Latino USA

Posts Tagged ‘Immigration’

Immigration Reform Happened!

Do you ever have dreams about work? Maria Hinojosa had a dream that immigration reform passed the House of Representatives. There were celebratory marches all over the country. People were jumping up and down, crying with their loved ones. The economy was booming and immigrants no longer lived in fear. But then she woke up.

 

Matthew Kolken

Matthew Kolken is managing partner of Kolken & Kolken a full service immigration law firm located in Buffalo, New York.  He is also a national immigration reform advocate listed as one of the top-ten most influential individuals on Twitter in the field of immigration law. Follow him @mkolken

 

 

 

 

FYR_LindaChavez_t700Linda Chavez is president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, based in Washington, D.C., and a FOX News Channel contributor.

 

 

 

 

 

Juan EscalanteJuan Escalante is a Public Administration and Policy student at Florida State University. He came to the US with his family from Venezuela in 2000, but was left in immigration limbo. Escalante became an advocate for immigrants rights and his digital advocacy has been profiled by several media outlets. Escalante is currently a  beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). His parents remain undocumented.

 

 

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

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.

Colombian Villagers Return Home

In Colombia, rural villagers who fled their homes during the long years of civil war can now go back. Initially displaced and forced into urban areas, these villagers had a hard time adjusting to city life. Now, though, they find that their children have adapted in ways the older generations hasn’t, and that they are returning to a home that is not quite the same as it was when they left. Reporter Jennifer Dunn meets a family of aging coffee farmers who are trying to make a new start on their land in the face of immense odds.

 

 

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Jennifer DunnJennifer Dunn is a freelance radio producer based in Colombia. She is currently working on stories related to the nation’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, implementation of Colombia’s land restitution laws, demobilization of paramilitary forces, and farmers’ experiences with government coca eradication efforts. She was a 2006 International Reporting Project Fellow and 2012 recipient of the PRX Global Story Project award.

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

LGBTQ Immigration Detainees

As the fight for immigration reform rages on, and LGBTQ activists continue to make great strides towards equal rights, one group that doesn’t quite fit neatly into either box are LGBTQ immigrants.

This is especially true when undocumented LGBTQ immigrants get put into immigration detention.

Erika Sanchez recently wrote about this issue for truth-out.org. Latino USA Producer Daisy Rosario spoke to Sanchez and to a young man named Jonathan Perez who entered detention voluntarily.

 

 

B1_ErikaSanchezErika L Sánchez is a poet and writer living in Chicago. Her work has been published in Cosmopolitan for Latinas, NBCLatino, Truthout, Salon, Rolling Stone, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, and other publications. She is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize. Find her on  Facebook, or Twitter.

 

 

 

 

C1_JonathanPerezJonathan Perez is a queer undocumented immigrant from Colombia, and a Founder of the Immigrant Youth Coalition in  California. Perez organized successfully to stop punitive discipline policies and successfully led a campaign to build 3 new schools in his community in Los Angeles. He soon realized that he could no longer remain in the shadows. The youth who looked up to him, many of whom who were also undocumented, pushed him into immigrants’ rights work. His journey has taken him from civil disobedience to being locked up in an immigration detention center.

 

 

 

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

 

 

A Shelter For The Sex Trafficked

The United States is a top destination for people trafficked for sex and labor. For those from Mexico who manage to escape trafficking, few resources exist. Reporter Brooke Binkowski takes us to one of the two safe houses in Mexico, in Tijuana. Then, she and Maria Hinojosa talk about efforts to combat sex trafficking in San Diego and how, surprisingly, tighter border security may be increasing the number of trafficked people.

 

contributors1

 
brookeBrooke Binkowski is an award-winning roving reporter currently based in San Diego. Her career has taken her from KFQD in Anchorage, Alaska, to CNN in Atlanta, to various radio stations in Los Angeles, and back home to San Diego. Her curiosity has taken her all over the world. She is a voracious reader, writer, and traveler.

The GOP’s Immigration Platform, Revisited

Last week, the Republican Party introduced an immigration blueprint to their caucus that signaled an attempt by their party to tackle immigration reform. The one-page statement of principles emphasized strong border control and repeated a claim of the Republicans that there would be “no special path to citizenship.” So, how does this change the debate and what does this mean for the chances of passing immigration reform this year? We spoke to Pilar Marrero, an author, political analyst and journalist at La Opinión about the implications of this document.

Pilar close up

Pilar Marrero is a journalist who for 25 years has extensively covered the areas of city government, immigration and state and national politics. She works for La Opinión, the largest and oldest Spanish language daily paper in America. As a reporter, she has specialized  in immigration politics since arriving in this country as a young journalist in 1986.

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.

 

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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.

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