INSIDE LOOK: Refugees Face Violence at US-Mexico Border
WARNING: This episode contains references to violence that may be triggering to some listeners.
Journey with us back to the US-Mexico border. Hear how violence is growing in Juarez, get a quick update about asylum-seekers, and discover how you can come alongside refugee families who are stuck. Bonus: Preview something BIG we’re rolling out for Giving Tuesday.
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As we share in this podcast episode, we’re in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, responding to the refugee crisis on the US-Mexico border. Earlier this year, we began showing up just across the border in El Paso, Texas, listening, learning, and lending a hand where we could, thanks to many of you. We distributed emergency backpacks and listened to leaders on the ground.
US protocols have rapidly changed, forcing most asylum seekers to wait on the Mexico side of the border. So we’ve shifted our focus to the growing needs in Juarez, just across from El Paso, where many people are sheltering after they petition for asylum.
On Giving Tuesday, we’re excited to announce a new initiative we’re launching where you can help us provide jobs for the most marginalized asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border. And you can be a part of it.
Text “border update” to 72000 to sign up so you can be the first to know about what we’re launching on Giving Tuesday. You can play an important role in choosing to love anyway at the US-Mexico border.
For asylum-seekers, to leave their shelters is to risk the same kind of violence they fled in the first place—kidnapping, trafficking, murder. They have no way back. No way forward. No way to earn a living where they are.
In this time-sensitive episode of Love Anyway, hear from:
- Rafael, Programs Officer
- Jessica Courtney, Founder and Vice President of International Programs
- Kayla Craig, Podcast Producer
Asylum seekers need more than just shelter. As Rafael shares in this episode, violence abounds. It’s not safe for families to go outside. And that’s led us to ask more questions… what if? What if these families had another way to earn a living? Or learn English? Or get legal advice? Or have a safe place for their kids?
What if we could bring that to them?
On December 3, we’re opening up a special opportunity where, in the midst of danger, we can bring opportunities to our friends on the US-Mexico border, who can’t leave their shelters to find work.
Where the risk of violence is too high, we’re bringing opportunity.
And you can be a part of it. Text “border update” to 72000 to sign up so you don’t miss an update about what we’re launching on Giving Tuesday.
Related episodes of Love Anyway:
Rafael: These are real people. These are children that cry, children that get hungry, children that get cold. People that get hungry, hungry and cold. People that get frustrated and these are real people like you and me so it makes it so much more personal.
Kayla: They fled unimaginable violence. And now they’re stuck.
Asylum seekers coming to the US-Mexico border hoped to find safety in the States. Instead, they are being forced to wait in Mexico. But to leave their shelters is to risk the same kind of violence they fled in the first place—kidnapping, trafficking, murder.
They have no way back. No way forward. No way to earn a living where they are. But…keep listening, because there IS something we can do. And at the end of this episode, we’ll share more about that. Because hope, it turns out, isn’t lost…
Kayla: We are in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, responding to the refugee crisis on the US-Mexico border. Earlier this year, we began showing up just across the border in El Paso, Texas, listening, learning, and lending a hand where we could, thanks to many of you. We distributed emergency backpacks and listened to leaders on the ground.
But US protocols have rapidly changed, forcing most asylum seekers to wait on the Mexico side of the border. So we’ve shifted our focus to the growing needs in Juarez, just across from El Paso, where many people are sheltering after they petition for asylum.
Approximately 98 percent of these refugees at the border fleeing violence will see their asylum requests denied by US courts. Few will move on to the safe future they’re seeking in the US.
Kayla: I’m Kayla Craig, and this is a Love Anyway, a podcast by Preemptive Love.
Rafael: So I just want to talk a little bit about Juarez. Juarez over the years has been known as one of the dangerous cities. I think that we kind of lost a little bit, it got a little bit better. And it was comfortable living here for a while.
Kayla: Rafael is helping lead our response in Juarez, where he lives with his family.
Rafael: Maybe the last couple of weeks, we started getting real increasing crime again. And it was something that just kind of shot up from one day to another they started burning buses just one day, and I think they burnt 40, vehicles.Many of them were buses and killed like 32 people, I believe in like two days. It started to get real bad real quick. I’m one of the ones that usually don’t mind it or can deal with it a little bit. And I found myself leaving the house one day a little bit um…just concerned really. I didn’t want to leave the house I was I was a little bit just worried about being out.
Kayla: While the people we’ve met in Juarez are like Rafael, warm and welcoming, the uptick in violence is fueled by select and powerful crime organizations, preying on asylum seekers who are left in a vulnerable position.
After fleeing their homelands and petitioning for asylum in El-Paso, these refugees are typically detained for a few days and then sent to Juarez…often with few belongings, little money, and no access to information on what is happening…or why.
Rafael: There is a whole lot more good people in Juarez than there is bad. I mean, anybody on the street, on the road will help you if your car breaks down. Anybody will offer whatever they can help with if they see you need so. There’s just a small group of people that are creating chaos in the city. But it is happening.
