Maria “Chayo” Dorantes: an introduction

“It’s gonna be a tough week or two,” Robin said. “I just can’t believe it’s been two years.”

Two years ago – that’s how long Robin has been trying to find out what happened to her coworker-turned-friend-turned-sister.

Maria Dorantes, better known to her friends and family as Chayo, was last heard from on February 25, 2011. Family had made arrangements with a smuggler to help her cross the U.S.-Mexico border in the next few days. From the border town of Altar her route likely lay west through the Sonoran countryside and then, after crossing the border onto the sovereign land of the Tohono O’odham, north up the Baboquivari Valley. Hopefully a few days of walking would end by waiting at Hwy 68 for a vehicle that could take her to Phoenix in a matter of hours.

Chayo’s ultimate destination was Los Angeles – she was devoted to her three teenage sons and worried about how they were doing in her absence, said Robin*.

“I just know in my heart that Chayo would do anything to be with her boys,” Robin said.

Chayo2editWhen they first met Robin and Chayo discovered they had much in common including losing parents at an early age. Over years of friendship the two women went from being friendly at work to practically sisters and Robin was asked to be the godmother of one of Dorantes’ three California born sons.

The one thing Chayo had hidden from Robin was a secret that daily threatened the life she was building with her family in Los Angeles: Chayo herself was living in the United States illegally because she’d stayed after her visa expired.

“The boys were born here, she had an established life here, she worked while she was here,’” Robin said.

Dorantes was arrested on January 14, 2011 and, after being hospitalized for skyrocketing blood pressure, was deported to Tijuana.

Her ex-husband helped gather funds and make arrangements with a smuggler while she stayed at shelters run by Catholic Charities.

“She wanted to come back to US as soon as possible to be with her kids, she was worry about them all the time and of course that is the love of a mother,” he wrote for her missing persons flyer. “She was the best mom to her kids always kissing them and telling them she love them.”

Chayo knew the journey could be dangerous but, after losing her mother to cancer when she was seven, she was determined to be there for her three sons, Robin said.

“You couldn’t tell Chayo what she could do and what she could not do, like if they said, ‘oh this is hard crossing, this is far,’ then she’d be like, ‘I can do it,’” Robin said last July. “Chayo had a personality that she could do anything.”

But what happened next remains a mystery.

And without resolution Chayo’s friends and family have only her painful, inexplicable absence.

“There’s so many things that could happen to her that I just don’t know,” Robin said. “I can’t believe that this happened, it’s like some stupid lifetime movie.”

She listed the people she’s talked to, hoping for clues, and the organizations she’s called, looking for traces of Chayo.

And for Robin, this week especially, not knowing is the worst part.

“I’ve lost people in my life and you know of course people say, oh it gets better with time and it usually does,” Robin said last Friday. “I don’t know what’s wrong this time, I don’t know if it’s the circumstances of how this happened but it’s really not getting easier.”

BIG BEAR 2010 (77)[1]

Adan Flores Becerra: Missing from Ojinaga

Photo credit: The Big Bend Sentinel

– Photo credit: The Big Bend Sentinel

Adan Flores Becerra, 57, is one of 10 kids in his large family. He usually talks to them every day since moving to Lomas de Arena, Chihuahua, Mexico. But now he hasn’t answered his phone since they last heard from him on February 17th.

Earlier that day Becerra told family members he was in Ojinaga where his girlfriend owns a bar. But that evening calls began going straight to voicemail even though Becerra usually carries extra cell phone batteries.

“It’s not like him,” a family member told KWES. “Tuesday we were kind of worried, then came Wednesday and that’s when I spoke to his friend.”

Becerra is between 5’5″ and 5’6″, wears his hair to his waist and walks with a bit of a limp, his family said. He also has tattoos on his left arm including El Santo Niño and several names. His 1995 avocado-colored Ford F-150 was last spotted outside of his girlfriend’s house but when local police acting on the missing persons report went there to look for it the truck was gone.

One niece, who said her family wants only Becerra’s name be public, asked to include Becerra’s description and story here on the missing persons page.

“We have filed missing person reports and we are not sure where or how to go from now to find him,” she wrote. “I heard there may a website that coroners post pictures of unidentified people.”

They’re also distributing flyers and talking to local media organizations in English and in Spanish.

“Family is super worried they’ve got no new news and have heard nothng from him,” she wrote. “We don’t know what else we can do!”

Becerra’s family is asking for anyone with information to contact Ojinaga Police or call Sara Rodriguez at 575-390-9809.

Photo credit: KWES

Photo credit: KWES

Stirred up and shut down: what it’s like to cover protests

(a post event coverage from The Tucson Sentinel 16 October 2013 piece Border activists declare victory after protest at closed Phx ICE HQ)

20131014icevpuente2003edit2Protests, rallies, marches – they’re all different ways of describing a big public event with passionate people. And that means a big, loud, exciting mix of challenges and opportunities for reporters trying to cover what’s going on.

Sometimes there’s also the people who disagree so strongly they’ll come out and counter protest. This can be a great way to get a mix of viewpoints – or to get caught between two groups shouting.

As my professor for 20th century media and entrepreneurship (real class) says, someone yelling from one side and someone yelling from the other side doesn’t make balanced reporting, it makes two people yelling at each other.

Immigration rallies in Arizona are definitely no exception. The most vicious political exchange I’ve seen in person so far was outside an event where Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio was speaking.

Some groups rely so heavily on talking points that talking to 20 people gets you the same handful of words no matter what you ask.

20131014icevpuente2004editThese events also draw people who care deeply about their cause. Some will summarize everything in a few, perfect well thought quotes or draw such a fresh new connection that you trade contact information for follow up and open your computer to an email full of links to research or contact information that helps you drill deeper into the issues and the groups behind them.

Whether they’re vibrant with energy or have more journalists than participants, there’s a balance between trying capture the moment (did you get a good description of the atmosphere, catch the speakers’ best line or see when the federales arrived?) and keeping everything in context (is this protest larger or smaller than the last one on the same issue? more or less extreme? nearer or further from a place that has food, water and internet so you can start to file?).

20131014icevpuente2122And don’t forget the opportunity to jostle for that one perfect photo that captures the essence of why everyone has left their home or work that day.

Anyway… Monday’s march to shut down U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Phoenix was no exception.

Well, it was a little odder than usual – because the building was already shut down. So as the minutes and then hours after the appointed start time ticked by, we wondered: with the building already closed, would the protesters have anything to do?

