It may be noticeable that things have slowed down a bit here this summer… The good news: I’ve been hired for a project with JCCF. The bad news: I have to put this blog on an indefinite hiatus while I work on it, as I just can’t keep both going at the same time.
When I get back, one thing I’ll be doing here is exploring ways in which the material for the two projects, immigration and domestic violence, overlap. In the meantime this recent article, Top Immigration Court Hands Huge Win to Battered Women Seeking Asylum, on a recent Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision regarding asylum is one example.
While I’m gone, everything on the blog will stay up as is. Comments can still be submitted. Resource links and other suggestions are very welcome and will start being added again when I return. Thank you for your patience!
Recently, the blog received a cheery request to post a link to a site that promised help with immigration paperwork. The site looks official and trustworthy, both in the name of the site. It even comes up first in a google search on immigration forms.
The site does disclose that the forms can be downloaded for free from the government and that the government may charge additional fees. So what does this site offer? They say that they will make your application easy and error free.
Sounds good? Sure – which is why it’s important to double check if the site is legitimate. Unfortunately in this case, there’s many complaints that describe the site as a rip-off and a scam at the site’s Consumer Affairs page. Entry after entry notes that they have paid fees for what would be free directly from the government and gotten little to nothing in return. Clients report that the company is unresponsive to complaints and unwilling to give refunds.
Here are a few of the comments:
“I thought I was on the legit site for the Immigration Dept. Their company is the first one that comes up when you search for Immigration. Their site looks exactly like the legit Immigration site. When I paid, I thought these were the fees for getting my citizenship. They charge you for using a form on their site that you can get for free from the legit Immigration Department. They charged me $189.00 for nothing.”
Signed up for a green card for my wife and self. They charged us 2 x $159.00 because of separate filing. Did not know that these same forms are available on the Govt. website without having to pay the Immigrationdirect.com website. Try to call and complain without getting any credit for these credit card fees. Besides, paying 2 x $450.00 each to the official U.S. government immigration service. We did not know that we were had until our interview last week by the US Immigration Service when we ask why we also had to pay www.immigrationdirect.com. They advised us to file with the state of Illinois legal aid to recover the excess fees paid. Fraudulent use of the false U.S. website is falsely having been charged.
How is this possible? This looks just like the real thing… This must be against the law or something.. This people have my SSN, my ALIEN # and almost my credit card #. I said almost cuz I wasn’t ready to file it yet… I filled up the app. Was asked to pay $149 for my green card. I went to put my money into my bank then I got a phone call from Immigrationdirect… I didn’t answer but I got voice mail :-/ very strange: Like since when immigration will call you back ha? Well this voice on my voice machine offered 25% off the original $149 fee for my green card… Now this is when I stop doing anything and start to put things together… Don’t fall for it, it’s not real website. Go directly to immigration in your town but just to be clear, something has to be done with this website. This is not good!!!!
When a site seems official and offers a much desired short cut, it can be all too tempting to skip the due diligence we’re likely to do when we ask friends about a new brand or read reviews about online merchants. Yet when the stakes are high this double checking is even more important. That’s when you have the least to lose to people who are trying to take advantage of you for their own profit.
Though this particular site does include a fine print disclosure that the forms are available for free elsewhere, the small print is for their protection – protection from lawsuits and refunds – and not for yours.
And when it comes to official U.S. government forms, look for “.gov” websites – they’re not always easy to navigate and there may be fees when you file – but the forms themselves are nearly always available for free.
Also, a huge thanks to Ellen Kroeker for the initial background on this site and then working all the way through this post with me!
Community participation. It’s become such a catch phrase that making it solidify when you stop to really look at it can be tricky, like trying to see synergy or social networking. Yet it was an excitingly tangible part of the event I covered Saturday, the official launch of the Colibri Center for Human Rights which included the Tucson premiere of Who is Dayani Cristal?
More than 400 people showed up – more than double the number that attended the award winning documentary’s New York premiere. But a crowd alone doesn’t mean community.
Here’s the thing: many of the 400 + people who were there last night are active in the community about these issues; many were featured in the film or interviewed as part of the background research. Since many of the people at the event have been working together, or at least known each other, for years, the evening was full of familiar faces greeting familiar faces.
For more about the film, check out the trailer below and for more about Colibri’s official launch event, check out my coverage for Tucson Sentinel article here:
• Colibri Center launch puts human faces to border issues – Tucson Sentinel on 6 May 2014
“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.
When 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.”
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.
(a post event coverage from The Tucson Sentinel 16 October 2013 piece Border activists declare victory after protest at closed Phx ICE HQ)
Protests, 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.
These 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?).
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?
• Border activists declare victory after protest at closed Phx ICE HQ – Tucson Sentinel on 16 October 2013