Part three of a three part blog series “A View from the Border: Providing Legal Assistance to Asylum Seekers in Tijuana. Thousands of people from the Central American Northern Triangle and elsewhere – adults, unaccompanied minors, and families – have come to the Mexican towns at the U.S.- Mexican border. Most of them are hoping to request asylum in the United States but have little or no information about the requirements for asylum or the process for requesting it. Thus, legal assistance in preparing for asylum interviews is a critical need, along with the basic needs of shelter, food, and medical care. The non-profit organization Al Otro Lado put out a call to U.S. immigration lawyers to volunteer time at the border to provide this vital informatiion. Santa Clara University, with its concern for immigrants, has a particular calling to support asylum-seekers, and Clinical Professor of Law Evangeline Abriel travelled to Tijuana to help.
I am so grateful to be here with Amanda, Shoshana, and Jessica. We have each done different types of work while here – Amanda working closely to document the case of a women considered an MVP, Shoshana and Jessica with the daily individual consultations. Between all of us, the experiences feel extensive and profound. And I am grateful to Santa Clara Law for allowing me this experience.
We enter Mexico again and linger for a few minutes at the plaza of the Garita Chaparral, where the list maintainers are calling out numbers and names. They are up to number 1220. It takes a long time between numbers because each number represents ten individuals and, once the number is called, the people gather their belongings and their children and come up to the blue tarpaulin, where the list maintainers check their documents and, if they correspond to the number called, direct them to wait on the sidewalk on the other side of the puente. Then the list maintainers call the next number. Al Otro Lado legal volunteers are there giving the people who will be turning themselves in one last credible fear interview prep.
We are assigned again to meet with asylum seekers in the individual consultations following the daily charla. There are many people today, more than on Monday, because the Al Otro Lado volunteers at the Garita Chaparral have been spreading the word about the charlas and consultations. Each of us provide several consultations. One of the people I consult with is an 18 year old Venezuelan young man. I listen to his story, tell him how the facts fit the elements for asylum, and give him a list of evidence to try to obtain. He thanks me profusely and hugs me twice. Then I meet with a Honduran couple fleeing gang violence on their children. As we talk, they tell me that they are not married although they have been together many years. I tell them about the marriage ceremonies being performed upstairs by the U.S. pastors and ask if they are interested. They look at each other and both say yes. I take them upstairs and put them on the marriage list.
We have a final debriefing meeting with Luis. We are leaving tomorrow, and this meeting reminds us that the work will go on after we leave. There are particular concerns about the possibility of the police forcing people to leave the Benito Juarez area, the difficulty of finding a place to give charlas at El Barretal, the need for remote clinics at the various shelters around Tijuana, the need to develop a better process for providing safety for unaccompanied minors, how to ensure that people do not go into their credible fear interviews with no orientation. Luis thanks us for our stay at Al Otro Lado, but we feel that we have gained more than we’ve given. As we leave, I ask the Methodist pastor if he married the couple I put on the marriage list. He said yes and that it was a beautiful ceremony. A nice way to end my time here.