The answer: they declared victory & made the best of things.

Border activists declare victory after protest at closed Phx ICE HQTucson Sentinel on 16 October 2013

MFM blog update: More reported missing

Manuel Cortez RodriguezManuel Cortez Rodriguez was born in Moroleon Guanajuato, Mexico and he was 31-years-old when he contacted his family on November 3, 2011. Rodriguez was planning on crossing the U.S.-Mexico border very soon somewhere between the states of Arizona and Sonora.

November came and went without either his arrival or any further communication.

So did the months that followed.

Today Rodriguez’s family is still trying to find out what happened. They’re reaching out to organizations like the Mexican Consulate and the Pima County Missing Migrant Project for information and advice. They’re asking questions. And they’re waiting.

Earlier this summer his niece Maria shared his story in the comments section of the blog, joining a steady trickle of reports. Till now they’ve been scattered between the blog’s email at contact@missingfrommexico.com, Facebook page, Twitter twitter @MissingFmMexico and comments on its posts and pages. Those reports are now gathered and centralized at the More missing page.

Connections: extra articles on raids, immigrant families, SB 1070 and conventions

This post contains extra reading material, articles and other resources, related to recent blog posts including Planning for the unexpected: community advocates urge immigrants to prepare for raids and Faith and Phoenix: Convening in Arizona after SB1070 (a series about how faith based groups with national conventions scheduled in Phoenix responded to Arizona’s image crises during and after the passage of SB 1070. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 for the full story.)

Articles on Sheriff Arapio’s immigration raids

Arpaio raids Car Wash – on 14 June 2009

Joe Arpaio Arrests Four Cleaning Ladies in 74th Immigration RaidPhoenix New Times on 9 August 2013

Arpaio Fires Up Hispanic-Hunting Raids, Going After the Smallest Fish He Can FindPhoenix New Times on 25 July 2013

As Feds Slow Deportations, Arpaio Continues Ariz. RaidsNew America Media on 23 July 2013

Joe Arpaio Retaliates Against Katherine Figueroa, Hits Uncle Sam’s with Immigration RaidPhoenix New Times on 18 July 2013

Joe Arpaio B-Day Bomb: Judge Wants Monitor in MelendresPhoenix New Times on 14 June 2013

Judge Finds Violations of Rights by SheriffThe New York Times on 24 May 2013

Melendres vs. Arpaio DecisionJudge Murray Snow via Fronteras Desk on 24 May 2013

Federal Judge Rules Against Arpaio’s Agency On Racial Profiling IssueFronteras Desk on 24 May 2013

Cut ties between Maricopa County and ICEPolitic365 on 20 March 2013

U.S. Finds Pervasive Bias Against Latinos by Arizona SheriffThe New York Times on 15 September 2011

Arpaio raids Car Wash – on 14 June 2009

Articles on the August federal raid at Danny’s Family Car Wash

Former Danny’s Family Car Wash employees say company violated labor rightsABC15 on 22 August 2013

Danny’s Family Car Wash Raid by ICE and Minuteman Richard Malley Doing Same Job?Phoenix New Times on 20 August 2013

Former Danny’s Family Car Wash employees say undocumented workers stole their identitiesABC15 on 20 August 2013

Car-wash managers accused of rehiring illegal immigrantsThe Arizona Republic on 20 August 2013

Carwash Managers Held in Immigration RaidsThe New York Times on 19 August 2013

Dreamers growl at ObamaThe Arizona Republic on 19 August 2013

Danny’s raid won’t inspire confidenceThe Arizona Republic on 19 August 2013

Feds: Danny’s Family Car Wash helped fake ID’s, rehired illegal workersABC15 on 19 August 2013

ICE agents raid Arizona car wash chainCNN on 18 August 2013

Danny’s Family Car Wash locations raided by federal agentsKTVK on 17 August 2013

Feds: 14 arrested in Phoenix-area car wash raidsKPHO on 17 August 2013

Federal agents raid Phoenix-area Danny’s Car Wash locations and photosThe Arizona Republic on 17 August 2013

Federal agents raid 16 Danny’s Family Car Wash locations in criminal investigationABC15 on 17 August 2013

ICE Raids Danny’s Family Car WashArizona Dream Act Coalition on 17 August 2013 (also United We Dream Condemns Massive ICE Raid in Arizona, Demands Release of Those Unfairly Detained and End to Out-of-Control Immigration Enforcement)

Joe Arpaio-Fave Danny’s Family Car Wash Raided by ICEPhoenix New Times on 17 August 2013

Articles on separated families & Katherine Figueroa

Sandra Figueroa, Katherine's mother, attends a community meeting at Creighton Elementary. - 12 September 2012

Sandra Figueroa, Katherine’s mother, attends a community meeting at Creighton Elementary. – 12 September 2012

Both of Katherine Figueroa’s parents were working at the same Peoria car wash when it was raided in October 2009. Katherine, 9-years-old at the time, made a personal plea to President Barrack Obama for her parents’ release. Without her aunt and uncle stepping in, Figueroa’s custody would have been in limbo as well as her daily life. Advocates say that some immigrant parents often find themselves fighting to keep their children as well as avoid deportation – and sometimes losing both battles.

Illegal: life and death in Arizona’s immigration war zone by Terry Greene Sterling: a nuanced look at politics and immigration in Phoenix including personal stories. (and Facebook page for Illegal)

Two Americans a film by Daniel De Vivo and Valeria Fernández: “A daring take on America’s most recognized lawman and his impact on an entire community.” (also Facebook page for Two Americans)

Joe Arpaio Retaliates Against Katherine Figueroa, Hits Uncle Sam’s with Immigration RaidPhoenix New Times on 18 July 2013

Arizona Couple Among Dozens To Get Deportation ReliefFronteras Desk on 18 July 2013

Along With Dolls and Stuffed Animals, Making Time for Immigration ActivismThe New York Times on 17 July 2013

Girl, women describe discrimination in ArizonaAssociated Press via The Arizona Republic on 10 June 2010

Articles on SB 1070 and the Arizona boycott

The New York Times: Arizona Immigration Law (SB 1070)

Fronteras Desk: A Brief History Of SB 1070

Arizona’s tourism sector rebounds to pre-recession levelsPhoenix Business Journal on 11 July 2013

