ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In late June, not a single attorney was available to assist or represent 672 immigrant women and children facing deportation at the federal detention facility in Artesia, the first lawyer to gain access told a gathering of more than 200 Sunday in Albuquerque.
The result was an utter lack of due process, said Olsi Vrapi, who also accused immigration officials of using politically focused rhetoric to prejudge the individual cases and the entire issue.
“There was no real intent of following our laws,” the lawyer told the audience at the panel discussion at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. “There was no real intent of doing the right thing, just lip service.”
Often referred to as a “border crisis,” the story is the U.S. reaction to thousands of Central American children, at times accompanied by their mothers, who make their way across the Rio Grande and are then immediately taken into custody by immigration officials.
The issue is politically charged, with conservative Republicans generally calling for the immediate deportation of the children and liberal Democrats saying that many, if not most, are refugees from rampant violence, crime and economic mayhem in their home countries.
The Obama administration has begun deporting large numbers of the children and their mothers, including some from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia.
On Friday, seven woman and three children from Central America who are being held at the Artesia facility filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security alleging a lack of due process in the hasty deportations. All said they had been threatened by gangs in their home countries and feared for their own lives – or those of their children.
Sunday’s panel discussion was organized by St. Andrew parishioners who are concerned about the children’s safety and rights. It was moderated by Christine Sierra, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico.
William Stanley, chairman of the Political Science Department at UNM and an expert on Central America, explained the connection between two Los Angeles street gangs, MS-13 and Florencia 13, to violence in Central America. Around the turn of the century, the gangs began migrating south, particularly to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where they evolved into powerful and brutal crime networks, heavily involved in the U.S. drug trade.
The complex picture is greatly influenced by U.S. policy toward Central America, particularly in the 1980s and ’90s when the countries were involved in civil wars.
Stanley also talked about an often overlooked fact, that a number of the children entering the United States have come to reunite with family members already here.
A third panelist, Democratic state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Piño, spoke of graft, bribery, threats and violence, all of which are commonplace in Salvadoran cities.