Culture

This Día De Los Muertos, Let’s Honor Those Who Died Looking For The American Dream

Every year, thousands of people from Central America and Mexico leave behind everything and everyone they’ve known and loved for a shot at a better life. Best case scenario, they survive the treacherous journey and end up working some low wage job. Worst case scenario, they die in anonymity, far from a family that has no idea what’s happened to them.

Every year, the U.S. Border Patrol recovers the remains of at least 200 dead immigrants across the southwest border. Those are just the bodies they’ve FOUND.

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For many immigrants, getting to the U.S. border is the easy part. The real struggle comes from having to traverse the brutal Sonoran desert or the punishing ranch lands of Texas. Dehydration, exposure to a blistering sun, injury, and even wildlife makes that part of the journey an actual living hell. For hundreds, the unfriendly setting becomes their graveyard.

When an immigrant dies, it’s like they disappear forever.  When authorities find their bodies, the remains are so decomposed that identification is next to impossible. In one Texas county, the remains were buried in mass graves. This year alone, 54 bodies were recovered from that same county.

Credit: Fusion/YouTube

“Nobody cares about dead immigrants,” forensic anthropologist Dr. Lori Baker told the Texas Observer last year. Baker led the excavation of the Falfurrias mass grave. They’re harsh words, but they’re true, and no one knows this better than Baker. She has devoted much of her professional career to finding who the dead bodies belong to so that they can be reunited with their families for proper mourning. Much of this work is done through her organization, “Reuniting Families.”

Despite the Herculean task, a lot of good people are doing everything they can to identify the bodies and give them a name.

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Credit: Jen Reel/Texas Observer

Last year, the Texas Observer teamed up with Baker to launch a photographic database of personal belongings found next to excavated bodies. Because the remains are so deteriorated, forensic analysis becomes increasingly harder. The hope is that the families looking for their loved ones can sift through the images to see if they recognize anything. It’s a long shot, but at this point anything helps. Elmer Barahona Iraheta, a 22-year-old father who left El Salvador so as to provide for his young daughter, was identified this way.

It’s not just the Texas Observer that’s trying to help. Earlier this July, local California newspaper The Desert Sun published photographs of actual dead bodies in hopes that someone could identify them.

The point of Día De Los Muertos is to remember and honor our loved ones who have passed. Those who died trying to find a better life for them and theirs deserve to be remembered. They had a name and a story to tell. Politics aside, no one deserves to die in the middle of nowhere, only to be forgotten. They existed. Their lives matter.


In remembrance, we encourage you to make a donation to Reuniting Families. The nonprofit runs entirely on the support of volunteers. They could use every little bit of help.


READ: The U.S. Can Thank Immigrants For Its Youthful Appearance

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Mexico is Turning Old Factories Into Shelters to Help Stranded Asylum Seekers at the Border

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Mexico is Turning Old Factories Into Shelters to Help Stranded Asylum Seekers at the Border

A huge story that we’ve been following all year has to do with the thousands of asylum seekers at the border of Mexico and the United States. These migrants have traveled mostly by foot over hundreds of miles from Central America in order to find safety away from dangerous homes. However, instead of being able to seek asylum in America a decades’ old process implemented by the US government these South American immigrants have been stuck in limbo at the border. 

The radical changes to the asylum process brought on by the Trump administration has left these individuals with no home and no hope for one in the near future. Instead, the Border Security Agency has kept thousands of asylum seekers in captivity. These detentions facilities are over packed, lacking basic amenities and separate children from their families. In short, America has truly abandoned these people. However, Mexico is working to clean up the mess left behind by the Trump Administration. 

The Mexican government is converting empty factories near the border to house asylum seekers turned away from the US. 

Twitter / @LatinoUSA

In a report by “Mother Jones,” we are now getting our first look at these facilities. Converted from an old maquiladora, the Leona Vicario Migrant Integration Center now acts as a shelter along the Mexican border. The center opened its doors about 4 months ago as the first of many shelters planned by the Mexican government in order to house displaced migrants. Currently, Leona Vicario Migrant Center provides a temporary home for 600 Central Americans. 

Converting these factories is meant to combat an issue created by the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program. 

Twitter / @HispanicCaucus

Also known as “Remain in Mexico,” under this new program, asylum seekers are denied entry into the United States and are instead forced to stay in Mexico during their asylum proceedings. The process of seeking asylum can take many months or even years, leaving these migrants without a home or resolution. Since the Migrant Protection Protocols program was began back in January 2019, more than 50,000 asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexico.

The decision to create residential housing out of these old factories came after President Trump threatened Mexico with steep tariffs if the government continued to allow asylum seekers to reach the border. These tariffs would devastate the Mexican economy so their government conceded to the USA’s demands. “Any expense we incur in building shelters like this one will be far less than what the tariffs would cost us,” Mexico’s Labor Undersecretary, Horacio Duarte Olivares, said at Leona Vicario’s opening ceremony.

Though Leona Vicario is obviously a re-purposed factory, there are clear signs that the space is attempting to mimic homes that these asylum seekers have lost.

