An American Refugee Story

I cleaned our bookshelves to make room for new books and donate books to the library. I had two boxes. One box had books I loved, one in particular, which I planned to put in the garage. The other box was destined for the library. These boxes sat on our dining room table for about two weeks. My husband surprised me by taking one box to the library. Guess which one he took? Yes, the one filled with books I loved. It was one book in particular that was my Father’s about the Holocaust.
When he told me he didn’t give them all away yet he went out to the car and brought a few books back into the house that night. Knowing if that one cherished book was gone I would feel upset I didn’t look until the next day. Yes, it was gone. My family saw my reaction which was on the verge of tears. My husband said we can see if the library still has the book but today is filled with extracurricular activities for our children. As we were in the car driving to this scholastic competition I had time to think about what’s really important. It’s not that book. It was the fatigue I felt that morning because I’m teaching English as a Second Language to students in China so I began working that morning at 4:00am. Why do I teach these extra classes on a day when I will have to rush around so my daughter can compete in a scholastic contest so I can send my son to robotics camp this Spring.
I’m like many parents who do a lot of things in a single day to give their children every opportunity.
I could sense my entire family felt badly over the book insident but I told them it’s not what matters in the big picture. My Father cherished that book because his Parents fled the Pogroms in Russia to live and hopefully create a better life in America. He understood the risk because some of his extended family choose Eastern Europe. They successfully escaped the Pogroms but all but one were killed in the Holocaust.
Today around the world refugees are fleeing war, extreme poverty, violence with the hope they can rebuild and create a better life in a strange new homeland. I thought about my grandparents fleeing Russia. I imagined it to be similar to a scene in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I pictured my Greatgrandmother quickly grabbing things she thought were important but as the long journey continued with her eight children choosing to leave things by the side of a dirt road. I imagined her feeling like I did when I realized this cherished book was gone. I imagined her pulling herself together to focus on what was important and keeping the family calm and positive about heading to a foreign land.
Then I thought about the El Paso Texas and Mexican border as we drove by it in the car. I think about these refugees in the “caravan ” with the hope of getting asylum. What cherished things did they leave behind as they began their few thousand and months long journey. Traveling through foreign lands. Leaving behind their lives, homes, and often loved ones. How often did they choose to leave something by a dusty roadside, like my Grandmother did over a hundred years earlier? How were they holding their families together by trying to remain hopeful as they ventured into the scary unknown?
I wondered how America, filled with similar stories of refugees could turn into an unwelcoming place? What made some Americas feel such disdain or fear of these human beings risking everything for a chance at a life for their children? In my heart I believe there are more Americans who can find a similar story in their past. Maybe they are too far removed from the fear, the sacrifice, the emotions their ancestors felt leaving their homeland at a chance in this foreign land called America. I need to believe most see the humanity and the American tale in this “caravan ” of scared, desperate refugees hoping for a chance to live and perhaps a chance at a better life.
Mary Ellen Popkin
Mary Ellen Popkin
Show quoted text
Advertisements

Am I Still Welcome in America?

I wonder daily if I’m welcome in Trump’s America. Trump refuses to denounce David Duke, failed to speak out about Charlottesville, creates a “zero-tolerance” policy separating families seeking asylum. He spreads propaganda about the caravan filled with asylum seekers but he failed to call out the domestic terrorist who attempted to kill 2 former Presidents, a former Secretary of State, former Attorney General, former VP, former CIA director, two sitting Senators, a sitting member of Congress, American Citizens and CNN news. The GOP leadership condones or at best excuses his abhorrent behavior. Fox news, Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, Lou Dobbs, and others spread his propaganda.
Today, on the Sabbath, at a Place of Worship, eleven people were killed for being Jewish. This follows the murder of 2 Black people in a Kroger’s parking lot. The intent of their murder was to shoot up a Historically Black Church but when that plan failed he randomly killed these 2 souls who were killed just because of their skin color.
My heart is breaking. I knew the violence would come it was just a question of when, or where but not by whom. Yes, I knew it would be White Supremacists. I am a descendant of Revolutionary War Patriots. I also know my grandparents’ story of fleeing the Pogroms in Russia. I’ve known and experienced antisemitism from the age of seven. My children are biracial but I have always felt welcome in this my Country. Lately, I ask is it still my Country? Am I still welcome here? And for asking this and questioning the policy and leadership style of President Trump I have been branded a hate monger by people who freely criticized other presidents and I respected their Constitutional right to do so. So I must ask am I still welcome here?

