I know many people who have spent years – sometimes most of their lives – in the U.S. who have faced the prospect of returning to the countries of their birth, whether through deportation or because they had no other options for their family to live safely in the U.S.
To help people make the process as simple and safe as possible, AFSC created a new online guide: “Crossing South: Resources for people returning to Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.” The guide offers information on getting affairs in order before leaving the U.S., safety tips upon arriving in a country, and a list of local organizations that can help.
The idea for “Crossing South” came from myself and Antonio*, who are both members of Not1More, which is an immigrant-led community group in Colorado where immigrant families learn about their rights, share strategies to stop deportation, and support each other. Antonio and I came up with the idea after one of his check-ins with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I have also attended many check-ins for my husband, Jorge, who – like Antonio – also migrated from Mexico.
We never knew what the outcome of those check-ins would be. Antonio had not been in Mexico for many years. And I’ve never lived in or even visited Mexico to know how the country functions.
We both had been afraid of the unknown in being tossed back south with no knowledge of what resources would be available to the already mentally, emotionally, and financially broke victims of our cruel immigration system. Some are unaware of what port of entry they will be returned to; others may not have money for a cab, a phone call, a place to sleep, or to purchase medication for conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. They may have nowhere to shower. Some return with no ID to prove they were born in these countries – which keeps them from working to get funds together to gain back their self-sufficiency and a sense of dignity.
In a conversation with Antonio, we thought, if only there was some way to know where to go for help, where to seek safety and guidance in a foreign land — because even making a simple call is not so simple there. If the U.S. – my country of birth – punishes me for loving and marrying an immigrant, and now I need to exit, I need to know how to keep myself safe. What "safe havens" exist for U.S. citizens abroad? In a case of an emergency, how do I get back home if I were to get lost or kidnapped? Who will notify my next of kin if I were to get murdered?
I am sure many of you have never planned for these types of scenarios, but this is the reality for millions of Americans married to an immigrant at risk for deportation. Even as a Mexican by birth, Antonio shared my same fears as he no longer knew the lifestyle or changes that had occurred in his place of birth. We both only knew now the safety and security America once offered us all.
Both our lives were flipped upside down, and we needed options. Antonio has since been deported, and I have not heard of his whereabouts or how I can I be of help to him. I shared our conversation over and over again with members of AFSC – and I was grateful when they informed me one day that they would create a resource to provide all people facing detention and deportation with the valuable, life-saving information that Antonio, Jorge, and I certainly needed.
I do not know if Antonio knows our “vision” has now become a reality to keep others in our situation safe. What I do know is that I am ever so grateful to everyone who participated in making this resource guide a reality. It only takes one or two people to have an idea, dare to share it with those who may think it may work, and work together to make that idea a reality.
“Crossing South” draws from AFSC’s years of experience navigating the detention and deportation system in Colorado and other states, its community-based programs in Latin America, and additional research conducted by staff and volunteers.
I am so very proud of the dedication and level of seriousness everyone put into this guide and that they recognized its value and significance. I hope you will explore “Crossing South” – and share it widely in your community and beyond so that we can provide support (and make this difficult process a little easier) for as many people as possible.
*We are using a pseudonym to protect Antonio's identity.