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Jorge Narvaez: Youtube Star Turned Immigration Activist

One in four Latinos say they personally know someone who has been detained or deported by the federal government in the past year. For Jorge Narvaez, that someone is his mom, who is currently being detained in Arizona. Jorge became Youtube famous when he uploaded a video of him and his 6 year old daughter, Alexa, singing “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.”

 

 

Since then, they’ve been on the Ellen Degeneres Show, America’s Got Talent and have starred in a Hyundai commercial.

 

 

Jorge is using his social media platform to bring attention to his mom’s case, and to talk about the hundreds of thousands of mothers being held in immigration detention, most who have committed minor crimes or no crimes at all.

 

Photo courtesy of Jorge Narvaez

The Other Border: Puerto Rico’s Seas

There’s no fence to divide it. There are no bridges to cross or checkpoints to be checked at. There’s no desert to lose oneself in.

The other border is a 60 mile stretch of ocean between the island of Hispaniola – shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti – and the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico, known as the Mona Passage.

The Mona Passage is the main route for unauthorized immigration to Puerto Rico, mostly from the Dominican Republic. The migrants are brought over by smugglers in small wooden boats called yolas. Each boat can be packed with 100 people or more.

US Customs and Border Protection aid a group of migrants (Photo: US Customs and Border Protection).

Undocumented migrants arrive in Puerto Rico (Photo: US Customs and Border Protection).

 

 ”THE MONA IS TREACHEROUS”

“The Mona is treacherous,” says US Coast Guard Captain Drew Pearson, the man in charge of patrolling the Mona. “It can be nearly calm one minute, and then have 8-10 foot seas the next minute. And that can lead to a boat capsizing or people being ejected into the water.”

For migrants, the chance to dramatically better their lives makes the journey worth the high risk. Puerto Rico is poorer than Mississippi, the poorest state, but it’s still almost five times wealthier than the Dominican Republic.

DIFFICULT DECISIONS

Before immigrating to Puerto Rico 10 years ago, domestic worker Altagracia Pablo had been living in deep poverty in a rural region of the Dominican Republic. “We didn’t even have a house – it collapsed in a storm, and we were sleeping wherever people would let us,” she says.

She made the difficult decision to leave her two daughters and look for a better life in Puerto Rico. She borrowed $1500 to pay the smugglers. They told her to pack a single change of clothes and brought her to Miches, a town on the eastern edge of the island.

The journey took 28 hours. She remembers vomiting over and over again. And there were other problems.

“Water leaked into the gas supply, there were problems with the motor. There were fights between passengers with knives and bottles,” she says. “But in the end, thank god, we made it safely.”

US Customs and Border Protection aid a group of migrants (Photo: US Customs and Border Protection).

US Customs and Border Protection aid a group of migrants (Photo: US Customs and Border Protection).

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Altagracia arrived undetected by the authorities, but had she been caught, she might have ended up at the Border Patrol station in Aguadilla, a few hours west of San Juan, where migrants who are apprehended are taken to get processed.

“The best analogy is a door,” says Jeffery Quiñones, a communications officer for US Customs and Border Protection.  “You have to knock on the door and say what your purpose is. If you come to a place that’s not the door, it makes it a crime punishable with immigration law.”

A group of Haitian migrants, just arrived from the sea, await processing at the Border Patrol station. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

A group of Haitian migrants, just arrived from the sea, await processing at the Border Patrol station. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

 

THE DEPORTED

While I’m at the station, a new group of migrants is brought in, just picked up from the sea.

One of them, a Dominican man in handcuffs I’ll call Pedro, had lived undocumented in Puerto Rico for 11 years, working as a welder. One day while he was playing dominoes outside, he was picked up by immigration agents and sent back to the DR.

Since being deported, he’s tried to return to Puerto Rico five times. Each time the boat turned back due to ad weather. Finally, this time he made it across, but his vessel was caught by the Coast Guard. As a repeat migrant, he’ll be prosecuted, and could serve jail time.

“TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN”

Pedro shrugged off his misfortune. “You take a risk knowing you will either win or lose. Either way – amen. They’re two sides of the same coin,” he says.

 Most of the other migrants at the station aren’t Dominican, however, they’re Haitian. They look scared and exhausted as they wolf down plates of rice and beans.

