Photo: Undocumented in US
In an effort to renew focus on the Obama administration’s handling of deportations, between 150 and 200 immigrant activists are attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border this week. The group, consisting of both undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens who had once lived in the United States, showed up at the Otay Port-of-Entry in San Diego, California to ask immigration authorities to allow them to stay in the country either through a humanitarian parole or an asylum petition.
“This will be the third time the #BringThemHome campaign has fought for immigrants who were deported or forced to leave their homes in the United States,” the immigration advocacy group National Immigration Youth Alliance said in a statement.
“This month, the Obama Administration will hit its two-millionth deportation,” the statement continued. “The participants in this third border-crossing were deported or forced to leave the United States because of programs supported by the Obama Administration like 287g and Secure Communities. State laws denying immigrants access to a college education, jobs, or housing also made life incredibly difficult. Some were just tired of living in fear, and returned. However, upon leaving their homes, they found life even more difficult. … We will fight until everyone whose lives were built on this side of the border have a chance to return home.”
According to Steve Pavey, a photographer for The NIYA, the first set of immigrants to cross the border Monday included about 28 so-called DREAMers, or undocumented youths who were brought to the United States as children, and some of their family members. They hope to go back to states in which they grew up, like California, Texas, Arkansas, and New York. As of Tuesday, immigration agents are now in the process of either sending them to immigration holding centers or releasing them based on “whether they can demonstrate a ‘credible fear’ of persecution or torture if not granted asylum,” according to Oregon Live.
Many of the DREAMers had either left the United States voluntarily, or had been previously deported. According to Fusion, Ana and Genesis Gastelum returned to Mexico because they couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition in Arizona. But once they were in Mexico, they realized that their lives were in danger. Ana Gastelum said to Fusion, “At night we don’t go out, because we’re worried that a drug dealer will choose us as a girlfriend… If a drug dealer wants to be with you, you don’t have much of a choice. He might kill you if you say no.”
The second set of immigrants to cross the border later this week includes other undocumented immigrants hoping to reunite with their U.S.-born children. The two sets of immigrants are barred from legally returning to the United States because of their immigration status. Yet they are also afraid of returning to their country of origins out of fear for their lives.
The first set of immigrants arrived Monday at the Otay port of entry either without valid visas or without documents, intending to return to states they once called home, like California, Texas, Arkansas, and North Carolina. Both sets of immigrants are hoping to either qualify for asylum or a humanitarian visa. But in order to even begin the asylum process, they must pass a “credible fear” screening process which includes an interview, in order to establish whether these individuals may be at risk of death if they get sent back to their countries of origin. If the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) official determines that the person has a credible fear, the individual may then qualify for, but is not guaranteed, asylum status. That’s because applicants must meet a higher standard than credible fear, including having to show proof as to why the applicant cannot go back to the original country. Humanitarian visas are similarly difficult to obtain and are generally used by immigrants who have “true emergency or medical situations where they have to explain to an officer at the border why they want to be received by the United States,” according to CNN.
Both Dream Activist and The NIYA have a controversial history of forcing the issue of deportations onto the national stage. Last year, they led two sets of immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border using a similar method. Some of those immigrants in the so-called “Dream 9″ and “Dream 30″ groups were allowed to stay in the country on parole pending their asylum hearings, but others had their applications denied and were deported. And the tactics of both groups have been heavily criticized by some House Democrats, like Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who cut ties with the group. A November 2013 press statement from Gutierrez’s office noted, “the Congressman and his staff believe that the parents and families [of the Dream 30 group] were being manipulated by NIYA and its leaders and were not well informed about the law and the legal process.”
And the last time that the NIYA conducted this campaign, House Judiciary Committee (HJC) Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) jumped at the opportunity to cry asylum fraud. In December 2013, Goodlatte said, “In one example, the so-called “Dream 9 and Dream 30” voluntarily crossed the border and returned to their home countries with orders of deportation. And just days later, pursuant to their plan, they were apprehended by border patrol and claimed they had a credible fear of returning to the very country to which they just intentionally self-deported. Political stunts like these demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the asylum process and damage credible claimants.”
Controversial tactics aside, there is no question that gang and drug cartel violence has skyrocketed in Latin America and has contributed to more than 50,000 deaths in Mexico. Central America has about 70,000 members that comprise 900 gangs, but the majority of the violence stems from the so-called North Triangle covering El Salvador, Hondorus, and Guatemala.
About 66 percent of all asylum applicants originate from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, yet immigrants from these countries were not granted the greatest number of asylum requests. The top three leading countries of persons granted asylum came from China, Egypt, and Ethiopia. Only 222 applicants from Guatemala and 191 applicants from El Salvador were accepted. Honduras was not represented in the statistics. And in 2012, the Department of Justice only granted asylum to 126 out of 9,206 Mexican asylum seekers.