S.B. 1070: In Plain EnglishSCOTUS Blog on 25 June 2013

SB1070 chart.xlsxAppeals Court To Hear Arizona SB 1070 Harboring-And-Transporting Provision and infographicFronteras Desk on 2 April 2013

Phoenix: Convention slump tied to SB 1070The Arizona Republic on 2 January 2013

Asian-American says Latinos not only ones hit by SB 1070The Arizona Republic on 25 November 2012

Border roundup: 1070 in effect, corruption in MexicoTucson Sentinel on 28 September 2012

Latino Voters Less Enthusiastic About Romney After Hearing His SB 1070 ViewsThe Huffington Post on 23 July 2012

ACLU: Pearce e-mails prove SB 1070 was racially motivatedArizona Republic on 19 July 2012

Arizona Businesses Brace for Pain Over Immigration RulingBloomberg News on 27 April 2012

With More Mexican Immigrants Leaving Than Entering, Does SB 1070 Still Matter?Fox News Latino on 25 April 2012

SB 1070 Boycott Over? NCLR Says, “Yes,” Sal Reza Says, “Hell, No!”Phoenix New Times on 10 September 2011

Arizona immigration advocates change tacticsTrans-Border News Blog on 6 July 2011

Immigrant advocates plan ribbon, protest against all-star game in Arizona The San Diego Union-Tribune on 1 July 2011

Sound Strike organizer talks SB 1070 boycottArizona Republic on 1 June 2011

Union calls off Arizona SB 1070 boycottPhoenix Business Journal on 23 September 2010

Latino Baseball Fans Reluctant to Join Arizona BoycottLa Prensa San Diego on 27 August 2010

Mapping the SB 1070 BoycottsColorLines on 2 August 2010

Articles on The U.S. Mennonite Church’s 2013 National Convention in Phoenix

• Mennonite Church USA: Why Phoenix? and U.S. Mennonite Church convention events

Was Phoenix worth it?The Mennonite on August 2013

Is’nt God for everyone?The Mennonite on July 2013

Pink Menno demonstration calls for repentance, inclusionMennonite World Review on 22 July 2013

Phoenix lures conventions despite heatThe Arizona Republic on 7 July 2013

An unfortunate teachable moment on Race and Public WitnessThe Houston Chronicle on 5 July 2013

Over 100 Mennonites cross border into Mexico during conventionThe Mennonite on 1 July 2013

Avoid Getting Crushed While the Dividing Wall FallsBlog from the Belly on 26 June 2013

Phoenix: A Cry of LamentHouston Mennonite Church: The Church of the Sermon of the Mount on 10 January 2011

2 Mennonite groups planning to mergeChicago Tribune on 1 July 2001

For even more, check out the MFM News pages:

The MFM News page
A partial listing of articles, photos and videos about border issues, forensics and reporting.

The MFM News and research resources
Links to academic, government, non-governmental agency and ongoing news coverage resources.

The MFM full news database
A growing database of articles, radio pieces, video and official reports about border issues, forensics and reporting. Article submissions welcome.

* ETA: Politic365 & SCOTUS Blog articles on 9-1

Faith and Phoenix: Convening in Arizona after SB1070, Part 2

These are articles and resources related to Faith and Phoenix: Convening in Arizona after SB1070, a series about how faith based groups with national conventions scheduled in Phoenix responded to Arizona’s image crises during and after the passage of SB 1070; check out Part 1 here.

IMG_0593“I personally was of the opinion that it was a real opportunity for us to shed light on the issue nationally by going,” said Unitarian Universalist President Peter Morales.

He told the local congregations and advocacy groups, “I need for you to invite us; that will break the boycott.”

And they did, allowing the 2012 Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations convention to take place from June 20 to June 24.

“That’s what made the whole thing work because of what we did because it was clearly the most effective public witness we’ve ever done was on this issue, that we committed to working in close partnership with local people. So our local people worked locally, at the national level we worked with national staff of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, groups like that.”

For Morales, the issues are larger than a particular state’s current political climate.

“I kept saying Arizona is not really about Arizona; immigration isn’t even about immigration for us,” Morales said. “I mean it’s really about the human rights and national issues and if we just go and have a terrific demonstration outside the tent city and congratulate ourselves and go home we will have done nothing at all.”

Unitarians often partner with organizations from other religious backgrounds including the United Church of Christ, the Catholic Church, evangelical congregations and Jewish organizations.

“It speaks to the common values of all the faith based institutions,” Morales said. “It goes to a commitment that so many faith based groups have around respect for human dignity, the core value of compassion and openness and in treating everyone as having inherent worth and dignity.”

When it comes to working with Mennonites, they’ve got tremendous record of on the ground kind of involvement, really hands on,” Morales said.

Now the Unitarians partnered with local groups like Promise Arizona to incorporate education and advocacy events into their convention program,.

“One of the big emphases of our conference was to not only demonstrate how it could happen but to instruct people on how to make alliances locally,” Morales said. “So churches working cooperation with grassroots organization and there’s been a lot of that going on around the country. The way we phrased it is ‘it build capacity.’ All indications are that it did.”

The partnership between local advocacy groups and the Unitarians also led to an ongoing immigrant rights issues project run by the Arizona congregation including Unitarian Arizona Immigration Ministry organizer Sandy Weir.

“What’s gratifying is that we work in preparation with some of the congregation and ministers did and it work is continued on immigration and in other issues, because the issues will change,” Morales said.

And that ongoing work is visible to Garcia.

“I see her with some regularity now because she shows up to these coalition meetings,” Garcia said. “They’re very active on that stuff. So that was the conscious thing on their part that they are going to essentially just, you know, we are going to deal with this as part of our convention and they put that right on the table.”

Weir also participated in a discussion with the U.S. Mennonite Church about their convention decisions as they too worked their way through tough decisions about their congregation members, their ideals and their 2013 convention location.

The U.S. Mennonite Church is the largest Anabaptist organization in the U.S. There are nearly 1000 US Mennonite church congregations in the US and about 1.7 million Mennonites in 83 countries worldwide, including growing congregations in Central and South America.

Immigration and the convention location are a few several contemporary social issues that are playing out in federal courts and small towns across the country – and triggering internal conflicts within the the U.S. Mennonite Church. These internal conflicts intensified after an official 1999-2003 merger between the General Conference branch, perceived to be more liberal, and the Mennonite Church branch, perceived to be more conservative. Additional debates during lead-up district conferences included whether Statements of Faith should exclude female pastors and disciplining member churches for performing same sex marriages.

The highly anticipated U.S. Mennonite Church convention events usually blend tackling tough topics with worship and church governance for members, who to outsiders are often indistinguishable from other Anabaptists branches in the U.S.: the Mennonite Brethren, the Church of the Brethren and the Amish.

The church’s official position on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer issues led to the formation Pink Mennos in 2008. Frustrated that they felt their issues weren’t being heard, Pink Mennos compared themselves to Lations in the congregation who felt marginalized and staged civil protests during the 2013 convention asking for their issues to receive equal recognition – an additional sign of changing dynamics and growing pains within the traditionally tightknit ethnic population of the church.

Garcia also noted that the changing makeup of the country’s population is affecting organizations.

“The demographics have permeated these groups,” Garcia said. “They’re large and a lot of them have sort of national reach, and a lot of them have been sort of actively recruiting minorities here either naturally or organically or you know consciously because of the changing demographics around the country.”

And that impacts how decisions are made.

“What inevitably happens is that they have board members now who’re Hispanic, or they have constituents,” Garcia said. “People have booked conventions because they’ve booked conventions three or four years ago and so they’re stuck internally as an organization with all the questions that you just outlined is it something philosophically that that group opposes, is not something that our membership that the people on our board opposed?”

News stories about SB 1070 seemed like a warning to many Latinos: “don’t come to Arizona because you’re going to get arrested,” Garcia said.

“I’m oversimplifying but not by much,” Garcia said. “That’s the message that’s being sent out and you’re Latino and you’re in Pittsburgh or you’re in Atlanta or in San Antonio and you’re a member of the board of one of these groups here and you’re thinking, ‘why are we going to go spend our money there, and being harassed and, you know why don’t we show solidarity with these folks?’”

In the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, the district which includes Arizona, California and Nevada, Anglo Mennonites are actually a minority now. The majority of church members are first generation immigrants who come from all over the world and represent nearly a dozen languages, wrote Tucson’s Shalom Mennonite Fellowship Pastor Bryce L. Miller.

“As such migration and the consequences of it are primary for us,” Miller wrote in an email exchange. “They don’t always get called immigration issues– sometimes they come under names such as worship style, governance, cultural sensitivity, and theological assumptions, but ultimately they are immigration issues in a way for us that is not common for other more traditional conferences.”

With his state at the center of controversy for both his church and his country, Miller found himself in a unique situation as the pastor of a border congregation.

“Mennonites have long held that our citizenship is primarily that of the Kingdom of God, and that our calling as Christians calls us to live intentionally and sometimes critically within the national citizenship that we hold,” Miller wrote in an email exchange before the convention started. “Phoenix is a test of that conviction.”

Miller and his congregation witness and sometimes feel the effects of border security and humanitarian issues firsthand.

“This is not an academic issue in Pima County,” Miller wrote. “Hundreds of people die in the desert here. We live among the most militarized environment in the country.

Miller believes that his congregation has a responsibility to not take sides and to try to work with everyone involved.

“Our church is called to serve a community that houses both the undocumented on one hand and the border patrol and the other,” Miller wrote. “They are both our neighbors; how do we love both?”

Arizona pastors had a wide range of opinions similar to national leaders, Miller wrote.

“We are attempting to walk the line between solidarity with those hurt by our state’s policies, and our responsibilities as hosts,” Miller wrote. “We do not have the option to boycott our own state’s policies– not cleanly–despite our discomfort with them. So we are finding ourselves in the middle.”

Some leaders argued that the event could be “an opportunity for social witness and denominational learning,” similar to what the Unitarians had done.

There would also be serious financial consequences to canceling. According to the Mennonite Church USA website page discussing the 2013 convention decision, they faced losing estimated $500,000 which “would likely require significant reduction of our current staff and would make it very difficult to move ahead with the 11 commitments we have made to help us become a more anti-racist church and to work at the immigration problems in our national context.”

Significant arguments against supporting the state by coming were also made. Some Hispanic church members didn’t think they’ll feel personally safe at the convention.

“It is unsustainable for us to meet as the whole body of Christ in a place where some of our members could be harassed and perhaps persecuted for the immigration status,” Miller wrote. “We also take it seriously to commit denominational resources to a place where injustice is practiced.”

IMG_0580The Executive Board’s decision to stick with Phoenix as the 2013 convention location was difficult – and not everyone agreed with it.

“There was a large and extensive re-processing of the decision with passionate debate on all sides,” Miller wrote. “This was a painful decision to those who are most affected, and continues to be.”

Some delegates pulled out and a few congregations like Dallas based Iglesia Menonita Monte Horeb officially decided not to send representatives. There’s no official tally of how many people stayed away, but several delegates cautiously estimated that convention participation was down by about 25% for a variety of reasons.

“Some of this is boycott,” Miller wrote. “Some of this is churches not wanting to/not able to expend the money to come to a western site as has been seen in previous conventions. Some of this is ‘Phoenix? July? No thanks.’”

Delegates said that discussion of a secondary meeting site with video links to Phoenix died because of either from lack of interest or concerns about creating a “separate and unequal experience.”

Now those attending from July 1 to July 5 faced the challenge of how to balance the competing views of the church and the local community they hoped to reach out to.

“While I respect the boycott, I just struggle with the impression that, that’s the only way to be in the solidarity and even if I want to, and sometimes I do, want to boycott my state, I can’t,” Miller said when I asked him about his observations during the first few days of the convention. “I’m here and this is where I am supposed to be.”

Yet the issues were kept by empty chairs on the worship stage that made a visual reminder of church members that had stayed away because of personal fears or support for solidarity.

“They are saying, these are the Hispanic brothers and sisters who don’t feel safe to come; these are the people who in conscience are absent in themselves; these are the people of all races and creeds who are made afraid by the environment that has developed here,” Miller said. “And as painful as that it is to hear as an Arizonan, it is something I understand.”

In a week with temperatures well over 100 all day and all night, Miller said he was watching many people who’d never been to Arizona get to know the state.

“Just the geography is completely unlike anything, anywhere else,” Miller said. “Then to overlay that foreignness with the circumstance of the immigration and all of that they’ve heard mostly good and bad about Arizona; it’s an interesting mix.”

In addition to lectures, plays and experiencing temperatures over 112 degrees for most of the week, nearly 200 people signed up to participate in border learning tours through Borderlinks.