Modern Day Sophie’s Choice At the Border Makes Me Ask Where Are the Pro Life Christians?

by Mary Ellen Popkin

Refugees fleeing the Northern Triangle are facing a Sophie’s choice dilemma. Do they risk, death, family separation, illness, and terror to leave their homeland. Unlike Sophie, who was already trapped by a brutal regime determined to torture or murder her and her children these people are praying America will have a heart.

They pray that the Trump administration will see them as desperate people fleeing political strife, violence, hopelessness and the strong possibility of death for a chance at life.

Like Sophie they are choosing a chance at life. Sophie had to condemn one child to death in order to try and spare her son. This choice haunted her.

If one tries to be empathetic, instead of fearful, you cannot come to any conclusion but to give them a chance. This is especially true if you are a “pro life” Christian. How can you come to any other conclusion? Don’t they at least deserve a chance to go through the asylum seeking process?

Once again I’m baffled by the rush to fear mongering versus pro life particularly in the “Pro life Evangelical Christian” community.

I know there are many Pro life Christian groups working hard to advocate, help, house, feed and care for these refugees. They have been doing this labor of love for decades but we see others following Trump down the clearly un Christian path.

I can understand when these “Christans ” tell me they forgive Trump ‘s affairs, multiple wives, lewd comments even about his own daughter. OK that last one I must admit creeps me out but I’ll give them a pass. I refuse to give them a pass on this dehumanizing, immoral “zero tolerance policy ” that has already separated children. I refuse to give them a pass as we see people stuck on a bridge waiting to cross.

People choosing to jump into the water with their children because they are so desperate they are living Sophie’s choice.

As the granddaughter of Jews who fled the Pogroms in Russia because they were seen as less than human. They were scapegoated by the Romanoff Czar. My family was lucky but we had family who didn’t make it to America but instead fled to Eastern Europe. They were safe for a while until Hitler came along.

That too was a time America and the Catholic Church turned their back on Jewish refugees condemning them to death. Will America and some Churches do the same to these refugees? Will they be condemned to death because they are seen as less than human?

I pray that the Evangelicals around Trump will touch his heart and let him see their humanity, suffering and need.

“Zero Tolerance in the Age of Trump

Is “Zero Tolerance” stopping refugees from coming to America no but it is making it much harder.

El Paso, TX – A federal judge in San Diego, on June 23, 2018, ordered immigration agents to stop separating migrant parents and children who have crossed the border from Mexico. Asylum seekers didn’t go through the same level of family separation during the Bush and Obama administrations.
According to an immigration advocate at the El Paso border and Camilo Perez-Bustillo, Director of Advocacy, Leadership Development and Research at Hope Institute, the family separations have slowed down but are still occurring at the El Paso Border.
When Roger Maier ( Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, El Paso TX ) was asked what is the process for asylum seekers crossing the El Paso Border? Mr. Maier emailed that “Person arrives with or without documentation (most have some type of ID). CBP (Custom and Border Patrol) officers will try to establish the ID of the person, if there is any criminal history, etc. If the person claims fear or is seeking asylum that starts an administrative process that CBP follows. The person is assigned an A number and then is turned over to ICE ERO (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) for further processing. Again CBP plays no role in adjudicating asylum claims – our role is purely administrative.”

