- Kathleen Hernandez
Behind Walls of Separation
El Chaparral has changed again since MPT was last here. No longer are the government agencies attempting to maintain a facade of an autonomous asylum seekers self-managed list. Now, the red canopy and the list managers sit inside the National Institution of Migration / Border Police parking area, behind huge metal posts set side by side - a fence that mirrors the Border wall itself, hiding and blocking the recording of illegal numbers and the entire process. The assertion that the list managers as asylum seekers are in authority and control the list wears thin when they are seen sitting behind a fence that isolates one asylum seeker from another creating a cold and impersonal shield of separation. People's lives are neatly arranged in illusionary ink, reduced to slips of paper and handed through the inhumane barrier. The stories of the migrants have been muted - the human voice can barely pass through this metal barrier.
The entire sidewalk is roped off. Asylum seekers must stand a great distance away, held back by yet another metal barrier where a list manager tells them when to advance down the sidewalk to release their precious documents through the metal barrier. They wait, poised to see if the papers will prove their right to ask for asylum or to see if they will be told that they don't have the proper documents. How can an asylum seeker believe that there is anything other than an orchestrated dance of cruelty and corruption behind this metal veil that denigrates U.S. and international law and the right to seek asylum? Upon return this summer, tensions are rising. MPT has observed the escalation of indignation by those holding the tiny illegal numbers for weeks and sometimes months. They angrily challenge the system demanding answers to why their number has not been called - questioning why they have been bypassed while others are allowed entry. A team member observed an asylum seeker look a Grupos Beta humanitarian agent in the eye saying, "I know what's going on - I heard with my own ears someone with a number lower than me say, 'Cuanto me cobra?' ('How much will it cost me?'). A team member listened to this exchange, witnessing the agent respond stoically to the accusations that were bravely asserted by this man and two women. They stood directly in the driveway entrance on the Mexican side of the border - yards away from where "the chosen" line up to board the vans that drive them less than half a kilometer away to Ped East Point of Entry. There they disembark only to be shuffled in a line - grandmothers, babies, and pregnant women. Then they are turned over to the custody of ICE on the U.S. side and loaded and transported by U.S. vans a mere 200 feet from where they were boarded at El Chaparral in the first place.
Meanwhile, out in the center divide stand the Africans of Cameroon, Togo and Yemen, along with the Haitians and Jamaicans, visibly segregated from the lighter-skinned asylum seekers. They all stand waiting to be called. Team members observed seven numbers called today which should mean 70 people cross, but instead only 14 are transported to Al Otro Lado (the other side). The questions hang in the air. Why? And again Who goes? Who stays and who is making a profit? We observe, we listen and meticulously document to find the answers. There are other things to consider as well like: Who gets to have an audience? Who is turned away? Which documents are accepted and why aren’t others? Our team members witness the dire reality of this manufactured crisis that squeezes out the last remnants of civility. It is a world gone mad with waiting and fearful desperation mired in exhaustion. Team members know that there will be more trauma for these families, the seekers of asylum, before relief is found if at all. Today the Summer Meta Peace Team saw there was a UN representative taking photos of the people waiting in an illegal line for illegal numbers - their lives illegally held in limbo by a number on a piece of paper. Meta Peace Team holds a peaceful and loving presence in the wake of chaos.