Attorneys and Activists Need to Be Free to Help Asylum Seekers in Tijuana

The Tijuana side of the border. Flickr user Lonni Besancon

By Sandra De Anda, Orange County Immigrant Youth United

The fight for due process is a key aspect for immigration rights because it helps humanize undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. Legal representation gives them a greater chance of being released from detention centers and gaining protective relief. Even though there’s always going to be lawyers that will exploit this rising wave of xenophobia for profit, more and more immigration attorneys are doing pro bono work.

At least, when they’re allowed to fully do their job.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported that two attorneys from Al Otro Lado (“The Other Side” in Spanish), an organization based in LA and Tijuana, had been flagged while trying to enter Mexico. The group is a pivotal critic of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies since 2017, and a tour de force in aiding the migrant caravan with legal support.

Both Nora Philips, Al Otro Lado’s legal director and Erika Pinheiro, the group’s litigation and policy director, were told they couldn’t enter into Mexico because an unnamed foreign government wouldn’t allow them. “I think this is retaliation,” Phillips told The Hill. “I think this is because we sued the U.S. Government. I think it’s that we’re pointing out gross, flagrant human rights violations being committed by the U.S. government, and they don’t like that.”

While it’s disheartening to hear Al Otro Lado’s efforts have been stifled, they continue on. Last week, they became an organizational plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Center for Gender and Refugee Studies that challenges the Department of Homeland Security’s new “Migrant Protection Protocol,” which forces migrants to remain in Mexico while their asylum cases are being processed. According to a recent PRI article, asylum seekers have been transported back to Tijuana with paperwork in English to fill out for their asylum proceedings. The logistics of this have been deemed irresponsible because the paperwork is inaccessible and the issue of whether these individuals will have proper and safe housing while they wait out the process is uncertain.

If anything, “Migrant Protection Protocol” should be grounds for a “national emergency,” because it’s stifling the legal process that already exist while funding for the border wall is just a distraction of what is actually happening at the border.

For now, a few members of the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America’s Libertarian Socialist Caucus and Orange County Immigrant Youth United are keeping a close eye. If not prevented from crossing, attorneys, journalists and volunteers continue to face surveillance and questioning from border patrol.

On a recent trip to Tijuana, a couple of us conversed with some folks from Al Otro Lado since they share office space with Enclave Caracol. We were there to volunteer and gave aid during the last government shutdown. Members from Mijente, Cosecha, Black Lives Matter, and other local DSA chapters were also present. With asylum seekers condemned to the other side of the border, more volunteers and donations are still needed in Tijuana.

Deport This! is a partnership between OC Weekly, Chispa and Orange County Immigrant Youth United. The column is a rebuttal of Donald Trump’s racist politics and his OC cheerleaders, who’ll no doubt get triggered every week with news and views by and about the undocumented community.

One Reply to “Attorneys and Activists Need to Be Free to Help Asylum Seekers in Tijuana”

  1. I was just in Tijuana last weekend getting dental care in rosarito and making a weekend of it. On the way back home driving through TJ to the pedestrian bridge I saw a small encampment of about 25-30 tents. I asked about it and the cab driver confirmed that it was asylum seekers from Central America. I was surprised because I thought I would have seen a much larger group or camp. The media makes it sound as if its a huge hord of people. Its not that many at all.

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