Category Archives: Immigration USA

A young family left El Salvador for a better life. Their tragedy encapsulates the immigration crisis

OscarÓscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez left San Salvador with his wife Tania Vanessa Ávalos and 23-month-old daughter Angie Valeria for a better future in the US. Photograph: handout El Salvadorian authorities

When Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez told his mother that he was planning to take his wife and young daughter from their home on the outskirts of the San Salvador and head north to the United States, she felt a shiver of foreboding.

“I had a feeling,” said Rosa Ramírez, 46. “An ugly premonition.”

But Óscar was eager to follow his dream of a better future for his wife Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21, and their 23-month-old daughter Angie Valeria. The family set out in April, heading for Mexico. “I told him to take it step by step,” Ramírez told the Guardian. “But he got impatient.”

Twelve weeks later, Óscar and Angie Valeria drowned in each others arms as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande and reach US soil. A harrowing photograph of the two bodies lying in shallow water cast a harsh spotlight on the region’s migration crisis, and once again underlined the dangers facing families seeking to escape poverty, violence and corruption in Central America.

Pope Francis expressed his “immense sadness” at the accident, while in the US, the image turned up the heat on a bitter partisan debate over immigration.

Back at the family’s neatly-painted brick house, Ramírez was left struggling with her loss. “I feel a huge emptiness,” she said. A purple stuffed monkey and baby doll that belonged Angie Valeria still lay on a chair in the living room.

The last time she spoke to Óscar was on Saturday, when he called from Mexico. He told her he was fine – as he had in every phone call since they set out. In retrospect, she wonders if he said so only to calm her worries.

The next morning the couple arrived in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, where they attempted to seek asylum at the port of entry. They were turned away and decided to cross the river which divides Mexico from the US. Óscar crossed first with Angie Valeria, then turned back to help Ávalos, but the little girl followed him into the water; Óscar tried to save her, but the current swept them both away.

They were found on Monday, just half a mile (1km) from an international bridge, Valeria tucked inside her father’s T-shirt – presumably in an attempt to stay together. For Ramírez, the photograph is a source of pain but also a measure of comfort.

“It’s tough … that image. But at the same time, it fills me with tenderness. I feel so many things, because at no time did he let go of her.”

“You can see how he protected her,” she told the Associated Press. “They died in each other’s arms.”

Relatives and neighbours remembered Óscar as a young man who was dedicated to his role as a father and husband.

Unlike many Salvadoran migrants, his decision to migrate was not prompted by the rampant criminality which besets this Central American country. Altamira, the neighbourhood where Óscar and Tania lived, is dominated by a street gang, but locals said that violence had somewhat decreased in recent months.

Both parents had jobs – Óscar had a minimum-wage job at a pizzeria, while Ávalos worked as a cashier in a fast-food restaurant – but the two incomes were just not enough for them to buy a place of their own.

“They went looking for a better life and then this tragedy happened,” said Cecilia Rodriguez, 23, who sells tortillas near the family’s house. Óscar was a regular customer, and would often bring his daughter with him.

At 23 months, Angie Valeria still didn’t talk much, but she was always laughing, Rodriguez said. “When he was off work, I saw that he was always here with his family,” she said.

Moises Gómez was a childhood friend of Óscar’s; as boys they had spent their time watching videos and listening to music, although the two had seen much less of each other since Angie Valeria’s birth. “I felt bad when I heard,” said Gómez, 22. “He was a friend all my life, so it hurt. And his daughter was so young.”

“We never thought this would happen,” said neighbor Marta Argueta de Andrade, 63, who said Angie Valeria would often stand on the family’s couch propped against the window so that she could wave to Argueta.

Argueta always saw father and daughter together, usually going on walks to the store. “Maybe they should have stayed – but no one knows that when they leave,” she said.

Argueta said that recently her grandson, who just turned 21, has also been thinking of migrating to the US.

“So many leave here because of the desperation and poverty. They can’t find work,” she said. Young men are particularly vulnerable in the gang-controlled neighborhood. “You hear that they’ve killed one person and then another and it makes you scared,” Argueta said.

But now she is just as worried for her grandson to try to go to the US. “With the tragedy that has happened, I would tell him that he shouldn’t go,” she said.

Gómez said he had also been considering leaving for the US.

“I’ve always had the dream of going to the US. and coming back to buy a house and making sure that my mom doesn’t lack anything,” said Gómez. “But after seeing the suffering of this family, not anymore.”