“Inside the all air conditioned convention center is not all that real, relative to what’s out there either,” Miller said. “But I mean it is encouraging to have people that are really engaged in the conversation, engage on what’s there, I mean really willing to talk.”

That willingness to talk extended past local advocacy groups to include local officials law enforcement, including the youth group from Ohio’s Kidron Mennonite Church who met with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Afterwards Sheriff Arpaio tweeted a photo where he posed with the smiling teenagers identified as convention participants and the image led to backlash from other delegates and local advocacy groups.

Some saw Arpaio’s actions as exploitative and were uncomfortable with the church being linked to any law enforcement group. Others were concerned about how it could be perceived by Latinos within the church who were already feeling alienated – and to the outside community.

Houston Pastor Marty Troyer pointed out the that elements of racial privilege were involved fact that while some church members felt confident meeting with Arpaio and other local officials, other church members feared even entering the state and said that both issues should be part of the continuing discussion on racial issues within the church.

IMG_0639 IMG_0678 IMG_0711

On the last day of the convention, Friday, July 5th, final worship services culminated in a peace walk.

The participants gathered at dusk, some surprised to find the building ringed by Phoenix Police vehicles. The officers provided traffic control as two groups of marchers led by church leaders carrying prayer banners left the Phoenix Convention center, one northbound and one westbound, who met again at the Civic Space Park. There they joined in hymns and prayers for their home congregations, the convention delegates and all those affected by the issues they’d tackled during the week.

The convention, which also included African, African American, Native American, Hmong and Indonesian delegates, celebrated the church’s diversity said delegate Jocelyn Graber from the Topeka, Kansas Southern Hills Mennonite Church.

“Tangential to the topic of immigration, there was also lots of conversation about assimilation not being a good thing, but that holding onto that which is significant to one’s culture is important in also shaping one’s faith,” Graber wrote afterwards. “There is gift in that, not only to the individual or to that cultural, but to all others who can learn from it and be in relationship with it.”

However the effects of Arizona’s much publicized tensions on the state’s image were also tangible. Due to the under representation of Latino congregations among the delegates, the 2013 convention did not produce a U.S. Mennonite Church denominational statement on immigration, Graber said.

“The subject of immigration was discussed, and somewhat put on hold because the people most affected by it were not able to be there,” Graber wrote. “It was agreed upon that we need their voices to complete the work of writing a more suitable statement on which we would then vote for or against.”

It’s a situation that could be as rich as it is challenging, according to Miller.

“We are in this position because we are in the west where the emerging patterns of our culture begin, and change is at its apex,” Miller wrote. “We are trying to translate what has been a somewhat monolithic denomination into the reality of multicultural reality and that is challenging, wonderful work.”

It’s all part of an figuring out who the church is and what its role should be in contemporary issues, especially at the state and national levels, wrote former University of Kansas instructor Ellen Kroeker who was grew up in the Mennonite church.

“The Mennonite church is still coming to grips with an emerging identity, from predominantly rural and small towns with a more homogenous identity, known by a set of common last names, to the reality of a rapidly changing, multi-cultural society,” Kroeker wrote. “The church is sorting its way through the issues of how much are they going to keep themselves separate from these changes and how much they are going to address them.”

The years of debate and decisions behind holding their 2013 national convention in Phoenix included discussions of religious, racial and economic issues. These issues are also being tackled by the Unitarians and by many other organizations – and families – across the state of Arizona and the rest of the country.

IMG_0598

Faith and Phoenix: Convening in Arizona after SB1070, Part 1

This is the first part of Faith and Phoenix: Convening in Arizona after SB1070, a series about how faith based groups with national conventions scheduled in Phoenix responded to Arizona’s image crises during and after the passage of SB 1070; check out Part 2 here.

IMG_0576Several years ago when the largest Anabaptist organization in the U.S. picked Phoenix for the location of its biannual conference in 2013, they didn’t anticipate that the state would be a hotspot for national debates on immigration and border issues – or that they’d be attempting to produce a denominational statement about immigration there.

Yet, Arizona’s attractions as a tourist and convention destination seemed smashed when the 2010 passage of a controversial immigration bill, SB 1070, sparked intense national debates including issues border violence and racism in the state.

Local community advocate James Garcia, who works with Promise Arizona, said that the news coverage affected everybody’s perceptions, whether they supported the SB 1070 bill or not.

“Suddenly 24-hour news channels for six months straight, all they hear about is the words coming out of the mouth of the governor and Russell Pearce which claimed that the state is being overrun by words of immigrants and everybody is somehow physically endangered,” Garcia said.”So that negative representation was stamped into the brains of America and brains of America include all the people who are part of these conventions.”

Like massive cruise ships, conventions that take years to plan are hard to turn around mid-course.

“The other thing is that the way conventions get booked and the way cities reputations get built, all of those things take a long time,” Garcia said. “And what doesn’t take a long time, I learned a long time ago, is the destruction of a reputation – it does not take a long time; it can happen overnight.”

Arizona’s image crises toxically mixed aspects of the Aruba‘s damaged tourism industry after the disappearance of Natalee Holloway with the moral backlash against racist comments by Chef Paula Deen.

“From a personal standpoint, certainly on the day the SB 1070 passed, I asked myself, ‘am I in the right place and do I want to raise my family here?’” Garcia said.

Garcia’s community work led to discussions with everyone from undocumented immigrants to CEOs.

“I came to the conclusion that SB 1070 was a product of a kind of unique set of confluences of events much the same way that McCarthy took over Congress,” Garcia said. “You know he hijacked Congress and in many ways I was convinced that Russell Pearce and Jan Brewer, that pair of folks, hijacked Arizona politics.”

When SB 1070 passed, individuals and advocacy groups looked for ways to protest. What started out as an organic, spontaneous boycott of the Arizona economy gathered steam when officials like Congressman Raul Grijalva voiced support. The boycott cemented when The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy group, gave their public support.

“Lot of folks kind of randomly, not necessarily talking to each others, said, ‘we’re going to boycott Arizona, we want them to cancel conventions, you know, we are going to teach Arizona a lesson,’” Garcia said.

The boycott was reexamined as local business organizations became vocal about their disapproval for the bill – yet they were feeling the impact of the boycott as well.

“One of the things that happened relatively quickly and then sort of picks up some steam after the passage of 1070 was that the business community in a kind of public concerted way, basically let be known that SB 1070 was a stupid idea and that they weren’t for it,” Garcia said. “It was designed to obviously sort of punish business if you will, punish the economy and the business leadership for all intents and purposes was saying, ‘we’re not for a boycott of course but we’re also not for 1070, so why are you punishing us?’”

