Who will defend us from the self-defenders?

An officer spots a young man with brown skin on the street. The young man is immediately believed to have committed a crime, although there is little to implicate him in the moment except for his skin color. When confronted by law enforcement, he does not cooperate. Angry words are exchanged; the situation escalates rapidly out of control. Suddenly an officer feels threatened. He reaches for the weapon closest to hand. Shots are fired. Later the officer, claiming he acted in self-defense, will face no penalty. The young man lies dead on the pavement.

His name is Juan Patricio Peraza Quijada.

Over a decade before a young black man named Michael Brown put the suburb of Ferguson on the map of history, Juan Patricio crossed the southern border as an undocumented migrant from Mexico. Twelve years ago this February, he was taking out the trash one morning behind Annunciation House when he was stopped and questioned by members of Border Patrol. He panicked and ran. Five Border Patrol agents chased him, called in reinforcements, got him surrounded. Then a sixth agent arrived on the scene. This officer would later testify that he shouted at Juan Patricio, who then ran at him in a threatening manner, forcing the officer to shoot to protect himself. The other Border Patrol agents who were present agreed with this account in court; other eyewitnesses disputed it. What is certain is that within six seconds of this agent’s arrival, Juan Patricio had been shot dead. What is certain is that neither the agent himself, nor the organization that trained him and put a gun in his hand, faced any sanctions whatsoever for causing the death of this nineteen-year-old youth.

I never met Juan Patricio; I became a volunteer at Annunciation House the year after he was killed. But years later, I attended the civil trial in which the Border Patrol was charged with (and acquitted of) negligence in its training of the officer who fired the fatal shots. I sat with Juan Patricio’s parents as they listened to hour after hour of testimony about the day their son died—from the route he ran through backyards and between houses in an effort to evade la migra, to the precise way he fell after the bullets hit. I heard the whole chain of events that culminated in Juan’s death: how Border Patrol agents staked out Annunciation House that morning, in violation of an official policy against casual patrolling of homeless shelters; how Juan had been struck on the head during the ensuing chase, and had picked up a piece of pipe; how the final officer had arrived on the scene in a squeal of tires, and ran up shouting; and with what blinding speed the situation changed from a foot chase to a fatal shooting.

This summer, when I read of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson, I thought of Juan Patricio. The details were different, but crucial elements remained the same. There was the young man of color; the officer ratcheting up the tension in a difficult situation; the use of lethal force out of all proportion to the victim’s actions; and afterwards, the way that those magic words, “self-defense,” dissolved any attempt to scrutinize the shooter’s actions, to hold him accountable.

Michael Brown had just committed a robbery, I’ve heard people argue. He was combative with a police officer. These infractions are offered as justification for what happened to him next. To Juan Patricio, too, people applied the words criminal, lawbreaker, illegal, implying that he got no more than he deserved. Now, I believe in the rule of law as much as the next person; I believe we must face consequences for our actions. I acknowledge that immigration violations and petty theft are crimes—but when did they become capital offenses?

In the closing statements of the trial I attended, the Border Patrol’s lawyer argued that Juan Patricio was entirely responsible for his own death. He likened Juan to a drunk driver who gets into a crash and then says, That other car should have gotten out of my way. Our lawyer, who represented Juan Patricio’s parents, offered a different perspective. “I struggle to see how the example of the drunk driver applies here,” he said. “Perhaps a better analogy would be if a police officer pulled over a drunk driver…and shot him.”

* * * * *

I wasn’t present when Juan Patricio was killed—or Michael Brown, or for that matter any of the many other young men of color who have died at the hands of law enforcement under the banner of self-defense. And I will not presume to pass judgment on those crucial moments when the shots were fired. Police officers and Border Patrol agents face risks in the line of duty that I have never encountered, and to some extent, I can give them the benefit of the doubt. I can believe that each of these shooters reacted out of genuine fear, that they reached for their guns because they couldn’t envision an alternative at that point in time—because the situation already seemed completely out of their control, and this seemed to be the one way to bring themselves safely through it. I will grant them honesty in that moment.

What I cannot grant, to either them or the systems that train them, is absolution for the countless decisions, big and small, that preceded the moments the shots were fired. There must have been a hundred little choices, each reversible and insignificant on its own, that culminated in the final, undoable action—that made it seem inevitable, when it never had to be. I’m talking about the decision to rush into a standoff and shout at a cornered teen, without sparing a moment to size up the situation; or the decision to stop two black men on the street, without reinforcements, in a neighborhood where mistrust of the police runs deep. I’m talking about the daily decision, about which Darren Wilson testified to the grand jury, not to wear a taser because of its awkward bulk. I’m talking about Wilson’s placement of his gun within easy reach on the right side of his belt, and his placement of pepper spray on the left, where it was harder to access.