Activists argue that although CBP does not actually separate the families at the border they are making it hard for them to cross legally at the El Paso, Texas border. They are denying them legal entry at the ports of entry in El Paso. They tell these families they can not cross that day. This process of waiting in lines legally at a port of entry into El Paso can go on for days or even weeks with the family being turned away by CBP.
This forces the families to stay on the Mexican side of the border. In Mexico, the longer the families stay at the border they are in danger of running out of money, being robbed, possibly having a child kidnapped by the drug cartel or just suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Given these choices, many families are choosing to cross illegally but are surrendering themselves to Border Patrol agents. Under previous administrations, this illegal act was treated differently because they knew to charge the adult with illegal entry would send them to detention under the Department of Justice. The minor would be sent to HHS (Health and Human Service.) Since this action would cause family separation it was rarely done. This puts the adult into the Department of Justice system while the minor went into a different system under HHS of refugee resettlement.
Many advocates feel this was done intentionally by the Trump administration to force family separation because it places the adult with DOJ and the child or children with HHS, two separate departments of the government.
A leading activist at Hope Institute believes the forced illegal crossing might also be coordinated between CBP and Border Patrol. Advocates in El Paso believe the administration wanted these families in two different agencies knowing it would result in family separations. Other administrations knew this would be the consequence and that is why it was rarely done. They chose to exercise this process if they felt the child was in danger by the adult bringing them across the border.
Roger Maier said that CBP had nothing to do with Border Patrol and would give no further comment when pressed with what advocates believe is a coordinated effort to ensure family separation. There are eyewitness accounts at El Paso Border crossings of CBP actually going up to the Mexico border to stop people from crossing. This is not protocol.
Nearly 500 children are still separated, even after the Judge ordered their reunification. Although the administration says family separations at the border have stopped advocates such as Camilo Perez-Bustillo said they are still happening but at a slower pace.
He also cited the increase in detention centers specifically tent city, in Tornillo, TX set up in June 2018, went from housing 300 “unaccompanied minors” to 3,000. He said at first it was only boys housed there but now there are girls there too.
Perez-Bustillo believes the plans build family detention centers at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX could be a way for the Trump administration to violate or do a run around the Flores agreement. Flores was a 1997 court agreement, stating that minors cannot be detained for more than 20 days. He believes the administration plans to detain families at centers, such as the one being set up at Ft. Bliss, to detain these asylum seekers until they can be deported.

Immigration judges actually fall under the Department of Justice. Advocates say that AG Sessions “zero tolerance” policy has lead to family separations. Since it has been challenged in the courts they now want a way to still deny asylum so advocates think that family detention centers are their latest plan to deter the migration.
Migration from the Northern Triangle is actually lower than it was ten years ago but if you listen to the Trump Administration you might think it is up especially from El Salvador where MS-13 resides. News reports refer to the drug cartels and violence in the Northern Triangle but Perez-Bustillo and other advocates say the biggest factor is political unrest in these countries.
Perez-Bustillo explained that in 2008 the largest number of refugee seekers came from Hondorus due to the political unrest but since the 2009 Honduran coup d’état the number of refugees has decreased from there.
Currently, he said, the largest number of asylum seekers are from Guatemala because indigenous people are being forced and even killed due to the silver found on their land.
The deep mine, which was acquired by Canadian company Tahoe Resources in 2010, is situated in the middle of Guatemala’s southern agricultural heartlands where thousands of families live off the land. Guatemala is 60 percent indigenous people and they are literally in a fight for their lives, land, and livelihood.

Perez-Bustillo also stated that refugess pass through Mexico on their way to America because Mexico is not equipped to handle an influx of refugees due to its own political and economic challenges. However, this month the Trump administration made a deal with Enrique Peña Nieto, president of Mexico to designate Mexico as a third country.
Refugee and Immigration advocates are concerned about this designation. They fear asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle will be victimized further by the drug cartels in Mexico. They see this as an attempt by the Trump administration to further undermine asylum seekers from coming to America.

Until conditions improve in the Northern Triangle people will continue to seek refuge. Agencies at the border have worked with administrations and immigrants for decades to help them transition. They have never seen anything as anti-immigrant as this “zero policy.”
When I asked a decades-long advocate at the El Paso border what message he would like people to hear he said ” We can not let the current administration to criminalize asylum seekers. Morally we cannot give in to their desire to dehumanize asylum seekers.”

Who is Tough as Texas?

by Mary Ellen Popkin

As someone who moved from NYC about eight years ago, I might not understand Texas tough but I do know NYC tough. Ted Cruz showed moxie when he went to the Bronx during the Presidential primaries. He stood strong as crowds booed while one lone supporter yelled: “We love you, Ted.” That was tough, even by NYC standards. Amazed I watched him take on candidate Trump for insulting his wife and father. Where’s that Ted Cruz?
He’s a sniveling coward, who’s kissing Trump’s butt while calling out Beto for not being “Tough as Texas.” I see Beto barnstorming through Texas hitting Red counties. Skateboarding through What a Burger but refusing to back down on his “take a knee” stance. Beto is showing up and being honest with Texans. Now maybe I don’t understand “Tough as Texas” but I see Beto O’Rourke tough enough for this former New Yorker. In my opinion, he’s Texas tough.