Brendan Walsh, who represents Central Arizonans for Sustainable Economy (CASE), said that he and his organization were ambivalent about whether a boycott was the best way to “bring about justice” in Arizona.

“The question at this point needs to be what resources can we bring into the state to support progressive efforts, not what resources can we block from going into the state,” Walsh wrote in an email exchange. “”Among the people most hurt by a conventions boycott are downtown Phoenix hotel workers, who, with their union UNITE HERE have been among the most active Arizonans when it comes to building voting power, fighting the abuses of Sheriff Arpaio, and raising standards for workers in the state.”

Advocates like Walsh believed that supporting local communities and organizations would lead to more improvements than the boycott.

“We need more investment in our community, not less,” Walsh wrote. “We also need to build up local organizations that have the potential to change the culture of our State.”

Garcia said that the NCLR recognized that business groups opposing SB 1070 were “trying to either de-fang it or ultimately do away with it”. This groups included the HIspanic Chamber of Commerce, who joined 16 other plaintiffs to sue the state. Parts of the lawsuit are still working their way through the court system, some at the 9th Circuit of Appeals.

“Those same forces are saying the solution is not in the state legislature and that they’re saying we oppose it, being dealt with in the state legislature, we believe it should be dealt with in Congress,” Garcia said. “And that position of course correlated directly with what all the progressive groups have been saying, that they think immigration in Arizona is a federal issue, it should be done through federal means.”

So the NCLR backed out of the boycott and it “started to fizzle,” yet the state’s reputation was in tatters.

“The perception by people outside of the state was that somehow the majority of the people in this state must be racist in the way that people were racist in 1952 Alabama,” Garcia said. “That perception was factually incorrect, but the perception that that was true was real, of course, and it was being perpetuated and that takes a really long time to bounce back from and recover from.”

The U.S. Mennonite Church and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations were both especially concerned about the ramifications of meeting in Arizona, though, in the end, both went ahead with their planned events. The ways in which they did differed..

Both have theologically committed to social justice (and in the case of the Mennonites, pacifism). Both are experiencing demographic changes in their congregations to mirror national trends of growing “minority” populations. Both were in the process of planning national conventions that would take place in Phoenix when SB 1070 passed – and both reevaluated sticking with plans to hold their national conventions in Phoenix.

The Unitarian Universalists, with a U.S. membership of around 630,000, is a liberal religious group that is characterized by its openness to all, regardless of creed or belief or even unbelief. They have, in common with Mennonites, an avoidance of church hierarchy, but they allow for even more individual pursuit of truth, in whatever form it arrives. They are typically seen as a fairly liberal group.

Unitarian Universalist President Peter Morales said his church has been supporting and working towards compassionate immigration reform for some time.

“We try to focus on a handful of issues historically very close to the hearts of people where we have some background and some credibility,” Morales said. “We have long been opposed to any discrimination against people.”

Previous to SB 1070, Morales himself was arrested, along with other ministers and church members, while protesting how immigrants were being treated and their families separated.

“I often tell our people that as a nation we can’t paint ourselves as the passive victims of this invasion, in fact our economic and foreign policies have helped create the situation in Southern Mexico and in Central America that displaced so many people and turned them into economic refugees,” Morales said. “And that’s why they come to the United States, so it’s not like we have no responsibility in the situation.”

The UUA, who also does work with environmental justice and marriage equality, has an international office at the United Nations.

“Immigration fits right in, it’s a pattern of racism and marginalization,” Morales said. “So for us it’s really about people who take their value commitment to their faith seriously.”

Unitarians see immigration policy as a human rights issue.

“Very clearly our immigration policy that that leads to people dying in the desert, that deals to horribly extended detentions, that breaks family apart is not consistent of the values,” Morales said. “Not only Unitarian Universalism but really of any faith group that I know.”

IMG_0590Now the church needed to think about how to balance requests from local advocates to boycott Arizona with invitations from their Phoenix and Tucson congregations to come.

“All of them unanimously asked that we come to Arizona and use it as an opportunity to highlight the issue and do public witness rather than boycott it,” Morales said.

Planning for the unexpected: community advocates urge immigrants to prepare for raids

(a post discussing sourcing with examples from backgrounding work I did on The New York Times 19 August 2013 piece Carwash Managers Held in Immigration Raids)

ACLU Arizona Immigrants Rights Project Coordinator Dulce Juarez at an immigration rally. - 19 August 2013

ACLU Arizona Immigrants Rights Project Coordinator Dulce Juarez at an immigration rally. – 19 August 2013

“We’re asking all the families to please prepare in case of these emergencies to know that they have the right to see an attorney, they have a right to a call and of course at every moment it’s so important to have an emergency plan for when things like this happen,” ACLU Arizona Immigrants Rights Project Coordinator Dulce Juarez told reporters at a rally in front of Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Phoenix field office Monday afternoon.

I’d heard the message before at a school assembly for parents last fall when community organizers gathered parents, pastors, and politicians to discuss how to protect children of undocumented immigrants, sometimes U.S. citizens and sometimes undocumented themselves, in a situation where anything from a workplace raid to a traffic stop for a broken tail light or speeding can throw the family into every kind of limbo with no warning: undocumented immigrants should have emergency plans in place to protect their children and their assets because it may be too late to make arrangements once they’re apprehended.

“We’re asking all the families to please prepare in case of these emergencies to know that they have the right to see an attorney, they have a right to a call and of course at every moment it’s so important to have an emergency plan for when things like this happen,” said Juarez.

This isn’t the story I was assigned to cover – but it’s another side of living here.

Organizers from Puente Arizona and National Day Laborer Organizing Network had gathered protestors to support 30 workers still in detention after federal agents raided 16 Danny’s Family Car Wash locations in Phoenix on Saturday morning to make arrests in a criminal identity theft investigation and also detained 223 people, most of whom were quickly released, on immigration status checks.

The indictment for federal case cr-13-1143-PHX-NVW, unsealed Monday afternoon, shed more light on the two year investigation and the raid’s targets at Danny’s Family Car Wash and the staffing-services provider they used, HR Betty. The victims may include former car wash employees who told reporters that they’re among the victims whose lives were disrupted when their identities were stolen and used by others and those facing criminal charges in the case are managers and supervisors rather than workers.

