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Migrant Families, Advocates Take Their Cases To Loebsack

Kate Payne/IPR
Migrant families and advocates crowded into a conference room at Rep. Dave Loebsack's office in Iowa City to request his help in their cases.

President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy is keeping some Johnson County families apart. Some of those affected by the administration’s actions took their cases to Congressman Dave Loebsack’s office Tuesday, supported by advocates who demanded an in-person meeting with him.

Families, clergy and advocates from the Iowa City Catholic Worker House and the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement packed in to a conference room at Loebsack’s office in Iowa City Tuesday. They carried carried signs that read “Liberty And Justice For All” and “Families Belong Together And Free."

Fr. Guillermo Trevino of St. Patrick's Church opened the meeting with a bilingual prayer, leading the group in English and Spanish.

“We build barriers in our hearts and our minds. Lord Jesus help us by your grace to vanish fear from our hearts that we might embrace each of your children as our own brother and sister, to welcome migrants and refugees with joy and generosity while responding to their many needs,” Trevino prayed.

Juliza is one of the immigrants that shared her story with members of Loebsack’s staff, Dave Leshtz and Robert Sueppel. Speaking through an interpreter and holding her newborn son in her arms, she recalled how she and her husband Alejandro came to the U.S. to flee gang violence in their native El Salvador. But they were separated at the border and now he must wait in Mexico for his U.S. immigration hearing.

IPR is not using their last names because they are in the middle of immigration proceedings.

“We decided to come to the United States and at the border two hours after we arrived they separated me from my husband,” she said through an interpreter. “After that I didn’t know anything about my husband and what had happened until he was deported back to Mexico.”

Her husband hasn’t been able to meet his newborn son, who Juliza gave birth to in the U.S. after they were separated. Though still in Mexico, Alejandro was able to listen in to her testimony Tuesday over a cell phone, and said it’s been hard to him to find work in Mexico.

“It’s been really hard for me to find work, to pay rent, to find food. I feel very lonely here. I just would like a way to get to my wife and new son,” he said through an interpreter.

Under the Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, immigrants, including those seeking asylum are being made to wait in Mexico until their court hearings come up. This is reportedly causing confusion and distress for those being held in Mexico, and further strain on resources in the country, as well as creating a hardship for the families that have been separated.

Juliza is requesting that Loebsack write a letter of support to the immigration judge on her husband’s case so that he could be released to be with his family while his case is resolved.

Others facing removal proceedings shared their stories as well, citing pressure from gangs, the threat of violence and extreme poverty in their home countries. José, from Honduras, says the only crime he has ever been accused of was crossing the border to the United States to try and support his family, some of whom are U.S. citizens.

“I left my home country when I was 16. They were forcing me to join gangs and send drugs, and that’s not me,” he said through an interpreter. “The corruption that’s going on in Honduras, the politics, the gangs, it’s forcing us to leave our country.”

He and Jakelin, also of Honduras, requested that Loebsack intercede for them as well.

Loebsack’s staffers say they’ll match the families to a case worker and look in to their situations, but say they can’t guarantee any outcomes. Staffers also said they are looking in to the possibility of an in-person meeting between the group and Loebsack, but said they couldn’t guarantee a specific meeting time in the moment.  

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter