CLINIC has launched new initiatives at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a quick and needed response to the escalating migration crisis over the past year. Among the initiatives is the Border Rights Project, which began servicing the Tijuana, Mexico side of the border last November. The project helps provide legal screenings to asylum seekers in Mexico, as well as those subjected to the Migration Protection Protocols, or MPP — more commonly referred to as Remain in Mexico. CLINIC staff, principally Strategic Capacity Officer Luis Guerra, have provided assistance to thousands of migrants who reach the Mexican border asking for asylum.
As an undergraduate summer intern at CLINIC’s national office in Silver Spring, my contribution to this project has been a small part of a comprehensive operation. However, working on this initiative has exposed me to the ever-changing U.S. immigration policies negatively affecting thousands at the border and the enduring selfless efforts carried out by volunteers and organizations on the ground. My first exposure to the project was through data entry. I, along with many other volunteers, helped input the intake paper-based information taken from asylum seekers in Tijuana into a system created by LawLab to help store sensitive data digitally, in a single file. Through this case management system, attorneys and immigrants alike could access their information online and on their cellphones. Because the information would be online, it becomes accessible through smartphones, another platform through which asylum seekers may check this information.
In the process of inputting their data into the system, I familiarized with Notice to Appear documents, extensive border patrol interviews (some interviewing children younger than 10 years old), unfortunate pieces of evidence detailing the ongoing violence and threat in the countries these migrants are escaping from, and the diverse demographics of the populations arriving at Mexico’s northern border with California. These migrants are subjected to becoming a number on a metering list that has surpassed the thousands and is a vital piece of information that grants a migrant’s entry into the United States. Many people report having spent weeks to months in Mexico hoping to have their number called to be allowed into the United States to request asylum. In the process of going through cases, it is difficult to ignore the details, such as a person’s age or the reason for migrating.
As the child of Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants who passed through Tijuana themselves on their many attempts to come to the United States, I recognize that my life could have been very different.
I take notice of those who are my age, some with whom I share a birthday; all coming from a diversity of countries, ranging from Cameroon and Eritrea to Venezuela and Cuba. Regardless, we are all 20 years old and looking to secure the best future we can in a country that has promoted liberty since its inception, but has done the opposite to those seeking it at its borders. These people have stories that make them more than a number; some have embarked on journeys from homelands on the other side of the world, believing the United States is still a land of opportunity where their children, and themselves, can find stability. The administration is dismissing their humanity by not hearing their stories and by choosing to disregard asylum seekers as people who are willingly coming to the United States wanting to contribute to this country.
About the author: Alondra Vazquez Lopez is CLINIC's 2019 FirstGen fellow. She is an undergraduate student double majoring in ethnicity, race and migration, and art at Yale.