Immigrant advocates say that regardless of its official purpose the raid’s effect on the community isn’t that different from immigration raids carried out by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Natally Cruz, whose work for Puente includes working with families of people who’ve been detained on immigration offenses, was at one of the raided locations.

“To me it was heartbreaking, I couldn’t believe it, I was hoping it was just a rumor, that it wasn’t happening,” Cruz said. “I jumped into my car right away and I went to the nearest car wash and as soon as I saw it pretty much just covered by ICE agents, there was about 50 to 60 of them at one carwash.”

Some of the workers managed to text family members who also rushed to the scene and ended up watching their loved ones be loaded on buses for transport to processing.

“A lot of them were really concerned, they didn’t know what was happening, they didn’t know what they were going to do,” Cruz said. “To see in their faces, especially once they started, when you saw them with the handcuffs and then walking on the bus, people just literally broke down crying.”

The scene also made Cruz think of her uncle, who was taken into custody during a raid about six months ago.

“It was heartbreaking and it reminded me of how my cousins suffered when their father was detained,” Cruz said. “Just seeing the 31 people being put on the bus, it was like, 30 families had been separated and 30 kids are going to be crying or more for their mother, their father, they don’t know when they’re going to see them.”

This summer the immigrant community felt safer when when federal Judge Murray Snow ruled in May that “the office of America’s self-proclaimed toughest sheriff systematically singled out Latinos in its trademark immigration patrols” and thereby “violated the constitutional rights of Latinos by targeting them during raids and traffic stops.” Murray Snow later assigned monitors to the MCSO to monitor the decision’s enforcement and many thought the immigration raids had come to an end.

Arpaio soon proved them wrong by carrying out raids at two locations of Uncle Sam’s, a local restaurant chain in July and at a commercial cleaning service, Pro-Serv in early August. The raids were the 73rd and 74th since they began in 2008; over 500 workers have been arrested and three employers sanctioned.

While Saturday’s federal raid targeted employers, Cruz said and that the community doesn’t see a difference when the visuals – officers in ski masks and detainees in work uniforms with hands handcuffed or zip tied behind their backs being loaded on idling black buses – are the same.

“The fears are very similar with the community,” Cruz said. “People are afraid to come out.”

If the undocumented workers without criminal histories are deported, the outcome for their families may be the same too.

“Most of the family members most of the migrants who come here, they come to work, they come for a better future for their families, every day they walk out that door with the hopes of giving their children a better life and not expecting to be detained while they’re working,” Cruz said. “They go out the door expecting to bring better for their children, not expecting to get arrested at their job.”

Most of the workers detained in Saturday’s raid were released by midday Sunday. About 30, like Juan Carlos Espinoza Raynosa, were transferred to Eloy or Florence and advocates say that whether they’re still in detention or now, all are facing deportation proceedings.

Raynosa’s wife, Laura Torres, said that he rode his bike to his job at the car wash for almost nine years and was working at the Scottsdale location during the raid.

Laura Torres holds her daughter as she speaks to reporters at an immigration rally. - 19 August 2013

Laura Torres holds her daughter as she speaks to reporters at an immigration rally. – 19 August 2013

Torres had just made lunch for her two children, 3-year-old Joan and 10-month-old Josefina, who are both U.S. citizens.

“He called me because he had been caught by immigration at the car wash place,” Torres said.

Raynosa had been deported twice about 10 years ago but had no criminal record. Now he was resisting signing a voluntary departure, Torres said, though he also told her than an immigration judge had already signed his deportation order.

While the family who always ate dinner together waits for information, the children are confused at meal times and having trouble sleeping.

“My children are crying every night for their father and I don’t know how to explain to them what’s happening,” said Torres. “Why did they do this horrible thing to us?”

For families like Raynosa and Torres’s, there are also practical implications to being in limbo. Torres takes care of the children and Juan is the family’s breadwinner so she, like the other families with workers in detention or out of a job from the raids, is uncertain how they will get by when the paychecks stop.

“All I’m asking is that he is able to get out of detention,” Torres said. “The whole family is waiting for him.”

Then there are the cases where children are left without either parent.

Sandra Figueroa, Katherine's mother, attends a community meeting at Creighton Elementary. - 12 September 2012

Sandra Figueroa, Katherine’s mother, attends a community meeting at Creighton Elementary. – 12 September 2012

Both of Katherine Figueroa’s parents were working at the same Peoria car wash when it was raided in October 2009. Katherine, 9-years-old at the time, made a personal plea to President Barrack Obama for her parents’ release. Without her aunt and uncle stepping in, Figueroa’s custody would have been in limbo as well as her daily life. Advocates say that some immigrant parents often find themselves fighting to keep their children as well as avoid deportation – and sometimes losing both battles.

It’s exactly that situation that organizers are trying to prevent by reaching out consistently to the community at every chance. Whether at the meeting for elementary school parents last fall or Monday’s rally, Juarez’s plea for perspiration is consistent.

“We understand that this is the reality that we live in,” Juarez said. “We don’t want to live in this reality, we want things to change but it’s important to become educated and to know what your rights are.”

Carwash Managers Held in Immigration RaidsThe New York Times on 19 August 2013

Uncertain future for detained #Dream9: an example of sourcing the story

(a post discussing sourcing with examples from backgrounding work I did on The New York Times July 23 piece 9 in Deportation Protest Are Held in Bid to Re-enter U.S.)

This week on Tuesday, I got invited to help locate sources and gather background information for a brief follow-up story that Julia Preston was working on.

A big part of reporting is reaching sources – and this becomes doubly high pressure when working on a breaking news or developing story.

- photo credit: National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA)

photo credit: National Immigrant Youth Alliance

The day before, nine protesters were intentionally apprehended in Nogales on Monday morning. In press releases sent out before the event, protest organizers said that eight young immigrants who’d grown up in the U.S. but then had either voluntarily left or been deported would be protesting family separation (a ninth person joined the initial eight during the protest). They’d try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at Morley Gate, a pedestrian crossing between Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona and request humanitarian parole. Along with press releases the organizers were social media including Facebook, YouTube and #BringThemHome on Twitter. The nine protesters were stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and their humanitarian parole has not yet been approved or denied. They were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detention their cases for asylum were reviewed.

The nine detained protesters, quickly nicknamed the #Dream9, were unavailable since the group was now going through processing at Eloy Detention Center. (Eloy is one of two Arizona facilities for immigration detainees located close together, less than 25 miles apart, off the I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Eloy and Florence are both named after the towns where they’re located and both run by Corrections Corporation of America.)

