Faith and immigrant rights groups gather in city hall to bring attention to Title 42. Several held pictures of migrant refugees at a camp in Mexico. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Faith groups and immigrant rights activists gathered at Milwaukee City Hall on Tuesday to support migrant families as the Biden administration asks the Supreme Court to stop appeals and allow it to end Title 42, a policy enacted under former President Donald Trump that prevented migrants from crossing the border while seeking asylum in the U.S. The Biden administration also asked the Court to delay the end of Title 42 until at least Dec. 27 to allow time to prepare.
“I think it’s important that we’re mindful of the time of year that it is right now,” Darryl Morin, national president of Forward Latino, said on Tuesday. “When many of us, over the next few days, will be celebrating at home with our families, celebrating our faith, celebrating our good fortune, while so many families are simply seeking safety.”
Title 42 placed a freeze on migration to the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic in the name of protecting public health. The result has been a gathering humanitarian crisis along the southern border. Republican-led states are seeking to extend the policy because they say ending it will cause an immigration crisis. Many migrants are sleeping outdoors in freezing temperatures, having already braved perilous journeys to get to the border. On Monday, Democracy Now reported that the Democratic mayor of El Paso, Texas had declared a state of emergency due to concerns that the city is unprepared to provide housing and other needs to migrants.
Morin stressed that Title 42 “has led to a tremendous backlog as well as tremendous hardship for so many who are fleeing persecution.” Standing alongside Morin were representatives from several immigrant rights and faith-based groups. Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod said Christians should reflect deeply on the plight of immigrants and migrants on Christmas Day, as they celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Bishop Erickson told the story of Christ’s family wandering and seeking shelter among strangers.
“Today, this tragic and horrific experience is being relived countless times at our southern border as families fleeing persecution, violence, and chaos are seeking to claim their legal right for asylum in the United States,” said Erickson. “They’ve been denied the opportunity to do this by the misguided and mistaken use of Title 42, and it’s high time that this draconian policy be put to rest.”
Rabbi Jessica Barolsky, board chair of JCRC-Milwaukee Jewish Federation noted that Tuesday was the second day of Hanukkah. “It is no accident that Hanukkah takes place in the darkest time of year, and that each night we light an additional candle adding light to the world, showing that we can overcome even the darkest night,” said Barolsky. “The Torah tells us over and over again to welcome the stranger.” The Rabbi stressed that “we welcome the stranger because as Jews we, too, were strangers in a land that was not ours.”
“The Jewish community stands with those who want, so badly, to pursue a better life in the United States, just as so many in our community did not so many years ago,” she added.
With the end of Title 42 in sight, Morin is expecting an uptick in anti-immigration rhetoric. Already, there are those who frame the buildup of asylum seekers as a sort of invasion. Acts of violence can follow the spread of anti-immigrant ideologies. Morin recalled an incident in 2019 when a Peruvian-born U.S. citizen was attacked with battery acid at a bus stop. A 64-year-old white man was ultimately sentenced to 10 years for the attack. “Every time this happens,” Morin said of the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, “we see acts of hate happen around the country, as well as right here in Wisconsin.” Shortly after the acid attack, Morin’s organization responded to a Latino family whose 14-year old daughter was intentionally run over by a car as she walked to school. “The driver of that vehicle said that she was ‘an illegal Mexican,’ when she born right here in the United States.”
Pardeep Kaleka, co-director of Not In Our Town and a hate crime survivor, has talked to many communities about fear of so-called “changing demographics.” Whether the neighborhood was getting more Brown, less Christian, whether there were more immigrant families, the concerns followed similar themes, Kaleka said. Anti-immigration rhetoric that became common under President Donald Trump ramped up fears in vulnerable communities, he added. “This uptick in violence is something that we need to do something about, that we all need to respond to,” said Kaleka. “And we need to be much more compassionate as far as what our systems look like for asylum seekers and immigrants, but we also have a challenge of protecting communities.”
People seeking asylum in the United States are fleeing horrid and dangerous conditions in their home countries. War, extreme poverty, food and water scarcity, militia and cartel-fueled crime and corrupt governments can all be factors driving someone to take what they can carry and head to the border. Many asylum seekers are coming from South American countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela, as well as African andCaribbean nations. Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, has heard many of their stories, with the group receiving three to four asylum cases per week this year.
“We know that statewide asylum seekers, largely from Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guatemala, are living in communities both rural and urban, and have urgent and pressing needs,” said Nuemann-Ortiz. Since October, Voces has worked with 27 allied organizations and government agencies to call for a Rapid Response Welcome Coalition, focused on collaborating to provide the needs of asylum seekers.
Nuemann-Ortiz spoke of one 22-year-old Nicaraguan woman, Veronica, who fled a violent relationship and had to leave her daughter with her mother. Veronica made the journey to the United States to seek asylum, where she settled in Milwaukee. “She journeyed in a van with 25 people jammed together,” Nuemann-Ortiz said. “A trailer hit the van, three people died and many were injured. The dead were tossed aside on the road, and the others who were injured were told that no one would care for their injuries so they had to pursue their way by themselves.” Veronica, despite having many fractured bones, made it to the border and spent 17 days in a hospital.
Another asylum seeker Neumann-Ortiz knew was a Honduran woman. She was used as a sex slave to her partner and his gang. “I could not escape to my family, because he would find me,” Neumann-Ortiz read from the woman’s affidavit. In another case, a transgender woman from Guatemala had been attacked in her country by people who wanted to burn and stone her. As she traveled to the United States, she was captured by cartels in Mexico and tortured.
Today, she lives in Wisconsin having acquired her work visa and Social Security card. “She is part of our community, and wants to help others,” said Neumann-Ortiz. “Now is the time to close this shameful chapter in U.S. history, and reflect the aspirations and ideals of this country to welcome those fleeing poverty, persecution, and violence.”
Morin noted that according to U.S. Customs and Border estimates, there are now over 50,000 people waiting for asylum at the southern border. He stated that allied groups were able to tour refugee camps in Mexico to see the conditions. In one of the camps, where it regularly reached over 105 degrees, the refugees didn’t have enough food or water. “This young child,” Morin said as he pointed to one of several photos taken that day, “to walk around and to speak with them, you saw nothing but hope in their eyes because the United States is that star in the sky that people walk to for safety and security, hope and freedom.” Particularly in the holiday season, Morin said, “that should mean something to all of us.”
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