More broadly, more devastatingly, I’m talking about the culture of disregard for the human rights of undocumented migrants, and about the racial profiling that paints all black men as criminals and thugs, all Latino men as gang members and narcotraficantes. There is fear at the heart of these deadly encounters between our cops and our young men of color—fear of these young men. It’s a fear that will remain unaddressed, unexamined, unchallenged, as long as our justice system continues to absolve every officer of any wrongdoing, provided he claims he was shooting in self-defense. In refusing to even indict these officers, the courts remove every incentive for them to even hesitate before using deadly force. An officer in a tight spot need make no calculations as to whether the punishment fits the crime, whether the decision to shoot can be defended or justified. He knows the courts will accept his version of what happened—and that a dead man never gets to tell his side of the story.

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Petition for Concrete and Specific Action on Immigration

Please join us in demanding real immigration reforms now. Our petition can be downloaded by clicking here, or signed online at this link. The text of the petition is below:
06558_134_134bThe arrival of thousands of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America to the South Texas border has pushed the immigration issue to the forefront of debate in the national discourse. News stories of arriving mothers with children alongside tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have triggered off a fierce national debate. How the U.S. deals with the immigration issue will enduringly brand the character of the nation for generations to come and it is the defining civil rights issue of the day. Calls for immigration reform have been incessant and they have come from churches, human rights organizations, professionals and academics, Chambers of Commerce, elected officials, labor unions, and voters all across the nation. Legislative inaction, a relentless and myopic focus on enforcement only, the criminalization of immigration, and dramatic increases in funding for “boots on the ground” have created an intolerable reality for refugees and immigrants and adversely affected the nation’s economy, security, and especially its human rights record and stature among the community of nations.

When thousands of Central American families, mostly mothers with their small children, were flown from South Texas to El Paso, scores of volunteers from the El Paso-Las Cruces border community stepped forward to assist them and a flood of donations poured in to meet their needs. The experience of witnessing what refugees and immigrants are facing has compelled this border community to raise its voice to say that the wait for reform is unbearable, the suffering unjust, and the time for action is now.

Therefore, we, the undersigned, submit the following demands:

  • That Congress legislates just and humane immigration reform, with a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented persons living in the U.S.
  • That in the absence of Congressional action, the president of the U.S. use executive authority to provide legal relief to undocumented persons to the extent permitted by law.
  • That the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) end the practice of detaining individuals and families, especially mothers with children, who have expressed fear of being returned to their home countries, but pose no risk to communities or national security.
  • That due process for refugees and immigrants in detention be guaranteed so as to prevent summary deportations, especially the deportation of individuals and families who fear being returned to their home countries.
  • That detained unaccompanied minors who lack the sponsors required for release be provided with legal representation by DHS.
  • That individuals and families from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala who are fleeing the violence in their home countries be granted refugee status and accorded the protections called for under the U.N. Convention on Refugees, of which the U.S. is a signatory.
  • That church communities, civic organizations, pro bono legal services, and human rights agencies respond to and assist refugees and immigrants so as to constitute a viable and credible alternative to the detention of refugees and immigrants.

In the face of policies affecting refugees and immigrants in the U.S. that force 11 million people to live in fear and hiding, that have led to massive deportations ripping families apart, that cause the detention of mothers with children and asylum petitioners who fear for their lives, that leave unaccompanied minors without legal representation, and that treat refugees and immigrants as criminals, we the undersigned organizations and individuals, issue these demands with a sense of urgency and in an effort to bring about action on immigration.

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Convocation: Standing With the Refugee and Immigrant

2014_Convocation1 2014_convocation2Please share these fliers! You can download them here and here. Hope to see you on October 11.

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Update on STIR: the South Texas Immigrant Response

Emergency shelters. Nearly every week this summer, one or two planeloads full of Central American migrants arrived in El Paso, were processed at the detention facility there, and then were released on their own recognizance. This amounted to up to 1000 people each week. Most were Honduran, and most were families with children. They were hungry, tired, and had not showered in weeks. Working with other community leaders from multiple faith traditions, we organized several emergency shelter sites to greet the migrants after they were released. They were brought to the shelters on buses. Upon arrival, they could sleep, shower, get a change of clothes, eat a hot meal, and receive assistance in making travel arrangements (with legal permission). Most stayed only a day or two before venturing onward to join friends or family elsewhere in the U.S.