But I started with a lead: a list of two suggested sources from a colleague who was working on another story.

First I reached out to people directly involved in the story. While the protesters themselves were currently unavailable, I looked for protest organizers who were there in person.

Mohammad Abdollahi, an organizer National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), could both describe the event in detail, explained the organization and its goals and give background information on eight of the nine detained protesters: Lizbeth Mateo, Lulú Martínez, Marco Saavedra, Claudia Amaro, Adriana Gil Diaz, Luis Leon, Maria Peniche and Ceferino Santiago.

Since the ninth protester joined as the group approached the fence and was then in detention, nearly everyone is scrambling for correct identification information (the ninth protester was initially identified as a woman named Rosie Rojas, but the The Arizona Daily Star states that Rojas stayed in Mexico and the ninth protestor is a man currently identified only as Mario).

Abdollahi also gave me with names and contact information for other people involved in the event.

Next I reached out to the law enforcement and government agencies involved, in this case, starting with the Arizona branches of US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). For high profile events both of these agencies usually issue official statements, sometimes issued preemptively through mailing lists and sometimes upon request.

Public information officers rarely speak on the record without advance clearance, but they are usually highly responsive in sending out official material. I’ve also been lucky to find several public information officers who’ll spent considerable time talking to me “on background” answering questions about how their agencies generally operate. They do not want to be cited on record but they want their work and their organizations to be better understood. They help me get the details right, like agency jurisdictions or arrest and detention procedures, direct me to where to find citable sources for the information and tirelessly answer questions to help me understand the nuances or applications.

I soon had official statements from both agencies to add to my material. Neither agency would discuss the individual protesters, citing privacy concerns, but gave background information on the legal issues involved.

There were still people I was trying to reach – the father of one of the girls and the #Dream9 group’s lawyer. But now it was time to look for additional sources including commentators like other activists, experts and politicians.

I left voicemails for anyone who didn’t answer, adding LMOM next to their names (an abbreviation for “left message on machine” that stays with me from my call center days). When possible I sent an email too – you never know who’s checking their email while on another call or in a meeting. Then I start trying to reach the next person or group on my list. Each I reached a pausing point or a dead-end, I went back to the top of my LMOM list and resumed trying to reach them.

Roberto Lovato is the co-founder and strategist for Presente.org, a national organization political advocacy group for Latino communities, described how the event on Monday inspired him and his predictions that it would motivate others to action. He also suggested additional sources.

Abdollahi had described how NIYA was reaching out to politicians, especially those in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. I put in phone calls to Senator Dick Durbin, Congressman Ed Pastor, Congressman Raul Grijalva and Congressman Luis Gutierrez (Guiterrez commented on the protest through his social media). Unfortunately none responded by deadline – well, actually I haven’t heard from any of them so far. I did reach Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee‘s Communications Director who said he’d do his best to have her get back to me between meetings and also sent information on an upcoming immigration issues hearing she’s holding next week. (Jackson-Lee’s Houston office was also the location announced by The Texas Undocumented Youth Alliance, or La T.U.Y.A, for a Wednesday evening vigil supporting the #Dream9).

If I’d kept going, next on the list would have been more politicians (this time looking to state and local officials who’ve been vocal on immigration and border issues) as well as academics and activists.

But at this point, I got the red light on interviews – it was deadline time.

As I gathered information all day, I sent information to Preston. Along with writing a separate article on The National Council of La Raza’s annual convention and their political plans for fall, she worked her own sources and started writing the #Dream9 piece. Now I got a chance to read the article and answer any questions from copy editors who were fact checking everything including name spellings, dates and agencies.

And then the story was ready – going up first online and then in the next day’s print edition. (After working on the story itself, my favorite part of this job is picking up the paper in the morning!)

So that’s one way an idea goes from a pitch in the newsroom to a story on your doorstep or in your coffee shop in 24 hours or less.

Overall it was a fast day of having the phone was glued to my ear and never being far from my laptop so I could log incoming interviews, look for more sources and dig for background information. But whether it’s a quick half day story or one I get to spend a year on, I love this job because I get the chance to explore what’s going on and look deeper into things by talking to as many of the people involved as possible.

As I do with each story, Tuesday evening I filed and backed up all my notes on sources and contact information from the day, including those I didn’t reach or have time to call. Now they’re ready to go in case of #Dream9 follow-up – or for the story that breaks next.

See Julia Preston‘s July 23 The New York Times story pulling everything together: 9 in Deportation Protest Are Held in Bid to Re-enter U.S.

Nick Oza/The Arizona Republic, via Associated Press

Nick Oza/The Arizona Republic, via Associated Press

Family through a fence

A bittersweet reunion lets three young immigrants see – and reach for – their deported mothers through a fence.

A bittersweet reunion lets three young immigrants see - and reach for - their deported mothers through a fence while organizers and reporters look on.

Samantha Sais for The New York Times

Samantha Sais for The New York Times

Read more here in my June 11 The New York Times piece: Immigrants Reach Beyond a Legal Barrier for a Reunion

As a young man and two young women approached the border from the Arizona side, a cry rang out through the bars of the border fence. Waiting for their children in matching turquoise t-shirts on the Mexican side were their mothers, separated for years since their deportations for being illegally present in the U.S.

The six came together, reaching through the spaces between the thick metal poles, with sobs and laughter under the watchful (and not always dry) eyes of organizers, reporters, Border Patrol, and Mexican Federales last Tuesday – the culmination of days of travel and two months of planning.

All three children are in President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which gives qualified applicants the ability to go to school, work and in some states get drivers licenses while they wait for a more permanent resolution to their legal status limbo. It’s a way for participants to start coming out of the shadows. But it also means that they can’t leave the country to visit their parents who can’t legally return to the U.S. and who live in Brazil, Columbia and southern Mexico. Not to mention the costs and documentation involved in international travel.

IMG_0361That means the unplanned family separations that started with their mothers’ arrests stretched from days, weeks and months to years.

Both children and parents said that when the possibly of a reunion came up it seemed unreal – yet they were eager to try.

Under the intense, direct heat of the desert sun one young woman passed her mother jewelry, the other gave nail polish and a copy of Mama Mia – the young man simply never let go of shoulders of the woman who reached back with silver ringed hands to stroke his face and grasp his head.


(These are my photos from the event, taken just to review along with my notes while writing.)