The Women’s Anger Haunts Me More Than His Exposed Penis.

Judged as a slut desiring to “take their man.” “Why else would I be there? are words that still bring me pain.
Fall of 1980 I naively tried to volunteer at the rescue squad. I meet one firefighter that day I drove from my dorm to the local firehouse in Frederick, MD. I wanted to inquire about volunteering for ambulance duty. Confused he said only the guys did that but women cooked. Slightly amused, I told him I volunteered back home and was trained by a female paramedic and EMT. It ended with an invite to the firehouse to meet everyone so I accepted.
It was a friendly scene of men, women and covered dishes. Suddenly, the firefighter who invited me, jumped up on a table and proceeded to introduce me to the crowd. There were nods of approval, giggles and laughter as he proceeded to pull down his pants and pull out his penis.
It was premeditated lewdness and everyone was in on it but me. To this day I ask how and why, weren’t they supposed to be the “good citizens” who volunteered?
Now I see men and women stand behind President Trump as he warns them their husbands, sons, fathers and uncles are in danger of being falsely accused of sexual assault. Instantly, I see similarities in the faces of those people who supported a act of lewdness on an innocent 19 year old girl that day at the firehouse. I still do not understand their rationale, their fear or their anger. I fear they still do not hear my voice.

Zero Tolerance for Asylum Seekers In the Age or Trump.

by Mary Ellen Popkin

El Paso, TX – A federal in June 2018, ordered Immigration agents to stop family separations. According to an immigration advocate Camilo Perez-Bustillo, Director of Advocacy, Leadership Development and Research at Hope Institute, family separation are still occurring at the El Paso Border just at a slower pace.
When Roger Maier ( Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, El Paso TX ) was asked what is the process for asylum seekers? He emailed “Person arrives with or without documentation (most have some type of ID). CBP (Custom and Border Patrol) officers will try to establish the ID of the person, if there is any criminal history, etc. If the person claims fear or is seeking asylum that starts an administrative process that CBP follows. The person is assigned an A number and then is turned over to ICE ERO (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) for further processing. Again CBP plays no role in adjudicating asylum claims – our role is purely administrative.”

Activists argue CBP does n’t separate families but they are making it hard for them to cross legally into El Paso. Reports of CBP telling families they can’t cross today forcing them to stay in Mexico. Every day they wait there’s risk of being robbed, kidnapped, starved or dehydrated. Many choose illegal crossing and surrender to Border Patrol. Adults are charged and children sent to HHS. Previous administrations rarely did this because they knew it would result in family separation. Nearly 500 children remain separated.

Perez-Bustillo is concerned how the tent city in Tornillo, TX went from housing 300 “unaccompanied minors” to 3,000. When it was erected in 2018 it only housed boys now it is housing girls.

Perez-Bustillo believes the plan to build family detention centers at Fort Bliss is AG Sessions plan to violate the Flores 1997 court agreement, which states minors can’t be detained more than 20 days.

Migration from Latin America is down for 10 years ago but it varies from the Northern Triangle ( Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala) depending mostly on political unrest in these countries. He explained in 2008 Honduras had the largest number of refugees but since the 2009 Honduran coup d’état their numbers have decreased. Now it’s Guatemala with the greatest number of refugees. Indigenous people there are being killed and displaced due to mining.

Canadian company Tahoe Resources in 2010 gain right to mine silver on land situated in the middle of Guatemala’s southern agricultural heartlands. Thousands of families live off the land forcing Guatemala’s 60 percent indigenous population literally in a fight for their lives, land, and livelihood.

The consensus of immigration advocates is that until situations in the asylum seekers homeland they will continue to seek refuge.

When asked a long time immigration advocate at the El Paso border said he wanted people to understand ” We can’t let the current administration criminalize asylum seekers. Morally we can’t give in to their desire to dehumanize asylum seekers.”