Dear Friends of Annunciation House,
Since January of 2008, the drug initiated violence in Juarez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, Texas, has resulted in the deaths of more than five thousand individuals. The violence has been such that tens of thousands of Juarez residents have fled the city, and El Paso’s Chief of Police estimates that some thirty thousand of these residents have crossed the border and are now living in El Paso as a means of protecting themselves and their families.
For many of its residents, the violence in Mexico and especially in Juarez has created an environment of impunity with little or no accountability. Time and again, individuals directly impacted by the violence tell of speaking to law enforcement only to be told that nothing can be done or advised to leave the city or the country. And yet, in the midst of this reality, in the midst of the fear, there continue to be voices for justice that seek to advocate, support, and protect the victims of the violence.
In its role as witness and advocate, the Board of Directors of Annunciation House has decided to use this year’s Voice of the Voiceless event to focus on the reality that is being lived in Juarez, Mexico. On Saturday, April 24, 2010, Annunciation House will present its sixth Voice of the Voiceless Award to Rev. Oscar Enriquez Perez, founder and director of the non-governmental Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte and Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, ombudsman for the state of Chihuahua’s Commission for Human Rights.
In the present environment, among the most vulnerable in Juarez have been human rights organizations which have sought to document the complaints of victims of the violence and advocate on their behalf with law enforcement, military officials, and governmental offices. It falls on these organizations to inquire about the illegal detention of individuals, reports of the use of torture and executions by the military, kidnappings, and an epidemic of extortion reports. In the course of doing their work, human rights workers have been harassed and had their lives threatened in attempts to stop investigations of human rights complaints. Father Oscar Enriquez and Gustavo de la Rosa are voices, in both word and deed, on behalf of the voiceless victims of violence in Juarez.
During its 32-year history, Annunciation House has hosted over 100,000 refugees, immigrants, and undocumented persons from over 40 countries. The vast majority of these individuals have been refugees who have fled the violence of political upheaval, civil wars, death squads, human rights abuses, and especially, stifling poverty. Common to all of these people has been the almost categorical absence of a viable way to find protection, redress their grievances, exert their human rights, or respond to the forces that threaten their lives and those of their families. This reality gives rise to courageous people who recognize the vulnerability of the countless voiceless and accept the call to work, struggle, and witness on behalf of the oppressed poor. Through their work and actions, these individuals give voice to the poor and their profound yearning to be heard and freed.
Annunciation House’s Voice of the Voiceless Award recognizes the importance of voices that offer a guiding path of light in times of darkness. The Award honors the prophetic voices among us, affirming advocacy on behalf of the poor, and recognizes that such witness is often made at personal risk. Recipients have a profound understanding of what it means to be in solidarity with the poor and are willing to respond to that interior call that impels them to stand with and advocate with those whose voices are ignored or overshadowed.
Mexicans affected by the violence have few alternatives for protection. Historically, those with well-founded fear of persecution have sought political asylum. But Mexican nationals applying for political asylum are being denied asylum on a wholesale basis. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) – the US governmental agency charged with processing asylum claims – reports that since the outbreak of violence in Mexico in 2006, the US has received 12,110 asylum applications from Mexican nationals. But less than 2%, or 232, were granted political asylum. To place this in context, during this same time period, Columbian nationals submitted 5,879 asylum claims and 40 %, or 2,351, were granted.
Since the violence in Mexico erupted, the fear of being denied asylum and deported back to Mexico has led the majority of Mexican nationals who have crossed into the US to not pursue political asylum and instead live as undocumented immigrants. Annunciation House has seen this firsthand among families from Mexico hosted in our houses of hospitality. The two families that did apply for asylum were both denied, and two other families awaiting a final decision are not hopeful. The reality for the majority of Mexican nationals affected by the violence is to try and eke out a living in the underground of the undocumented.
For this reason, Annunciation House is initiating a campaign to ask the Obama Administration to grant Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to Mexican nationals who have been directly affected by the violence in Mexico. TPS is a legal remedy available by executive order of the US president. It is a remedy that President Obama used with Haitian nationals after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. It was also used to assist nationals from Honduras after Hurricane Mitch and nationals from Liberia after civil war broke out in Liberia. TPS would offer Mexican nationals directly affected by the violence temporary protection for a defined period of time. It would provide these individuals and families with employment authorizations and thus the means with which to sustain themselves and their families.
There is no question that the consumption of drugs in the United States and the resulting 25 to 40 billion dollars that the drug trade sends to Mexico is a major factor in the violence, corruption, and impunity that Mexico now lives. As US citizens and as a people of faith, we share a responsibility to accompany Mexican nationals affected by the violence. It is not acceptable to live oblivious to these families, families that totally fearful of returning to Mexico are at the same time having to live in the darkness of undocumented immigrants.
After 32 years of continuous presence on the border, the work of Annunciation House has come to be known nationally and precisely because of its categorical option for the poor in migration. It is a presence that has been sustained and made possible by individuals, churches, and organizations throughout the country and beyond. Your commitment, solidarity, and sustenance have spoken clearly all these years. In recognition of the conditions in which the countless poor in migration live their lives, the menu served for the Solidarity Dinner will reflect their daily diet of beans and rice.
It is our sincere hope that we will continue to be blessed with your support and see you on the 24th of April at the Voice of the Voiceless Solidarity Dinner.
Ruben L Garcia