Their presence reflects the changes in immigration patterns to Puerto Rico. Recently, fewer Dominicans are arriving as the Dominican economy improves. At the same time, there’s been an explosion in Haitian migrants. In 2006, only two Haitians were apprehended by Border Patrol. Last year, the number was 600.

WET FOOT, DRY FOOT

The reason so many Haitians are crossing the Mona is what amounts to a de-facto “wet foot, dry foot” policy. When Haitian migrants reach American soil, including the tiny outlying islands that are part of Puerto Rico, US immigration authorities allow them to begin asylum proceedings based on the requirement of “credible fear” of persecution in Haiti.

Those asylum proceedings can take years to resolve, and having an open case allows you to stay and, in many cases, work in the US in the meantime. But if the migrants are caught at sea, even within American waters, they are turned back to Haiti.

As word spreads in Haiti that migrants arriving in Puerto Rico are being allowed to stay, more and more are showing up. The possibility of asylum has created a cruel reality: you’re allowed to live in the United States, if you can make it here alive.

 

Photo 5: The rectory at Father Olin Pierre’s church in San Juan has become a makeshift refugee center for Haitian migrants. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

Photo 5: The rectory at Father Olin Pierre’s church in San Juan has become a makeshift refugee center for Haitian migrants. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

 

HELPING THE WEAK

The Haitians who do make it find help from Father Olin Pierre, a Haitian priest in San Juan.

“It’s a main role of a priest to help the weak,” says Father Olin. “And, they’re my people.”

Puerto Rico has no system in place for dealing with Haitian arrivals, so Father Olin has taken up the slack and turned his church into a makeshift refugee camp. Now, whenever a new Haitian boat comes in, authorities take the migrants straight here.

Cots are laid out all along the floor of the rectory. Women cook a meal of seafood as the guys watch a DVD on a portable player. One of them is 27-year-old William Joseph, who witnessed tragedy in the crossing.

“The trip was not easy,” says Joseph. The waters were rough as they were approaching land, and the Dominican smuggler forced his passengers out of the boat so he could head back quickly. They would have to swim the rest of the way. “But some of us didn’t know how to swim. I tried to save some of them too but… in the end we have five people missing.”

“They had already arrived,” says Father Olin, shaking his head. “They had a bright future ahead of them.” He trails off.

“IT’S LIKE PLAYING THE LOTTERY”

Five of Joseph’s companions drowned. Nobody knows how many migrant bodies lie at the bottom of the Mona Passage. Estimates vary – from single digits to the thousands.

“It’s like playing the lottery,” says Father Olin. For the winners who make it to Puerto Rico, and on to Olin’s church, life in the continental US is so close they can touch it. Olin raises money from his congregation to buy them tickets to Miami or New York, where family members are waiting for them. Almost no one stays in Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, Dominican immigrants, who are generally not granted the “credible fear” status needed to start asylum proceedings, can’t just zip of to the US. Many do try, however. Flights to the mainland are considered domestic, so Dominican migrants just need a fake ID to get on a plane. But, it’s risky. Most choose to remain and work in Puerto Rico, even if they are undocumented. Journalist Carmelo Ruiz says the island completely relies on the Dominican community to function.

“It’s the same dynamic with immigrants in the United States,” says Ruiz. “They do a lot of the worst work and if they left all of a sudden – who’s going to fix my car? Who’s going to mow my lawn? Who’s going to work in construction? I don’t know what would happen but it probably wouldn’t be good.”

 ONCE YOU’VE MADE IT

However, immigration in Puerto Rico doesn’t seem to stir up as much controversy as it does on the mainland.

“Illegal immigration is not necessarily an issue of public concern,” says Jeffery Quiñones, from US Customs and Border Patrol. “There’s no sense that there’s a conflict about their presence in the country.”

Kelvis Polo, the owner of a discount clothing shop in San Juan agrees – the presence of the Dominican just isn’t a big deal.

“Everywhere, you’ll find a few people who are racist,” he says. “But you don’t really see much of that here. You see it more in the States.”

Photo 2: Dominican immigrant Altagracia Pablo poses with her flag. She left dire poverty and immigrated to Puerto Rico 10 years ago. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

Dominican immigrant Altagracia Pablo poses with her flag. She left dire poverty and immigrated to Puerto Rico 10 years ago. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

 

“PUERTO RICO, I LOVE YOU”

Still, others I spoke to paint a more nuanced picture – Dominicans are the butts of a lot of jokes, and you might hear Puerto Ricans complaining about Dominican moving into the neighborhood. And, with no legal recourse to turn to, labor abuses are common.

