Interview Staff pick

Julio Salgado on Telling Community Stories as an Undocumented and Queer Artist  

Illustrations by Julio Salgado

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Julio Salgado knew more undocumented people than queer people as a teenager in Long Beach, California.  

The 37-year-old artist was born in Ensenada, Mexico, just two hours south of the U.S. border. In 1995 his family immigrated to the United States to seek treatment for his sister’s life-threatening kidney disease. She ended up getting a transplant and the family decided to stay. 

It was in California that Salgado first learned about Frida Kahlo’s use of color and storytelling, something he would go on to use in his work years later. And it was here that he became obsessed with Gilmore Girls and Hollywood culture, an obsession that led him to create his own black comedy sketch series on YouTube, “Undocumented and Awkward.”

Today, Salgado makes art for his younger self. 

“The kid who is going through shit who is queer and undocumented,” he said. 

His artwork documents the youth-led immigration movement and weaves humor into what can often be tragic situations. He is also a co-founder of Dreamers Adrift and the migrant storytelling program manager at the Center for Cultural Power in Oakland, California.

Salgado spoke with Borderless Magazine about his use of dark humor in his art and the importance of giving a human face to the migrant movement. 

Borderless Magazine: Why did you decide to document the movement? 

Julio Salgado: When people were getting arrested in 2010, I remember seeing a photo of undocumented students in the New York Times and saying, “We need to document this.” I started making images and sharing them on Facebook. I really wanted to highlight the fact that the movement is queer and woman-led. 

Art is another way of being able to communicate and take care of each other. It’s a way of being able to communicate with some of the needs of our communities. Through my art I’ve been able to share my thoughts, meet other people and feel a little less alone. 

Borderless Magazine: Is there a moment when you decide, “I have to tell this story?’  

Julio Salgado: I always feel as artists we’re very lucky to be able to create. It’s our form of therapy. I think when it comes to your own story you should be able to put that story out there whenever you feel comfortable because it’s your story. This could also be said about coming out as undocumented and queer. 

When it comes to other people’s stories you need to collaborate with people who are working on the ground. That has always been my approach when it comes to highlighting issues that are happening in our community. You cannot generalize. If you are creating art and are not part of a community dealing with people’s deaths or their detention, are you being careful in how you’re crafting that message?

Borderless Magazine: What stories do you want to tell with your artwork? 

Julio Salgado: I think more than anything, it’s about us as immigrants. A lot of the time humor and dark humor were ways of us coping with the things that were being thrown at us as we were pushing for the Dream Act. From the criminalization of our lives to the possibility of deportation — laughing at the situation is cathartic. 

Julio Salgado. Photo by Beto Soto

There were points where we said, “Fuck this, let’s leave the country, let’s go back, let’s self-deport.” Some people did. But what are we going back to? You can’t help but laugh. Organizers at the time were always laughing and joking with each other. That part of ourselves, I hold very dear. We had to find it in ourselves. In our daily lives to laugh at the system because it was something we were dealing with. 

Borderless Magazine: Tell me about the “Undocumented and Awkward” video series you did for Dreamers Adrift. Why did you decide to make this series?

Julio Salgado: We wanted to focus on the experience of being undocumented and living our daily lives. We wanted to show things that are boring to the media. Often they just focus on someone getting deported or a perfect student. But there’s more to us than that. And that when nothing newsworthy is happening we’re still having to deal, in one way or another, with being undocumented. We have to keep asking people to treat us like basic human beings. 

We were being creative when we decided to make the series. We wanted to own and tell narratives that were not necessarily covered in the news media. I think it’s important to figure out ways to not just see ourselves represented in front of the camera but also behind it. 


Borderless Magazine: You now are lifting up other artists through your work at the Center for Cultural Power. Tell me about the Disruptor’s Fellowship. 

Julio Salgado: I am really excited about this. The fellowship has 10 fellows and we support writers who want to write for TV who are undocumented or formerly  undocumented, disabled, or identify as trans or non-binary. If you fit any of those categories you can apply. 

We wanted to be intentional about who gets these opportunities. A lot of times undocumented people cannot apply to fellowships because you need to be a U.S. citizen. We wanted to create a program that really gave people the tools and connected them to people in the industry. Right now there is a hunger for stories of our communities to be told. 

Follow @5050by2020 and @culturestrike on Instagram to receive updates about the Disruptor’s Fellowship and for information about how to apply to be part of the next cohort.

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Español Interview

Julio Salgado sobre contar historias de la comunidad como un artista indocumentado y queer 

Ilustraciones por Julio Salgado

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Julio Salgado conoció a más personas indocumentadas que personas queer cuando era un adolescente en Long Beach, California. 

El artista de 37 años nació en Ensenada, México, a solo dos horas al sur de la frontera con los Estados Unidos. En 1995, su familia emigró a los Estados Unidos para buscar tratamiento para la enfermedad renal que amenazaba la vida de su hermana. Ella terminó recibiendo un trasplante y la familia decidió quedarse. 

Fue en California donde Salgado aprendió por primera vez sobre el uso del color en el arte y los cuentos de historias de Frida Kahlo, algo que luego usaría en su trabajo años después. Y fue aquí donde se obsesionó con Gilmore Girls y la cultura de Hollywood, una obsesión que lo llevó a crear su propia serie de sketches de comedia oscura en Youtube, “Indocumentados e Incómodos.” 

Hoy, Salgado crea arte para jóvenes que están pasando por lo que pasó él cuando era adolescente. 

“El chico que esta pasando por una mierda que es queer e indocumentado,” el dijo. 

Su obra de arte documenta el movimiento de inmigración liderado por jóvenes y teje el humor en lo que a veces pueden ser situaciones trágicas. También es cofundador de Dreamers Adrift y gerente del programa de narración de historias para migrantes en el Centro para el Poder Cultural en Oakland, California. 

Salgado conversó con Borderless Magazine sobre el uso del humor oscuro en su arte y la importancia de darle un rostro humano al movimiento migrante. 

Borderless Magazine: ¿Por qué decidiste documentar el movimiento? 

Julio Salgado: Cuando personas estaban siendo arrestadas en el 2010, recuerdo haber visto una foto de estudiantes indocumentados en el New York Times y diciendo, “Tenemos que documentar esto.” Empecé a hacer imágenes y las compartí en Facebook. Tenía muchas ganas de destacar el hecho de que el movimiento es queer y está dirigido por mujeres. 

El arte es otra forma de poder comunicarnos y cuidarnos. Es una forma de poder comunicarse con algunas de las necesidades de nuestras comunidades. A través de mi arte he podido compartir mis pensamientos, conocer a otras personas y sentirme un poco menos solo.  

Borderless Magazine: ¿Hay algún momento en el que decides, “tengo que contar esta historia?” 

Julio Salgado: Siempre siento como artistas que tenemos mucha suerte de poder crear. Es nuestra forma de terapia. Creo que cuando se trata de tu propia historia, deberías poder poner esa historia afuera cuando te sientas cómodo porque es tu historia. Esto también se poderia decir sobre salir como indocumentado y queer. 

Cuando se trata de las historias de otras personas, es necesario colaborar con personas que trabajan en el terreno. Ese siempre ha sido mi enfoque cuando se trata de resaltar los problemas que están sucediendo en nuestra comunidad. No se puede generalizar. Si estás creando arte y no eres parte de una comunidad que está ocupada con la muerte de personas o su detención, ¿estás siendo cuidadoso con la forma en que estás construyendo ese mensaje? 

Borderless Magazine: ¿Qué historias quieres contar con tu obra de arte? 

Julio Salgado: Creo que más que nada, se trata de nosotros como inmigrantes. Muchas veces, el humor y el humor oscuro eran formas de lidiar con las cosas que nos estaban lanzando mientras estábamos presionando por el Dream Act. Desde la criminalización de nuestras vidas hasta la posibilidad de deportación — reírse de la situación es catártico.   

Julio Salgado. Foto por Beto Soto

Hubo momentos en los que dijimos, “Al diablo con esto, salgamos del país, regresemos, deportemonos nuestro mismos.” Algunas personas lo hicieron. Pero a qué vamos a volver? No puedes evitar reír. Los organizadores de la época siempre se reían y bromeaban entre ellos. Esa parte de nosotros mismos la aprecio mucho. Tuvimos que encontrarlos en nosotros mismos. En nuestra vida diaria reímos del sistema porque era algo con lo que estábamos lidiando. 

Borderless Magazine: Cuéntame sobre la serie de videos “Indocumentados e Incómodos serie en video que hiciste para Dreamers Adrift. ¿Por qué decidiste hacer esta serie? 

Julio Salgado: Queríamos enfocarnos en la experiencia de ser indocumentados y vivir nuestra vida diaria. Queríamos mostrar cosas aburridas a los medios de comunicación. A menudo, solo se enfocan en que alguien sea deportado o en un estudiante perfecto. Pero hay más de nosotros que eso. Y que cuando no sucede algo interesante para los periodistas todavía tenemos que lidiar, de una forma o otra, con el hecho de ser indocumentados. Tenemos que seguir pidiendo a la gente que nos trate como seres humanos básicos.  