201009_Annunciation House_mpr_033 Hands-on help. Around 5000 volunteers stepped forward to help with these efforts at half a dozen sites throughout the community—an astounding show of support. These volunteers welcomed new arrivals, cooked meals, did laundry, helped with travel arrangements, kept a round-the-clock presence at each shelter, assembled care packages to send with people on their bus or plane rides, and drove people to the airport and bus station.

Your donations put to use. Mil gracias to those who donated money and supplies! Here are some of the things we bought with the donated funds:

  • perishable foods (milk, fruit, lunch meat, etc)
  • phone minutes to connect guests with friends and relatives
  • cleaning supplies
  • toilet paper
  • gas for vehicles used to transport guests to bus station and airport
  • car seats to safely transport young children
  • plane and bus tickets for those whose families couldn’t afford the fare
  • over-the-counter medications like Tylenol
  • diapers and formula
  • plumbing services for the emergency shelters
  • doctors’ visits
  • laundry supplies
  • specific clothing items that were not donated, like certain sizes of underwear
  • utility costs

The work continues. As of September, ICE is no longer flying migrants to El Paso to be released. This is due both to decreased numbers of people being apprehended in south Texas, and increase in the numbers of people that are being detained rather than released on recognizance. However, Annunciation House is still providing hospitality for a significant number of people who have been apprehended in the El Paso area, processed at the detention facility here, and then released. The numbers vary from a dozen to 60-70 new people arriving every few days. This is beyond the capacity of our two permanent houses, and so our emergency shelter remains open. We continue to appreciate help from local volunteers in staffing this shelter, as well as donations of money and supplies to defray the many extra costs of welcoming these guests.

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The Myth of the Border Crisis

Read this New York Times Editorial in which Veronica Escobar, the El Paso County Judge, tries to provide a counterpoint to the hysteria we’re hearing from politicians–Democrat and Republican–about immigration, enforcement, and the current refugee situation on our Southern Border.

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What Can You Do?

We greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from the community. We are in need of donations in three areas: supplies, funds, and volunteers; see details below.1042763.large

SUPPLIES

To donate supplies, we ask you first to contact us at 915-545-4509 with your name, phone number, and what specifically you would like to donate. Then, we will set up a specific time with you to receive the donation. This allows us to minimize the time volunteers must spend receiving and storing donations, and lets us direct donations to the locations where they are most needed. Please do not bring donations without arranging a drop-off time and place first. Muchissimas gracias!

We would greatly appreciate the following items:

  1. Food – the entire range of food, but without chile since most Central Americans don’t eat spicy food
  2. Clothing – we especially need new children’s underwear, new women’s underwear (panties and bras, sizes small and medium), socks, inexpensive shoes (especially for children), towels, simple bed sheets
  3. Hygiene – Feminine  items, diapers, toothpaste, toothbrushes, chapstick, toilet paper,
  4. Toiletries – Shampoo, deodorant, hair brushes
  5. Medical – Over the counter medications (infant, children, adult): acetaminophen, ibuprofen, cold medicine, antacid, rash (calamine) lotion, non-powdered disposable gloves, band-aids
  6. Janitorial – pine cleaner, Ajax powder, bleach, disposable gloves, paper hand towels for bathrooms

 FUNDS

The funds we receive are being used to purchase some bus tickets, provide some families with a small amount of spending money for the bus trip, and to pay for prescriptions, perishable food, cleaning supplies, specific clothing items, and stationery. We also have had to pay for some facility expenses, such as plumbing services and utility fees. You can donate funds in person or by mail, or online here on our website (look for the green ‘Donate Now’ button on the right hand side of the page).

VOLUNTEERS

Our greatest need is for volunteers. We’re looking for extremely responsible, committed, organized and trustworthy people. If you have experience working in one of our houses (or with a similar organization), we could really use you. Even if you don’t live in the border region but are willing to come down for a week or even a few days, we would welcome this help. Spanish proficiency is useful, but not a requirement; we have many areas of responsibility that don’t depend on speaking Spanish. Volunteers are needed to help with the following:

  • Welcome/intake
  • security
  • travel arrangements
  • local transportation
  • food and meals
  • clothing bank
  • care package assembly
  • stocking supplies
  • laundry
  • medical issues
  • legal issues
  • set-up and clean-up

Interested in volunteering? UPDATE AS OF 7/7/2014: there is a (temporary?) lull in releases of additional migrant families, so we are not requesting additional help at this time.

