WASHINGTON – Rosa Murguia couldn’t help but cry Wednesday as she recounted how she missed her last chance to see her brother alive because she didn’t have the proper documentation to return to the United States if she visited her native Dominican Republic. Murguia, 62, of Sterling, Va., is one of thousands of people who stood in 90 degree heat on the West Lawn of the Capitol to rally for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. “I think this reform should be to protect people,” Murguia said. “Too many people have been cheated and hurt, I’m one of them, it’s not right for hard workers to live in shadows.” Gustavo Torres, rally organizer and executive director of CASA in Action, said the rally was three months in the making, and he was happy with the turnout.
WASHINGTON – El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar told a House subcommittee Wednesday that undocumented immigrants should get legal status without so much debate over whether U.S. borders are secure. Her opinion runs counter to what most Republicans and many Democrats have been saying in the debate over immigration reform. Escobar was invited to testify by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, the senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, because of Escobar’s outspoken push for immigration reform. The subcommittee also heard from three witnesses from the Department of Homeland Security. The purpose of the hearing was to understand how border security should be measured.
A prominent bi-national task force argued that although the U.S.-Mexico border is tighter than ever, both countries should expand cooperative law-enforcement efforts along the border to enhance security. “As part of our border security recommendations the task force also urges a counterpart to the U.S Border Patrol on the Mexican side of the border,” said Robert Bonner, co-chair of the joint Task Force for the Pacific Council on International Policy (PCIP) and the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI). According to the task force, which met Feb. 27 at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., the border is more efficient and secure now than in previous years. “Border relationship has greatly evolved over the last few years,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Woodrow Wilson Mexico Institute.
Editor’s note: This blog is part of a series of first person essays about identity written by UTEP honors students during the spring 2013 semester. I used to be a real Mexican. I know because I have a little black cassette tape that was made 32 years ago. It’s an artifact of another time. A time I don’t remember well.
WASHINGTON – A pathway to citizenship was the main topic of discussion Tuesday at a House hearing, the first to take place since proposals for immigration reform were introduced in the new Congress. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro pushed for citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. “I believe that is the best way and it is in our nation’s best interest,” Castro said. “We’re a nation of immigrants. We’ve progressed because we are pragmatic.
Pvt. Juan Benjamin Alcantar and his wife were living in Chicago when he decided to join the U.S. military. At the time, he was going to college and working in a warehouse. “It was hard to keep up on school and my duty as a husband,” said Alcantar, 25. “To me it [joining the military] is something that’s a great idea to do.”
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Yolanda Miranda welcomes her Sunday morning congregation with hugs and handshakes. She seemed to know all 20 members at Manantial de Vida United Methodist Church. Miranda came from Costa Rica to Abingdon, Va., in 1990, later changing her visitor’s visa to a religious worker’s visa as she began missions work. At that time Miranda knew of no Latino community in the area. But as Miranda said, that’s when God sent her angels: Bob and Carol Jones, an Abingdon couple who took her to the immigration offices to help her change her visa.
SAN FRANCISO – In a night full of online journalism superstars, Borderzine’s bilingual Mexodus project won the Online Journalism Award for Non-English Small/Medium projects at the ONA conference here September 22. Mario Tedeschini-Lali, deputy director for innovation and development at Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso in Rome, and Rosenthal Alves, director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at The University of Texas in Austin, presented the awards for Non-English projects. Alves declared Mexodus the winner by reading one of the judges’ comments – “It gives a broad and deep look at life and death issues and amazing collaborative efforts by student journalists and their teachers,” Alves said. For months, students and professors from universities across the U.S. and México requested public records, reported and created multimedia stories that exposed the journey of thousands of middle class families who fled Mexico to escape the violent drug war. The project was led by the University of Texas at El Paso.
