Volunteering with Potential Asylum-Seekers in Tijuana

Q. What did we do in Tijuana?
A. We volunteered with Al Otro Lado. Alina did “intake” talking with people who had numbers in a very long line to seek asylum. She was one of 6-9 people doing 30 minute interviews. As an immigration lawyer, I went over the interview notes, asked people to summarize their stories, told them whether or not they had any hope for asylum. 
Q. What kinds of stories did we hear?
A. I can’t give specifics, but most involved murder of a close family member (with some graphic detail), domestic violence, rape, beatings, extortion, or torture (usually a combination). 
Q. Where were people from?
A. Central America, Mexico, Middle East, Africa, Caribbean.
Q. What about family separation?
A. It’s a real thing. I cannot tell you how hard it is to look a dad in the eyes and say that despite everything he’s been through, my government might take his little girls away from him if he asks for asylum in the US.
Q. Is the border overwhelmed with asylum seekers?
A. No. There are thousands of people waiting in Tijuana…they’re waiting in an illegal line – a line people get in to be be able to even approach the border to ask for asylum. Maybe 20 people get to go a day, maybe 100. For more information about “the list” – check out this NPR story.
Q. Did you talk to anyone who didn’t have a good case?
A. Yes. Some people want to find work, find family members in the US. That’s not what asylum is about, though, so I had to let them know this wasn’t the way forward for them.
Q. How is this different from my regular work?
A. In Atlanta, people have already crossed the border, so I don’t have to worry about how they got to the US – they got there, they are (mostly) safe. People in TJ are not in a safe place. It’s also hard because when someone is my client, I often know the outcome – I get to know what happens. With the people I met in TJ, I only know them for a moment. Will the kids be separated from their families? Will he get sent back to Honduras and be murdered next month? 
Q. What can you do to help?
A. Donate to Al Otro Lado and other organizations who are on the ground on both sides who are helping people.
Q. Are asylum-seekers are coming to the US illegally?
A. No! If you’re fleeing persecution, you don’t have to have a visa to come to the border and ask a CBP agent for asylum. That officer doesn’t make the final decision, but will decide if someone has a potential case – if they do, they’re allowed in and will fight for asylum in front of an immigration judge.
Q. Now what?
A. I show more patience with my asylum clients; I tell as many people as I can about what’s happening at our southern border; I donate money and time (I want to go back!). I will do what I can to show the world that these are people – not a caravan, not a group of illegals, not thugs…but moms and dads, teenagers who should be in school, little kids with bright smiles…but for the grace of God, it’s not me in their shoes.

Alina and Tracie in Tijuana, March 2019