in a sectioned-off area at the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Sonora. Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star

The days of waiting for immigrants seeking asylum at the Nogales port of entry in May don’t appear to correspond to any significant increase in the number of people presenting themselves at the border.

The Tucson Field Office, which includes all ports of entry in Arizona, deemed inadmissible 1,792 people in May, which includes those seeking asylum, Customs and Border Protection data show. That’s an increase from previous months but similar to December figures. The share of families and unaccompanied minors among them has been between 62 and 67 percent over the last few months after peaking at 72 percent in December.

CBP has not responded to repeated requests for an interview to discuss the process and delays. Initially, it provided the Arizona Daily Star a written statement saying the agency processed people as quickly as possible “without negating the agency’s overall mission, or compromising the safety of individuals within our custody.”

The number of inadmissible individuals CBP is able to process varied based on factors such as the complexity of the case, available resources, medical needs, translation requirements, holding/detention space and port volume, the agency said.

Tucson siblings — separated from Mom by the border for years — find ways to thrive

Family friend Lety Rodriguez, right, was on hand for Naomi de la Rosa’s high school graduation ceremony. Rodriguez has helped support Naomi and her siblings since their mother was barred from returning to the United States for 10 years in 2009. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star

Naomi de la Rosa is undecided about becoming a nurse or a teacher — she just wants to help people, a lesson she’s been learning and putting in practice for almost 10 years now.

“I want to be a teacher because I love little kids. Basically because of Bobby, I had to take care of him,” she says of her 13-year-old sibling. And a nurse, “because of my dad,” who she’s also had to learn how to take care of.

During her recent high school graduation ceremony there were a dozen relatives and friends holding signs with pictures of her, proud of everything she had accomplished. They waited anxiously as she walked on the track field to her seat, and had smartphones in hand when school officials called her name.

But some of those closest to her were missing. Her elderly father was at home with her youngest brother, Bobby. The family feared it would be too hot and chaotic for the frail 85-year-old. Her mother was about 60 miles away in Nogales, Sonora, waiting out a 10-year immigration bar that prevents her from coming back to the United States.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Federal judges in Tucson recommending illegal border-crossing parents, children be reunited

Volunteers from Parroquia del Carmen (a Nogales, Sonora parish) set up a table to serve breakfast to the more than 50 migrants, seated at right, queued at the Mexican side of the DeConcini Port of Entry on May 31, 2018, in Nogales, Sonora. The majority of them are family units from Guatemala. Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star

Federal magistrate judges in Tucson are showing signs of pushing back against a Trump administration practice of separating parents from their children after crossing the border illegally.

In more than two-dozen recent cases, judges in Tucson recommended children, some as young as 7 years old, be reunited with their parents after the parents are released from custody, U.S. District Court records show.

The magistrate judges’ recommendations for reunifications come as the Trump administration employs a zero-tolerance policy in which Border Patrol agents refer for prosecution everyone they apprehend along the border, including parents.

In Southern Arizona, parents and their children illegally cross the border near Lukeville and flag down agents or otherwise surrender, according to the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector.

While those parents face judges in federal criminal courts in Tucson, others immigrants head to a port of entry in Nogales where they spend days waiting to cross over for a chance to ask for asylum in the United States.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Feds mull retrial after border agent cleared in Mexican teen’s killing

Protesters block traffic at Congress Street and Sixth Avenue, shutting down traffic, after Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz was found not guilty of second-degree murder on April 23, 2018. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on two lesser charges of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star.

Federal prosecutors will consider whether to retry Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz on lesser charges after a jury acquitted him Monday of second-degree murder in the 2012 death of a Mexican teen.

“We are very disappointed for the family, for the victim and for the community,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst outside the federal courtroom in Tucson after the verdict, which was followed by protests that blocked downtown streets into the night.

After nearly five days of deliberations, the jury of eight women and four men also told the judge it was hopelessly deadlocked on the two less-serious charges it was considering against Swartz, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.

Kleindienst said prosecutors will assess what was going through the jurors’ minds before deciding whether to retry Swartz on the manslaughter charges.

“It’s too soon to tell,” he said. “We all might be back here again.”