A student project that explored the migratory effects caused by drug violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and a comprehensive reporting package on the ongoing development of Paraná state in Brazil won the Online News Association’s 2012 awards for non-English projects during the ONA’s latest conference in San Francisco. “Mexodus,” published by Borderzine, a bilingual student publication of the University of Texas in El Paso, aimed to document the flight of families and businesses from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico to its sister city of El Paso, Texas. The mass migration followed a surge in drug violence and petty crime in the Mexican border city. Students from four universities in Mexico and the U.S. contributed to the nine-month project and published around 20 stories in both Spanish and English. “Retratos Paraná,” published by the Curitiba-based daily Gazeta de Povo was a four-month project in which a team of journalists traveled across more than 6,200 miles in the Brazilian southern state of Paraná to paint a detailed picture of the developing region.
EL PASO – A guard takes the hand of a woman, rolls her fingers on black ink, and is marked as an illegal immigrant into the computer as she looks around a room filled with guards and other detainees, not knowing when the next time she may see her children or husband after being pulled over by an officer. Students and professors gathered at the University of Texas at El Paso on March 26, to watch a film screening of the documentary Lost in Detention, which was hosted by Amnesty International. The meeting highlighted the issue of abuse against immigrants that occurs in detention centers across the U.S.
“Right to freedom, right to public trial, rights being stripped from non-citizens. The whole issue is tainted. If we continue to fail, things will only get worse,” said Patricia Quezada, President of the UTEP chapter of National Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA).
EL PASO — As the drug war rages on in México, the number of students that have enrolled in El Paso schools due to the violence remains unknown and unrecorded by schools. Ysleta and the Socorro Independent School Districts said there is no clear indication that people fleeing México to escape the violence have dramatically affected either district. “I know students are coming in from México, but I cannot say with any certainty and there is not any data that I can look at right now that tells me that we have grown by any significant number and that we can directly attribute that to students coming in from México to flee the violence,” said Hector Giron, director for Bilingual/ESL/LOTE Department for YISD. For students that have already made the transition to U.S. schools, the main challenge for them has been overcoming the language barrier. A junior from Montwood High School in the SISD, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he has been going to school in the U.S. for six years and due to his level of English he felt intimidated when he began school here.
EL PASO — Mariana had always dreamt of her quinceañera party. For several months, she and her family planned the celebration, looked for the nicest dress and the best place, sent the invitations and ordered a big cake. But exactly 15 days before the big day, she was kidnaped from her home by a gang of thugs. On April 1st, 2009, 20 men dressed as Mexican police agents broke into her house in a small town in the state of Chihuahua, beat up her father and threatened him and the rest of the family. They took her away for two days and one night.
CIUDAD JUÁREZ – María, a mother of four children and business owner, says her family has had to adopt “survival” measures to protect itself from the crushing daily violence plaguing her city. “We had to install a system of cameras that we monitor from home through the Internet,” said María, 54, who requested that her last name, details of her family and name of her businesses not be disclosed. This was after her family had to pay a “quota” when several of its businesses were targets of extortion, one family member was victim of an “express kidnapping,” and they realized their businesses were under constant surveillance by criminals. Subsequently, the family has contracted a security guard and installed alarms. By early afternoon, they lock the doors of their businesses and, as soon it starts to get dark, open the door only for known customers. They also removed business ads from the telephone directory and switched business and private telephone numbers to unlisted numbers.
EL PASO — Three years ago, Carlos Gallardo Baquier’s 14-year-old son was victim of a kidnapping attempt. Three armed men assaulted the boy just outside the garage of his house, but before they caught him he escaped. The event, however, prompted his family to flee Juárez, leaving behind their already successful catering business in the city. “It was traumatic for the entire family,” Gallardo Baquier said. “Even though it is more difficult to manage our business here because of the regulations, it is more important to be safe.”
For 20 years, Gallardo-Baquier, owner of Gastronómica de Juárez, ran the successful food service company for maquiladoras in Ciudad Juárez.
EL PASO — A young policewoman feels trapped living in abysmal despair after fleeing a Mexican town near the border. She attempted to uphold the law in a society fed by narco-violence, but faced insurmountable opposition. Now, her only escape hinges on the uncertainty of the U.S. legal system. “You have to run away like a rat because you don’t know who to be careful from,” she said in resigned desperation. “You feel like everyone wants to kill you.”