  • Local folks from El Paso area: Please fill out this questionnaire and someone will get in touch with you as soon as possible.
  • Out of towners: please email volunteercoordinator@annunciationhouse.org .
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Our Whirlwind Response to Huge Releases of Migrants

Dear friends and supporters of Annunciation House, you may have read about a recent sharp increase in the number of undocumented Central American migrants being apprehended along the southern Texas-Mexico border. The numbers have so overwhelmed Border Patrol (BP) and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) that they have begun to transport immigrants by plane and bus to other cities in the southwest for processing. Because of the lack of detention facilities for families, many of these Central Americans are being released on their own recognizance. At the beginning of June, when BP prepared to send its first planeloads of migrants to El Paso, they reached out to Annunciation House for assistance in providing hospitality to these Central American families after they were released.

Initially, we were asked to arrange hospitality for 270 immigrants who would arrive in El Paso in two planes on Saturday, June 7. We made as much room as we could in our own houses, Annunciation House and Casa Vides, and also reached out to several other local religious organizations for help. From Sunday, June 8, until Tuesday, June 10, all 270 people were gradually released from detention and came to us. About half of them were from Honduras; most of the rest were from El Salvador and Guatemala, along with a few from South America. The families arrived completely destitute, with literally no possessions but the clothes on their backs. They had not showered nor had a clean change of clothes in days—for some of them, it had been two weeks. They were exhausted and emotionally drained. With lots of support from the community, we provided them with meals, showers, fresh changes of clothes, and a safe place to sleep.

Perhaps most importantly, we helped them move on. Every single family had relatives or friends somewhere in the U.S.; in most cases, these circles of family and friends were even able to supply the needed funds to pay for bus fare (or occasionally plane tickets). Volunteers worked with each family to communicate with their relatives and friends, to make travel arrangements, and to journey on to their destinations. By Thursday, June 12, two days after the last families were released, nearly all of them had left El Paso and were reunited with loved ones in different parts of the U.S.

The very next day, June 13, we received word that two more planes would be arriving on June 14 with another 270 people. Based on the experience of the previous week, we quickly searched for additional facilities that would be better suited to the needs of the families we would soon be welcoming (we needed more showers, for example). A local church stepped forward and offered the use of their community center. This was an ideal facility, with a gym, showers, a kitchen, and other useful features. The generosity of the community center staff was incredible and inspiring. They suspended all programs and activities for about a week so that all 270 people on the planes that arrived on Saturday, June 14 could be received and assisted. By Friday, June 20, all 270 of these new arrivals had left El Paso to rejoin friends or family elsewhere.

Now we had a few days’ respite; ICE had notified us that the next plane was expected on Tuesday, June 24. We used this break to search yet again for facilities, since the community center would not be able to suspend all its programs indefinitely. A local community of religious sisters stepped forward to offer an unoccupied wing of their nursing home. Like the community center, it had showers, a kitchen, and all the other resources we needed. It was a good thing we had located a new housing facility so soon, because on Monday, June 23, ICE called to say that a planeload of immigrants was being diverted from California and would arrive that very day, followed by the previously scheduled plane on Tuesday. Soon we were in full swing at the new facility, with newly released families and over 100 volunteers helping out in various capacities throughout the day.

Then the scope of what was happening really hit us. We were notified that another plane would land on Wednesday, followed by another on Thursday, another on Friday, another on Saturday, and another on Sunday. To the best of our knowledge, many of these people (up to 450 of them) are still being held in detention as of this writing. We expect that many or all of them will be brought to us upon release, and we are trying to prepare for yet another whirlwind week of hospitality.

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Vidas Bajo Amenaza

La Casa Anunciacion esta trabajando con una mujer ‘Amparo’ que ha sufrido mucho en su pais natal y en su viaje a los EE.UU. Ella ha permitido que nosotros compartamos su historia (con diferente nombre para protegerla). Puedes ver un video sobre sos experiencias aqui:

http://www.holaciudad.com/vidas-amenaza-parte-1-n440437

y tambien puedes leer su historia escrita aqui.

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2014 Projection Vigil

In honor of all the journalists fallen i n the line of duty…
Between 2004 and 2014 more than 150 journalists haven been killed or disappeared in Mexico simply for reporting on the reality in their country.

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VoV 2014 Forum

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