Swartz was charged in the October 2012 killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez of Nogales, Sonora. The agent is accused of firing 16 shots through the Nogales border fence in response to a group of rock throwers, including Elena Rodríguez, who was hit eight times in the back and twice in the head.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star or scroll below for complete trial coverage.

Big talk, little change on Trump’s border

Alex Brandon / Associated Press

After months of tough campaign rhetoric, the Trump administration touted a steep decline in border-crossing arrests as evidence of a “new era.”

In Arizona, the arrest of an unauthorized immigrant at a Pima County court and a raid on a humanitarian aid camp near Arivaca offered further signs of an immigration crackdown.

But what exactly has changed along Arizona’s border with Mexico?

Federal immigration agents have arrested people at courthouses before.

The Arivaca camp raid wasn’t the first of its kind; Border Patrol agents also raided it in 2014.

And while arrests of border crossers did plummet after Trump took office in January, they had been declining for years. In 2016, there were 65,000 apprehensions in the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, down from more than half a million in 2000.

The truth is, Trump officials are not so much taking border enforcement in a radical new direction as they are tweaking the formidable border security machine built during the Bush and Obama administrations.

So Southern Arizonans without legal status find themselves in a familiar position: trying to figure out the new rules. While campaign bluster about mass deportations has subsided, the federal government is threatening to deport non-criminals living in this country illegally and is prosecuting first-time crossers, something that had largely stopped under Obama.

Scaling up those efforts would be monumentally difficult. The U.S. doesn’t have enough judges, immigration officers or detention space for mass deportations.

The Arizona Daily Star spoke with about three dozen faith leaders, school administrators, organizers, law enforcement officials, lawyers, service providers and immigrants, and gathered data from law enforcement agencies and courts to see what has changed — and what hasn’t — under the new administration.

The Star found that while people are scared, they are not hiding. Instead, they are taking steps to prepare themselves and their families in case they are stopped by a local police officer or get a knock on their door from immigration authorities.

Elma Esquer, middle, talks with Imelda Cortez of Paisanos Unidos about a time when immigration officers came into her house looking for someone else. Daniela Zuñiga, left, and her son Manuel Armenta, right, listen. The group was discussing their legal rights during a cafecito in August. Cortez told them about their right to have an attorney and advised them to be wary of signing documents. A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star

They already know they have to be ready, particularly in the seven years since Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070, one of the toughest immigration laws in the country.

Attendance is up at citizenship prep classes and know-your-rights workshops put on by the Mexican Consulate and grassroots organizations. Families are developing plans to protect U.S.-born children in case their parents are deported.

Some schools saw a slight dip in enrollment after Trump was elected, but for the most part fears subsided and attendance rebounded after principals and teachers reassured students they were safe at school.

Trump’s plan to build a “big, beautiful” wall is proceeding, but not yet on the widely fenced and heavily patrolled border in Arizona. And in recent months, he has said we may need only 1,000 miles of border wall because the rest — another 1,000 miles — already has natural barriers like mountains and rivers.

In Tucson’s federal court, first-time illegal crossers now face criminal charges, but criminal immigration prosecutions are fewer than they were during most of the Obama administration largely because the number of crossers is so much smaller now.

Local sheriff’s departments are holding fewer people for federal immigration officers, and police are not checking as many people’s immigration status, as required by SB 1070, after a state attorney general opinion said an Arizona ID or driver’s license is sufficient proof of legal status. The opinion emphasized that local authorities can’t detain people just to check immigration status.

While Border Patrol agents are catching fewer crossers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are arresting more people already in Arizona. ICE arrests are up nearly 13 percent in the state from January through April compared to the same period in 2016. But that’s still 26 percent below what was reported in 2014.

And Trump’s announced crackdown has run into predictable obstacles, such as the intractable backlog in immigration courts that stymies deportations. Those challenges persist even though two more immigration judges were assigned to Arizona and attorneys say judges are moving through cases faster.

Considering all that, the Trump administration faces a steep climb in realizing a “new era” in border enforcement.

Seven months into Trump’s administration — despite the rhetoric — the Arizona border remains largely as it was before he took office.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.