This woman, who refused to provide her name because her life is in danger, has seen the worst of her society from the known criminals and those who are supposed to uphold justice.
EL CENTRO, Calif.–A new and different kind of life was breathed into the abandoned Anchor Blue store in the Imperial Valley Mall over the weekend. Where teen togs once filled the retail space, the Imperial Valley’s first-ever film and art festival took place. The Inaugural Imperial Valley Film Festival & Artist Showcase featured works by artists who live in or were raised in the Imperial Valley. All films were produced by valley residents or were shot in the valley by independent directors. Most of the art was heavily influenced by the experiences of living near a depressed border.
EL PASO — Immigration on the U.S.-Mexico borderland is portrayed in popular culture as criminal and illegal to audiences that are disconnected from the reality of immigrants who cross the border to save their families from poverty and widespread violence. “Would you risk everything to come to the Unites States?” Dr. Richard D. Pineda asked an audience at the University of Texas at El Paso. He followed this thought with the example of an immigration raid in northern Iowa. Workers at several meat-packing plants were apprehended and taken to deportation facilities. “Even though that force was essentially gutted on that day, they’ve been replaced,” he added, explaining that those plants now show record outputs, “and I can assure you those are not workers working in high level jobs, but workers working for a minimum amount of pay.”
The economic incentive for immigration is too high in the United States and a variety of tasks require a “disposable workforce,” one that comes in the form of undocumented immigrants, explained Pineda, an associate professor of communication at UTEP.
EL PASO — Mario Fernandez, 45, crossed the border illegally in search of opportunity and a better life, but he found himself here without rights or guidance and countless unanswered questions. But now, a new publication is on their side. Nuevos Paisanos magazine was launched in February to help inform and aid immigrants with useful information. As of now, Nuevos Paisanos is the first immigration-oriented publication in El Paso. The inspiration came from “The tens of thousands of nuevos paisanos – hence, the name of our publication – fleeing from the dangers and harsh living conditions present in Mexico,” said editor Priscilla Portillo.
EL PASO—Two Hispanic students stood up in protest as the rest of the audience in the auditorium clapped during Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s recent speech at the University of Texas at El Paso. The female students held up signs that read “Education not Militarization” and “Security to Whom?” but only for a few seconds before they were escorted out of the auditorium. As this occurred, I wondered if their removal from a public forum is a violation of their freedom of speech. So I asked the question during my next Communication Law class and found out that what had happened is like screaming fire in a crowded theater: “You can say anything you like as long as you don’t put anyone in danger; Napolitano could claim she was in danger,” said Dr. Barthy Byrd, associate professor in the Department of Communication and an expert on media law. Napolitano barely looked up from the paper she read during her speech to acknowledge what had just happened in the audience. Afterward, she answered a few pre-selected questions that only demonstrated she really does think we owe her our gratitude for protecting the U.S. Southern border. “Some of the safest communities in America are right here on the border,” said Napolitano, claiming that she was not here doing a victory lap.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — En Chiapas, uno de los estados más australes de México, el 25.9 por ciento de los hogares no tiene agua corriente, el 32.9 por ciento tiene suelo de tierra, y el 5.8 por ciento no tiene electricidad, según el Censo del Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Geografía del 2005. En una de estas casas es donde vivía Nehemías Ramírez como trabajador de construcción hasta que se acabó el trabajo. Hace tres años se vino a los Estados Unidos buscando un mejor trabajo y para ganar más dinero. “Me gusta México y me gusta América,” dijo Ramírez.
EL PASO, Texas — I sat beside my best friend in the waiting room. We waited to hear his name called for his appointment with an immigration law expert. Filling out paperwork in an office is an unnerving experience for people like my friend. Living with illegal status means being careful with personal information. I knew and trusted the place, however, and he trusted me.
Seeking safety by immigrating to the United States, thousands of Mexicans are fleeing the violence of Juárez. They represent a new trend in Mexican immigration. Making the most of legal immigration visas available to middle and upper economic classes, some may push those visas beyond legal usage. Recent estimates of the increased numbers of new immigrants in El Paso range from 5,000 to 60,000. It is clear to see why they flee.