AI Justice Attorneys Reflect On Their Time At The Border: Day 2

Adonia Simpson, Director of AI Justice's Family Defense Program, and Jessica Shulruff Schneider, Director of AI Justice's Detention Program, reflect on their experiences volunteering as legal service providers along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

We made it.  We are here.  We are safe.  We have seen this post circulating on social media and thought it was an appropriate time to share.  

The crisis is not necessarily nonexistent; it is real for those who are fleeing their countries due to violence, political persecution, and extreme poverty.  The US government created this through its unwillingness to provide protections afforded by international and domestic law—a humane process for asylum-seekers to avail themselves of protection.  This morning as we sipped our coffee, we watched the local news and were greeted by headlines about increased militarization at the border—images of tanks and well-armed US troops.   As a nation built on offering refuge to the huddled masses, the current state of immigration is disheartening. 

Borders are generally manmade and arbitrary.  This concept was never more clear than today as we crossed over the San Ysidro/Tijuana land crossing.  Metal fences, corrugated barriers, and barbed wire, and in the midst of it all, a notation and line on the ground:  Mexico | USA.  We stood and straddled the border.  How easy it was for us.  Our US passports in hand and no lines, we traversed Mexican Customs and Immigration in minutes.  No waiting months for a credible fear interview.  No uncertainty as to where we are going to sleep or get our next meal.  No fear driving us from our home. 

We walked the wall.  On our side, the Mexican side, the wall was colorful with phrases of hope and unity, a stark contrast to the sterile uninvited barbed wire and metal on the US side.  What is termed the International Friendship Park on the US side appeared almost like a wasteland, complete with Customs and Border Protection helicopters buzzing above.  The Mexican side was vibrant and full of families and pets.  The wall stretched into the ocean, and CBP officer congregated in the non-man’s land in between casting suspicious looks at those who came too close. 

What did warm our hearts is the community that is adapting to the harsh policies of its northern neighbor—organizations abound providing migrants with the essentials to survive this limbo.  Art installation hearts lined the boardwalk touting messages of love, hope and unity.  We could learn so much from our southern neighbors. 

Tomorrow we start our volunteerism with Al Otro Lado and brace ourselves for the stories of why members of the caravan have fled their homes, advise them of their rights, and prepare them for what is to come.  

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AI Justice is an award-winning non-profit law and advocacy firm that protects and promotes the basic human rights of immigrants. In Florida and on a national level, we champion the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children; advocate for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence; serve as a watchdog on immigration detention practices and policies; and speak for immigrant groups who have particular and compelling claims to justice.