Rafael: So the Narcos and the bosses and everybody that’s calling the shots…they operate inside the jail because a lot of them are locked up, but they still have phones and they still have communication and they still have just business out in the street. So they communicate. So this is well-known information. So when the cops and the Feds in, and they started getting ready to go in there. Somebody must have told them in and they started burning buses to turn their attention from the jail.
Rafael: This past weekend. We had a three day no homicide spree, which ended on Monday. So, Monday it was eight murders in two hours and then we had four more murders during the rest of the afternoon.
Kayla: At the time of recording, a local newspaper reported that there had been 46 bomb threats, 50 burnt vehicles, 80 executions in the month of November alone.
Rafael: And it’s interesting because you walk down the streets of Juarez, you see people drinking out in the street. You see maybe people looking for drugs or you know, and then you Go to these shelters. Or you go to these tent communities and and you walk through and not one can of beer do you see. you don’t see people smoking, you don’t see anything. I mean that they’re genuinely running for their lives. And anything that gets in between that is, is not an option.
Kayla: Rafael went to a tent community in Juarez where more than a thousand people—men, women, children seeking asylum—are currently living…under a bridge. He asked why they didn’t find a shelter to live in. After all…wouldn’t that be safer than this?
Rafael: My question was why don’t you go to a shelter? And their answer was seemed to be real simple. We don’t want to be mistreated. So these are people that are hurt, they’re hurt, they come from a hurt community. And then along the way they’re being hurt even more by other communities or people just wanting to take advantage of people coming by.
Kayla: As we were about to record this episode, we received a message from Rafael. He was back at the tent community of asylum seekers. Here is what he told us: “They have to face the same violence that they are running from.”
He went on to say that a family of four had been kidnapped and killed. And the day before, two more innocent people were ambushed and robbed as they walked the dangerous three miles to get groceries.
These families aren’t criminals, these are women, men, and children running for their lives. And now they’re dying as they try to protect and save their families.
Rafael: They want a better life. They want to survive, they want their children to thrive. That’s what they want.
Kayla: According to the Associated Press, nearly 70 thousand migrant children have been held in detention centers this year—an all-time high. And when they’re released? Many are sent to the shelters in Juarez. And the shelters, often run by churches and nonprofits, are inundated and are struggling to keep up with the need.
Kayla: Most shelters in Juarez are meant to house just a tiny fraction of the thousands currently seeking asylum, people who are now being pushed to stay in Jaurez while they wait for months for their day in a US court.
These are people who have no other option. They are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, teenagers and babies, fleeing violence.
And what we keep hearing from them is this: If there was a safer place to be, if we could go home, we would.
Rafael: The violence here, it’s almost like we’re used to it now and all they do is, somebody posts up guard at night. So they have, they have four people that post up guard on each corner of the camp. This is normal. This is life. This is real life.
Kayla: It reminds me of what Erin Wilson, Preemptive Love’s senior field editor, said about what she saw in northeastern Syria: Just blocks away from war, from bombs and blasts, children walked hand-in-hand in the market. Because violence … has become their normal. But as Erin also shared in our last episode: this isn’t normal. It’s not normal in Syria, and it’s not normal in Mexico.
Rafael: These are real people. These are children that cry, children that get hungry, children that get cold. People that get hungry, hungry and cold. People that get frustrated and these are real people like you and me so it makes it, it makes it so much more personal when they’re in our city and they’re going through a lot of stuff.
Jessica: I think it’s interesting the way that news articles can come across to us as all of these people coming from one place and having one story and, and that if people come from violence, that they are destined to perpetuate that violence.
Kayla: Jessica Courtney, Preemptive Love founder and vice president of international programs, called to tell me about her time in Juarez.
Jessica: What we are seeing and learning is that people who have been vulnerable under violence for years and years are actually much kinder, much more welcoming, quicker to share their resources with other people because they understand that pain and they know what it’s like.
Kayla: With Rafael’s guidance, the leadership of compassionate women and men in Juarez, and Jessica’s global experience, we are working together to create safe shelters for some of the most marginalized in Juarez.
Rafael: Inside the shelters, It’s is just another day is you know they, they have their food, they have their water they they’re happy. They’re very thankful they almost can’t believe that there’s people that care enough to do this stuff for them. So this is Juarez, Juarez is a very loving community where I think we’ve become a lot closer over the years. And we’re willing to help each other we’re willing to, to push through, we’re willing to not give up.
