CARECEN SF Staff Attorney
The last week in April, CARECEN SF paralegal Gladys Rodriguez and I headed down to Tijuana, Mexico to help members of the Refugee Caravan prepare to seek asylum in the United States. We arrived eager to help and unsure of exactly how the week would progress. Four days later, we left Mexico impressed with the bravery and resilience of asylum seekers who refused to let violence, fear, or government roadblocks stop them from seeking refuge for themselves and their families, and appalled by the U.S. government’s reaction to them.
We spent our first two days in Tijuana helping prepare members of the Caravan for Credible Fear Interviews. These interviews, given in-person or over the phone by U.S. government officials, are a crucial early step for asylum seekers. If the interviewer determines that an asylum seeker has a credible fear of being persecuted or tortured in their home country, they will be entitled to a full immigration court hearing to present their claim. If not, an asylum seeker may request that an immigration judge review the interviewer’s decision, but if the judge agrees with the interviewer, the asylum seeker will be removed from the country without ever being able to fully present their claim. The extremely high stakes of these interviews coupled with the difficulty of talking to a stranger about fear and trauma make it ideal to get the help of a legal advocate before being interviewed.
On Sunday, April 29, we joined caravan members at a rally on the Playa de la Amistad, where, from across the border wall, they were greeted by marchers, many of whom had walked from Los Angeles. Invigorated by the rally on the beach, on Sunday afternoon caravan seekers and supporters marched to the San Ysidro port of entry to present themselves to the U.S. government and seek asylum. However, contrary to U.S. law and our country’s international law obligations, U.S. government officials at first refused to accept a single refugee, offering up only that there wasn’t capacity right now and suggesting that the asylum seekers could come back later.
Caravan members had just spent months traveling through often-extremely-dangerous places and had reconciled themselves to presenting at the port despite knowing that for many of them Sunday would be their last day of freedom before being to U.S. detention centers while awaiting their cases. So they weren’t about to be deterred by a bit of (illegal) U.S.-government delay. We helped to hastily construct a campout site in a plaza front of the port of entry. Bathrooms were scarce, blankets and food were urgently needed, and the Tijuana night was cold. But the caravan seekers’ determination to seek asylum didn’t flag. Gladys and I stayed in the plaza overnight, though our main contribution proved providing comedic relief to kids and teens in the caravan with our less-than-impressive efforts to master Spanish tongue twisters. In the morning, we walked across the border to catch our flight back to San Francisco.
When we left Tijuana, the U.S. government had still refused to admit a single asylum seeker from the caravan, though in the week since all of them have been admitted. From here, their journey continues, now through U.S. detention centers and courts in a country that is proving increasingly hostile to their cause. As members of the CARECEN legal team, we’re committed to fighting for their rights and those of the greater immigrant community.
Evelyn Wiese received her J.D. from Columbia Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. She also holds an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a B.A. with Honors from Wesleyan University. Before joining CARECEN SF in March of 2017, Evelyn practiced international arbitration at a law firm in New York, and focused her pro-bono practice on representing immigrant clients seeking to ensure their legal right to stay in the United States. At CARECEN SF, Evelyn represents clients in a range of matters including bond proceedings, asylum cases, and seeking U-visas and T-visas. In her free time, Evelyn enjoys exploring San Francisco with her dog Scruffy.