Twitter / @DocBearOMD

A mural of Central American and Mexican flags adorns one of the center’s walls. This image is bordered by colorful hand prints from Leona Vicario’s first residents in an attempt to bring some color to the concrete floors and cinder block walls. The facility managers’ of the center attempt to bring some joy to the lives of the asylum seekers by organizing holiday celebrations and different workshops. 

About half of the center’s population is made up of children of various ages. A makeshift nursery is communally watched over by the mothers of the migrant group. In another room, a temporary school has been established to help supplement the education that the children are being deprived of. 

Outside the building, a giant camo-painted food truck is run by members of the Mexican military in order to provide meals to those housed at the facility. They even have a second tortilladora truck to pump out the thousands of tortillas eaten every day. 

Centers like Leona Vicario are still an experiment and are not meant to be a long term solution for these families who are returned to Mexico. 

Twitter / @MotherJones

When migrants first arrive at the border, they are usually held for a few weeks before being returned to Mexican land. Usually, they are not even aware of what is happening and still think they are in the United States. The hope with centers like Leona Vicario is that asylum seekers who are returned to Mexico can acclimate themselves to their new surroundings. These centers are only meant to house each group of migrants for two weeks at a time. That is how long it usually takes for the Mexican government to find jobs for the adults. However, they are still allowed to stay a few additional weeks in order to get their affairs in order. The goal is successfully getting the migrant on their feet while waiting out their asylum process. 

The Mexican government is opening two more migrant integration centers by the end of this month with a forth planned in the near future. It isn’t an ideal situation but it’s a far cry from the cages and foil blankets of the detention facilities in the United States. Most importantly, families can stay together and that means everything in uncertain times like these. 

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The Trump Administration Is Proposing Raising Application Costs For DACA Recipients And Charging For Asylum Applications

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The Trump Administration Is Proposing Raising Application Costs For DACA Recipients And Charging For Asylum Applications

U.S. National Archives / Flickr

There is tough news out of Washington this week that could make chasing the American Dream cost a lot more. According to a report published on Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security is proposing raising a range of fees for those seeking legal immigration and citizenship, as well as an increase in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal fees. There would also a proposed charge for asylum applications, which would charge $50 for applications and $490 for work permits. As of now, only Fiji, Australia and Iran currently do this for asylum applications. 

The price hikes would make the cost of citizenship applications go up by 83 percent, from $640 to $1,170. This would primarily affect roughly 9 million immigrants that are eligible to become U.S. citizens. DACA fees would also see a substantial rise as they would increase from $495 to $765. News of this fee hike comes in the same week that the Supreme Court heard arguments on the validity of President Trump’s justification to terminate DACA.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the “current fees do not recover the full costs of providing adjudication and naturalization services.” The last time this such fee schedule was adjusted was at the end of 2016.

Credit: The Washington Post

The reasoning for the proposed price hikes and new fees is to help cover new expenses at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of USCIS, said that this will help the agency cover new costs in the last few years due to an increase in citizenship applications. 

“USCIS is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures, just like a business, and make adjustments based on that analysis. This proposed adjustment in fees would ensure more applicants cover the true cost of their applications and minimize subsidies from an already over-extended system,” Cuccinelli said in a press release. “Furthermore, the adjudication of immigration applications and petitions requires in-depth screening, incurring costs that must be covered by the agency, and this proposal accounts for our operational needs and better aligns our fee schedule with the costs of processing each request.”    

As of now, the agency will have a period of 30 days to receive public opinion, as established by law. The plan then is expected to go into effect Dec. 2, while the comment period will remain open until Dec. 16. 

Credit: @nytimes / Twitter

After the comment period ends next month, USCIS is then obligated by law to consider comments on the proposal before any of the new fees can put forward. This time period is key for millions of immigrants that are eligible to naturalize and become U.S. citizens before such fees rise. Immigration advocacy groups are calling forward to those groups as they may have only a few weeks before these price hikes go into effect. 

“If you were lacking motivation before, it’s now even more important because this outrageous rule aims to price out low-income and working-class immigrants from U.S. citizenship and so many other immigration benefits,” Diego Iñiguez-López, NPNA’s policy and campaigns manager, said in a statement to NBC News. 

These proposed price hikes come at a time when the overall percentage of lawful immigrants living in the country that are willfully applying for and gaining citizenship has reached its highest level in more than 20 years. That can’t be said for Mexican Americans who fall behind other groups when it comes to naturalization rates. This is also despite being the biggest group of lawful immigrants in terms of country of origin. 

“This is one more way under the administration that they are making legal immigration unattainable,” Ur Jaddou, former chief counsel at USCIS under the Obama administration, told Buzzfeed News.

Advocacy groups call the price hikes an attempt to further hurt those with already limited resources.  

Credit: @ken_crichlow / Twitter

Boundless, an immigration services firm, called the proposed price hike another blow to immigrants trying to come into the U.S. The firm says that increased fees target the poor and those in vulnerable positions by pricing them out of citizenship.

“Once again, this administration is attempting to use every tool at its disposal to restrict legal immigration and even U.S. citizenship,” said Doug Rand, the group’s co-founder, told the Washington Post .“It’s an unprecedented weaponization of government fees.”

READ: Mexico Has Made It Illegal To Buy And Sell Moss: What Will Your Tías Use For Their Nacimientos Now?