Guatemalan migrant girl, seven, dies in US border patrol custody *Girl named as Jakelin Caal was arrested after crossing border *Father told US officials his daughter was sick and vomiting

Migrant photo     A US border patrol agent keeps watch on the US-Mexico border

US border control agents have reported an increasing number of large groups of immigrants, many with young children, turning themselves in. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Amanda Holpuch in New York

A seven-year-old girl who crossed a remote part of the US-Mexico border with her father last week died less than two days after being apprehended by the US border patrol in New Mexico, immigration officials have said.

The girl vomited and stopped breathing in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before being transferred to a hospital, where she suffered brain swelling and cardiac arrest, according to CBP.

The CBP commissioner, Kevin McAleenan, identified the girl as Jakelin Caal Maquin. “We welcome the Department of Homeland Security’s investigation and will review the incident operationally to learn from this tragedy,” McAleenan said.

The girl and her father, both from Guatemala, were traveling in a group of 163 people, including 50 children who were traveling without a parent, when they were apprehended at around 9.15pm on 6 December.

Four border patrol agents were on the scene, according to CBP and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, who said it was not unusual for a small group of agents to confront large groups of migrants.

The agents conducted a screening that included a health observation. Her father indicated his daughter was healthy on a form officials said was in English but would have been marked according to a Spanish interview with the father.

They were held in a small facility near the border before being transferred by bus to a border patrol station 95 miles away. At that facility, officials said people had access to food, water and restrooms.

On the bus, just before 5 am, the father told agents his child was sick and vomiting, then personnel at their destination were notified about the medical situation, officials said. Once they arrived, about an hour later, the father told agents his child was not breathing. Emergency medical technicians revived her twice before she was taken by air ambulance to a children’s hospital in El Paso, Texas.

Officials said later that morning Jakelin went into cardiac arrest, showed signs of brain swelling in a scan, was breathing by machine and had liver failure.

She died at 12:35 am on Saturday with her father on the scene, officials said.

“On behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child,” a CBP spokesperson said. “Border patrol agents took every possible step to save the child’s life under the most trying of circumstances. As fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, we empathize with the loss of any child.”

The CBP said it will investigate the incident and that an autopsy of the girl is expected.

The girl was suffering from dehydration and shock, according to CBP records seen by the Washington Post. The agency told the Post the girl “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days”. The CBP did not confirm those details to the Guardian.

In response to the death, the White House, CBP and DHS repeatedly emphasized that the journey to the northern border is “extremely dangerous” because of the threat of violence, trafficking, extreme weather and wild animals. They said people should arrive at designated ports of entry instead of at other places on the 2,000-mile border.

But migrant rights groups say the Trump administration is exacerbating those dangers by limiting how many people can present for asylum at designated ports of entry.

Journalists and humanitarian groups have documented the US government limiting how many people can present themselves for asylum each day at ports of entry in a practice known as “metering”.

And in October, the DHS’s watchdog, the office of inspector general, said there were documented incidents of people being turned away at ports of entry and told to return when it was less busy. The report said there was evidence “limiting the volume of asylum seekers entering at ports of entry leads some aliens who would otherwise seek legal entry into the United States to cross the border illegally.”

The Trump administration also tried to bar people from seeking asylum outside ports of entry, but a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the ban because he said the government could not prove it was legal. On Tuesday, the Trump administration asked the supreme court to reinstate the ban.

The White House deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley, said the girl’s death was tragic. She said: “If we could just come together and pass some commonsense laws to disincentivize people from coming up from the border and encourage them to do it the right way, the legal way, then those types of deaths, those types of assaults, those types of rapes, the child smuggling, the human trafficking … that would all come to an end.”

Cynthia Pompa, the advocacy manager for the ACLU border rights centre, said the number of migrant deaths had increased last year even as the number of border crossings fell.

“This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions. Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths,” Pompa said.

Forty arrested at Catholic-led DACA Protest

Catholic News Agency
By Christine Rousselle

Catholic-led DACA protest in Washington, DC, Feb. 27, 2018. Credit: Jonah McKeown, CNA

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2018 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- A group of about 100 people–including Franciscan friars, religious sisters, and laity–gathered in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Building in Washington on Tuesday, and were led away in flex cuffs in a planned act of civil disobedience.

The protest was intended to pressure Congress to take action on “Dreamers,” or people who were brought to the United States illegally as children. It was organized as part of the Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers, an event planned by Catholic social advocacy groups.

One of those arrested was Sr. Tracy Kemme, a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati. Prior to her arrest, Kemme told CNA that she considered her actions to be worthwhile to help protect the immigrant community.

“Myself, two of my sisters, and one of our associates will be doing civil disobedience,” said Kemme. She continued, “It’s a moral moment of truth and it’s worth it to us to try to raise the consciousness of our legislators.”