Jessica: One of the ladies asked us why we were in their particular shelter. Why did we think that that they were important and this particular shelter had a lot of people come to them and show up with things in hand and then meet them and take the items back because they didn’t think that they were worthy of receiving help? They didn’t think that they were worthy of receiving help it’s, it’s mind-boggling to me to meet another human being, look in their eyes and take something away from them because you deem them not a good enough human to help. I find these women and men to be absolutely loving and welcoming. And when they asked that question, I was crushed by it. Like I don’t ever ask someone: Why are you talking to me? Why are you being kind to me? Why did you come visit me? It just doesn’t even creep into my thoughts to ask that question but they were asking why are we there. And we had to tell them our whole story of where we become, all of the learning that we’ve had to do over the last 20 years and really a lot of unlearning, that we’ve had to do over the last 20 years that have that has helped mold us into people who can look at other people and see them for their humanity.
Jessica: We’ve unlearned all of these things. And even if we disagree with other people, even if we might not like other people, we, we can still reach out and love to them to listen to them to try and understand them, to love them. And, and as we talked about our transformation over the last 20 years, you could see real understanding in the eyes and posture of the men and women sitting around us, that they’ve been on the other side of that they’ve been on the misunderstood side of that they’ve been on the side where, where when people look at them, they’re they’re making assumptions of of them and for us to sit in that room and for them to welcome and celebrate our story was surprising to me. You know, it would have been absolutely okay for them, to hold us at arm’s length, and instead, they welcomed that change with open arms.
Kayla: Thousands of refugees arrive at the US border every week, fleeing from violence and poverty in countries throughout Central America, and Africa, and more. In October, zero refugees were admitted under the current administration.
And these people are stranded now, their resources exhausted in Juarez. Moms and dads desperately want to provide for their families, but when they make it to a safe shelter, they’re afraid to be alone on the streets of Juarez. The risk of being trafficked, hurt, or worse? It’s real. So for now, it’s extremely difficult to find a safe job. And that leads to a lack of resources and additional trauma.
Jessica: I think every time that I have the privilege of crossing the border into Juarez, it’s a different experience. It’s incredible how drastic changes can happen that affect families in just a few days or a few weeks time. Sitting with moms and their kids and hearing the stories about all the different types of violence that they had experienced is incredibly challenging and to realize that each story is so unique that there’s not like one band-aid answer that can really solve for the kind of trauma and pain that they have tried to flee from and then the trauma and pain that they endure on the way to the border. As I sit, with little kids and try and play with them and ask them questions, I just wonder constantly like, how is this season in their life going to affect who they become for the future?
Kayla: Asylum seekers need more than just shelter. As Rafael mentioned, violence abounds. It’s not safe for families to go outside. And that’s led us to ask more questions…what if? What if these families had another way to earn a living? Or learn English? Or get legal advice? Or have a safe place for their kids?
What if…we could bring that…to them?
Jessica: We’re trying to ask all kinds of questions like what are your dreams? And what do you hope for the future? And, how can you achieve all it is that you want to achieve despite the circumstances going on around you? And these are questions that we ask all over the world because we never want to come in and impose our idea of what will help our or idea of what futures should look like. We just want to be people who are always listening and always asking in a way that allows us to partner with people to achieve their dreams rather than for us to achieve something that we think is right for the community.
Kayla: Juarez is the transient home to more than 6,000 refugees from around the world, approximately 1,300 of whom are staying in local shelters which lean heavily on an already fragile social structure.
Jessica: What I so firmly believe is that we have to be a part of shaping their present because we know that that is people we carry trauma. We carry trauma in our bodies, and we pass it on to our children and, I’m just going to do everything I can in my power to make their present better, better for today and for now, because I may not have a lot of power to affect change for them two or five years ago, and the places where they came from and I don’t have any power to affect change for which country they get accepted to as asylum seekers. But what I do have the power to do is intervene right here in this moment and make sure that they have the food that they need. That they had the child protection services that they need, that they have play therapy that their moms are using this time of waiting to increase their skills to learn more, to take every opportunity to become educated so that they’re ready to take on a job whenever they finally find what their final destination is going to be.
Kayla: So much is unknown and uncertain about the time our friends are staying at the border…
Jessica: we heard some really rough stories one day and then we went back the next day when we walked into one of the shelters. One of the women there threw her arms out wide and she said, welcome home. And it was just a really precious moment.
Kayla: On Giving Tuesday, we’re excited to announce a new initiative we’re launching where you can help us provide jobs for the most marginalized asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border. On December third, we’re opening up a special opportunity where, in the midst of danger, we can bring opportunities to our friends on the US-Mexico border, who can’t leave their shelters to find work. Where the risk of violence is too high, we’re bringing opportunity.
And you can be a part of it. Text “border update” to 72000 to sign up so you don’t miss an update about what we’re launching on Giving Tuesday. Again, just text the words “border update” to 72000 so you can be the first to know. You can play an important role in choosing to love anyway at the US-Mexico border.
Kayla: That’s it for today. You can learn more at preemptivelove.org/podcast. We’re @PreemptiveLove on Twitter and Instagram. And again, just shoot a text 72000 with the words “border update” to stay in the loop of what we’re doing.
Thanks for listening. I’m Kayla Craig, and this is Love Anyway, a podcast by Preemptive Love.