“They treat you differently,” says domestic worker Altagracia Pablo. “You can’t complain about anything.

She says employers sometimes try to take advantage of her and make her do more work than she’s paid for. That kind of unfair treatment can make her pine for home. But overall, she says, life in Puerto Rico has been good to her.

“My dream isn’t to go back to the Dominican Republic. It’s to pledge allegiance to this flag, to the United States,” she says. “Truthfully, Puerto Rico, I love you.”

UPDATE 3/21/14:

A previous version of this article stated that Haitian migrants are allowed to stay in Puerto Rico because of a TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for Haiti, as our reporter was originally told by US Customs and Border Protection officials in Puerto Rico. Haitians who have resided in the US continuously since 2011 are still permitted to stay in the US under TPS through 2016, but new arrivals are not granted TPS.

However, Haitians arriving in Puerto Rico by boat are currently being allowed to stay with a “notice to appear” before an immigration court on the US mainland and request asylum status. This occurs if the migrant claims “credible fear” of returning to their country of origin.

The de facto situation on the ground in Puerto Rico is that Haitian migrants are being allowed to stay, while Dominican migrants caught on land or sea are removed to the Dominican Republic.

contributors1

Marlon Bishop HeadshotMarlon Bishop is a radio producer and journalist with a focus on Latin America, New York City, music and the arts. He got his start in radio producing long-form documentaries on Latin music history for the public radio program Afropop Worldwide. After a stint reporting for the culture desk at New York Public Radio (WNYC), Marlon spent several years writing for MTV Iggy, MTV”s portal for global music and pop culture. Marlon has also lived and traveled all over Latin America, reporting stories as a freelancer for NPR, Studio 360, The World, the Village Voice, Billboard and Fusion, among other outlets. He is currently a staff Producer for Latino USA.

Snow In Africa: A Puerto Rican’s Musical Dream

By the time he was twenty-one, J.T. Lopez had the kind of success many musicians can only dream of. He was a highly sought after session player in his native Puerto Rico, playing gigs and touring with some of the island’s top musicians. But he gave it all up to follow his own beat.

Photo by Maria Loewenstein

Get a peek of J.T.’s new band, Snow In Africa.

contributors1

photo_dbockDiane Bock produces stories for public radio. She’s inspired by this quote from Pete Seeger: “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

 

 

Jose Antonio Vargas: Undocumented and Unafraid

 

 

Jose Antonio Vargas has a Pulitzer Prize, but he lacks a Green Card. Vargas came to the United States at age 12 to discover his immigration papers were fake a few years later. He went on to a brilliant career winning the coveted Pulitzer in 2008. Maria Hinojosa talks to him about his upcoming documentary, the media bias against undocumented immigrants, and President Obama as the #DeporterInChief.

 

Photo By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Keeping Mayan Culture Alive In Nebraska.

More than 400 thousand Guatemalans have emigrated to the U.S, fleeing a violent civil war that led to the genocide of thousands of indigenous Mayans. Some of these Guatemalans are Mayans who don’t speak much Spanish, much less English.

In Nebraska, a group of Mayans fights to keep their culture alive and to make sure their community has access to the services it needs to thrive in this faraway place.

 Photo by Ariana Brocious

contributors1

atrowe_smallAriana Brocious is a radio reporter/producer currently working as Reporter/Morning Host at NET Radio in Nebraska, where she covers water, environment, culture and community stories. A native of Tucson and graduate of the University of Arizona, she spent four years in Western Colorado, where she worked at KVNF Public Radio and High Country News magazine, before moving to the Great Plains.

 

“The State Of Arizona”: A Microscope On The Immigration Debate

When filmmakers Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini arrived in Arizona in 2011 to shoot a documentary about the fierce battles over immigration happening in the state, they found a lot of angry people. Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 – better known as the “Show Me Your Papers Law” – was the harshest US anti-immigration bill in recent memory. Passions flared on both sides of the debate, and what started as a local initiative to curb immigration became a major national story that ultimately, changed the landscape of American politics as record numbers of Latinos made their voices heard in the 2012 presidential election in response.