Registered “Dreamers” are afforded renewable protection from deportation under an Obama-era policy called the “Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals” (DACA). President Donald Trump sought to end DACA in September of 2017 and gave Congress a six-month period to come up with a solution before the protections would expire on March 5.

Two federal courts have issued injunctions preventing the President from ending DACA.

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to consider the Administration’s expedited appeal of those injunctions, ensuring that the program will remain as-is until a final court decision is made later this year.

Congressional legislators have been unable to pass compromise bills that would have codified parts of DACA into law. On Monday, the USCCB urged Catholics to call their Congressmen as part of the “National Call-in Day for the Protection of Dreamers.”

The PICO National Network, along with Faith in Public Life and the DC Catholic Coalition, organized Tuesday’s “day of action.” The day featured a prayer rally and peaceful civil disobedience, culminating with the arrests.

Kemme told CNA that she hopes Congress is able to pass a DREAM Act unconnected to other proposed immigration reforms, and that her faith inspires her passion of working with the immigrant community.

“As a Catholic, my end goal would be comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship that keeps families together,” she said.

Kemme’s desires were echoed by Sr. Elise Garcia, O.P., from the Dominican sisters in Adrian, Michigan. Garcia said she was in D.C. on Tuesday to pray for the Dreamers as well as for elected leaders, and she too would like to see comprehensive immigration reform.

“Ideally, I would like to see an entire comprehensive package of immigration reform. That’s the ideal. Short of that, I’d like to see justice for Dreamers,” who have only known the United States as their home.

Before the Capitol Police attempted to disperse the protest, Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., Bishop of Lexington, addressed the crowd. Once the crowd began loudly praying a decade of the rosary, the police started to make arrests.

A total of 40 people were arrested and charged with “Crowding, Obstructing, or Incommoding.”



Join March 16th Airport Protests Against Rewritten Refugee and Muslim

cwsWe are fast approaching the March 16 date on which President Trump’ re-written Executive Order will take effect. As you well know, the order will discriminate against individuals from certain countries and grind the refugee resettlement program to a halt. It also significantly reduces the number of refugees we welcome in the United States, turning our backs on more than 60,000 individuals who we have pledged to protect. After the first refugee and Muslim ban was stopped by litigation and thousands mobilizing at airports it is time to once again show up and resist these unjust and discriminatory policies.

Take Action! We are calling for community mobilizations at airports on Thursday, March 16th to publicly oppose Trump’s refugee ban. Continue reading Join March 16th Airport Protests Against Rewritten Refugee and Muslim

Tell President Obama: Stop ICE Raids of Immigrants Fleeing Violence


As  many of us were celebrating Christmas with our loved ones, news of immigration raids provoked fear and despair in immigrant communities across our nation. The Obama Administration, specifically Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, indicated that the raids were intended to deport families fleeing violence in Central America that entered the United States in recent years and had been denied asylum. We know that these vulnerable families are provided very little information about their rights and are in many cases denied legal assistance when presenting their case in immigration court. Email President Obama now and let him know that this unjust treatment of our immigrant sisters and brothers MUST end.

Since the latest raids began on January 2, more than 121 Central American adults and children have been taken into custody and placed into deportation proceedings. We are hearing heartbreaking stories of children who were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and families that were torn apart. Reports from around the country indicate that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is using many of the actions to detain and deport a broader group of immigrants than families recently here from Central America. Fear in the immigrant community is extremely high. Continue reading Tell President Obama: Stop ICE Raids of Immigrants Fleeing Violence

Sign Petition to Obama Administration Asking to End Family Detention

Dear Friends,

In the summer of 2014, the Obama Administration responded to an increase in the arrival of families from Central America by expanding its capacity to imprison asylum-seeking families. Over the course of a year, our country went from having less than 100 family detention beds to having 3,000. More than 2,900 of these beds are owned by private prison companies.

Persons of faith and persons of conscience organized against this increase in the use of family detention. As a result, the Administration has made small concessions and changes in the way they implement family detention. On July 24th Judge Dolly Gee, in the Central District of California, ruled that the government’s use of family detention was in material breach of a legal agreement governing the treatment of immigrant children. This decision would result in the release of almost every mother and child now in detention and could be the tipping point that finally ends family detention.

Today is your opportunity to tell the Administration to not appeal this ruling. Add your name to this letter to let President Barack Obama, Secretary Jeh Johnson of the Department of Homeland Security, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch know that you want them to #EndFamilyDetention and you want #NoDHSAppeal of this case.

Sign this petition which will be delivered to the Administration on August 3, 2015.

Then share that you have signed on social media!

Please forward this to your networks!


Ann Scholz, SSND, PhD
Associate Director for Social Mission
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
8808 Cameron St.
Silver Spring MD, 20910
301-588-4955 (W)