By KAY MATTHEWS
I can’t stop thinking about Raúl, the Guatemalan immigrant I met at a shelter in Las Cruces in April of this year, on his way with his young daughter to Alabama where his brother lives. It was Mississippi, not Alabama, where ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raided seven chicken processing plants last week, arresting 680 people, predominantly undocumented Latino immigrants, who work there. But it could be Alabama next. Raúl’s brother works at a chicken processing plant and Raúl hoped to get work there, too, so he can send money to his wife and other children still in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. He and his wife could no longer make a living on their farm so he came north hoping to do the dirty work in a chicken factory that Americans don’t want to do.
The owners of the raided chicken farms in Mississippi remain free, although if ICE were actually enforcing immigration law it would have arrested them. The billionaire owner of Koch Foods (apparently no relation to the infamous Nebraska Koch brothers) then contacted the state employment agency to help him hold a job fair to replace the Latino workers. Koch Goods not only settled a worker discrimination lawsuit last year but is also accused of cutting off black farmers who had contracted with the company to supply chickens.
Raúl’s application for asylum will probably be turned down because it’s based on economics, not “credible fear,” which is what the asylum seeker must claim: “An individual will be found to have a credible fear of persecution if he or she establishes that there is a ‘significant possibility’ that he or she could establish in a full hearing before an Immigration Judge that he or she has been persecuted or has a well-founded fear of persecution or harm on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion if returned to his or her country.” (Defined by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.) This, despite the fact that U.S. foreign policy for decades in Central America supported—and covertly put in place—corrupt and violent governments that suppressed democracy movements that could have led to better economic conditions for Raúl and his fellow citizens.
I recently got an e-mail from Sylvia Corona, the volunteer coordinator at Project Oak Tree, saying that it’s likely the Immaculate Heart of Mary Cathedral shelter will shut down, due to the slow down of migrants coming through. This is mostly due to Trump’s order that Border and Custom Protection send migrants seeking asylum back to Mexico to wait for a hearing once their papers have been processed. These are the people like Raúl who IHM took care of, providing them with food, a night’s rest, clothing, and tickets to their destinations to join family members and sponsors all across the U.S. Not only are immigrants being denied due process at the border, they’re being rounded up all over the country and deported.
But wait, it gets worse. In his latest edict, Trump plans to deny legal immigrants public services like food stamps or subsidies for housing, another of his “deterrent” policies that are racist, inhumane, and do nothing to fix or reform U.S. immigration policy.
Sylvia sent her e-mail shortly after the shooter in El Paso killed 22 people, mostly Latinos and many Mexicans who cross the border to shop. “We are over whelmed with sadness,” she said—and fear. But she and her team continue to sort donations, hoping there will be migrants allowed in for them to care for again. In another e-mail she thanked her “norteño angels” for all their help over the past year: “I am so darn proud of New Mexico and the people from this wonderful state. A state that pulls together, that has compassion and love for our fellow human beings. I love that I have met you. Each and every one of you has touched my heart. And in many ways, touched the lives of many sweet, humble people from Central America. We have shown them our love and what we are about. I always tell them as they leave, that to remember they came through New Mexico.”
We “norteño angels” thank you, Sylvia, and all the other volunteers at Project Oak Tree who have devoted their lives to helping people seeking a better life.