Sandoval and Tambini’s new PBS documentary, “The State of Arizona,” brings audiences up-close to the front lines of those debates. Maria Hinojosa speaks with the filmmakers on about how, through intimate interviews with both anti- and pro-immigrant activists, “The State of Arizona” tells a story about the resilience and power of American democracy.

 

 

biopic-sandoval

Carlos Sandoval is the co-director/producer of the award-winning documentaries A Class Apart (American Experience 2009, Imagen Award), soon to be a major motion picture, and Farmingville (P.O.V. 2004, Sundance Special Jury Prize), which was about a small suburban town in the wake of the hate-based attempted murder of two Mexican day laborers.

 

 

 

biopic-tambini

Catherine Tambini is the co-director/producer of the award-winning documentary Farmingville. Ms. Tambini co-produced the Academy Award-nominated documentary Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse, which aired on PBS’s Great Performances/Dance In America. Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, she holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Oklahoma and a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Neighborly Policing In Alabama

Alabama is known for having some of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant laws. In the tiny town of Clanton, officers were ordered to arrest anyone with a valid visa, leading to severe cases like the arrest of a breastfeeding mother. But police chief Brian Stilwell is trying to change his force’s negative image by finally reaching out to Clanton’s growing immigrant community. Ashley Cleek went down to the Alabama town to learn more.

 

contributors1

A1_ACleek_Headshot

Ashley Cleek is a radio reporter and producer living in Birmingham, Alabama. Before moving down South, Ashley reported stories in Turkey, Ukraine, India, and Russia for American, German and British radio.  Her stories have appeared on radio shows like The World and Marketplace and on websites like PBS’s Tehran  Bureau, Global Post, and the Atlantic.

A Refuge For Detention Center Visitors

Reporter Martha Dalton takes us to the remote town of Lumpkin, Georgia. Volunteers are supporting  the family members of detained immigrants. One small act of kindness–creating a place to stay–helps these families visit their loved ones. The volunteers also create an opportunity for people to come and meet those affected by immigration detention policies.

 

contributors1

Martha+Dalton

Martha Dalton is a reporter at WABE, Atlanta’s NPR station. She covers immigration and education, as well as other local issues. Martha has worked in partnership with NPR and its StateImpact project on reporting education policy and initiatives. Before joining WABE, she reported for CNNRadio. She has worked for several radio companies in the Southeast over the years.  In her former life she was an elementary school teacher and reading specialist.  She is a native of Atlanta.

Mirta Ojito: Death In The Neighborhood

In November 2008, Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant was attacked and killed by seven teenagers in the town of Patchogue on Long Island. Later, one of his attackers confessed that hunting immigrants was a frequent pastime for his group of friends. Lucero’s death highlighted the disturbing trend that hate crimes against Latinos were on the rise and were being fueled by anti-immigrant rhetoric from local politicians. In her new book, Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All American Town, Mirta Ojito revisits Lucero’s murder and explores the trends and circumstances that lead to his tragic death.

 

Photo by Joel Saget, AFP

 

 

MIRTA_OJITO-photo_by_clare_holtMirta Ojito, a reporter since 1987, has worked for The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, and, from 1996 to 2002, for The New York Times, where she covered immigration, among other beats, for the Metro Desk. She has received numerous awards, including the American Society of Newspaper Editor’s writing award for best foreign reporting in 1999 for a series of articles about life in Cuba, and a shared Pulitzer for national reporting in 2001 for a New York Times series of articles about race in America.

 

Garden City, Kansas: A Melting Pot On The Prairie

Out on the dusty plains in the middle of the heartland is a small town that has made neighbors of people from all over the world. Garden City, Kansas, once a very white town, is today home to Mexicans, Central Americans, Asians and Africans. They came to work in the town’s massive meatpacking plants that turn cattle into beef.

We often hear about anti-immigrant sentiment in Middle America, but Garden City is exactly the opposite story. When the immigrants first started arriving, residents made the decision to open their doors and welcome the newcomers with open arms. As a result, an area once known as a cowboy capital has become a cultural crossroads.

Reporter Peggy Lowe tells us how it all happened, and Maria speaks with former Garden City mayor Tim Cruz about the value of neighborliness.

Photo courtesy of the Kansas State Public Library

 

contributors1

 

peglowbPeggy Lowe is a multimedia reporter for Harvest Public Media and for KCUR, the NPR station in Kansas City, Mo. She was previously a reporter for the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, and the Orange County Register. 

 

 

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