Estábamos siendo creativos cuando decidimos hacer la serie. Queríamos crear y contar narrativas que no necesariamente estaban siendo cubiertas en los medios de comunicación. Creo que es importante encontrar formas de no solo vernos representado frente a la cámara, sino también detrás de ella. 


Borderless Magazine: Ahora estás animando a otros artistas a través de tu trabajo en el Centro para el Poder Cultural. Cuéntame sobre la beca de Disruptores. 

Julio Salgado: Estoy muy emocionado por esto. La beca tiene 10 becarios y apoyamos a los escritores que desean escribir para la television que son indocumentado o anteriormente indocumentados, discapacitados o que se identifican como trans o no binarios. Si te identificas con alguna de esas categorías puedes aplicar. 

Queríamos ser intencionales sobre quién tiene estas oportunidades. Muchas veces las personas indocumentados no pueden aplicar para becas porque es necesario ser ciudadano estadounidense. Queríamos crear un programa que realmente brindaría a las personas las herramientas y los conectaría con personas de la industria. Ahora mismo hay hambre de que se cuenten historias de nuestras comunidades. 

Sigue @5050by2020 e @culturestrike en Instagram para recibir actualizaciones sobre la beca de Disruptores y para obtener información sobre cómo aplicar para ser parte del próximo grupo. 

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Interview Video

 إنفجار يهز بيروت تضاف إلى أزمة لبنان المتزايدة

فوق: تجمع أكثر من 100 شخص لدعم لبنان في ملينيام بارك، 20 تشرين الأول 2019 في شيكاغو، ديان بو خليل/مجلة بوردرلس

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سقط أكثر من 135 قتيلا وحوالي 5000 جريح، بينهم حالات خطرة، في انفجار ضخم هز مرفأ بيروت عصر٤ آب بحسب تقارير من نيويورك تايمز ووزير الصحة اللبناني. وذلك في زمنٍ يمرالبلد في خضم أزمة سياسية واقتصادية.

تقتصر الكهرباء في لبنان على بضع ساعات فقط في اليوم، وتفيض الشوارع بالقمامة ، ويبلغ معدل البطالة 35 بالمائة. مع التضخم المفرط، فقدت الليرة اللبنانية أكثر من 80 في بالمئة من قيمتها، مما تسبب في ارتفاع أسعار المواد الغذائية بشكل ملحوظ.

بدأت الثورة بمظاهرات مدنية ضد الضرائب المخطط لها على البنزين وواتس اب والتبغ. مع نمو المظاهرات، بدأت البنوك في تقييد سحب الدولار الأمريكي، وانخفضت العملة المحلية.

تحدثت ديان بو خليل من مجلة بوردرلس مع كارمن جحا ، الناشطة والأستاذة المشاركة في الجامعة الأمريكية في بيروت  بلبنان ، عن الأزمة الحالية في البلد.

تم بث هذه المقابلة في الأصل على قناتنا على اليوتيوب وتم تكثيفها للطباعة.

مجلة بوردرلس:  هل يمكنك أن توضحي الوضع في لبنان؟

كارمن جحا: حاول أن تتخيل ثورة تبدأ في تشرين الأول، تليها انهيار عملة في كانون الأول، ثم يتبعها جائحة فيروس كورونا في أوائل آذار.

هذه دولة يتم فيها اعتقال الشباب وضربهم بسبب انتقادات تويتر اذا حكيوا عن عملة اللبنانية أو الرئيس. اعتاد السياسيون على الأقل ان يعدوا بالإصلاح والقوانين الدولية. إذا أخذت الأمور بنظرها الكبير، فإنهم لا يهتمون ، والعالم يعرف أنهم لا يهتمون. لن نشاهدهم يأخذوننا رهائن.

مجلة بوردرلس: كثير من داخل لبنان وخارجه يطالبون بإصلاح الحكومة ويخشى الكثيرون من الحرب. بماذا يفكر اللبنانيون اليوم؟

كارمن جحا: نحن عالقون في لغز. لا يمكننا الهروب من الكساد الاقتصادي والانهيار الاقتصادي بدون إصلاح سياسي. لا يمكّن النظام الإصلاح السياسي. لا أعتقد أنه يمكنك إصلاح المؤسسات العامة دون وجود سياسيين جيدين وإرادة إصلاحها. إذا قام السياسيون بإصلاح الحكومة ، فلن يكونوا في السلطة ، لأنهم يعيشون بعيداً عن النزعة الحسابية ، مما يجعل الناس خائفين ويهددون باستخدام الأسلحة. إنها دولة يخاف منها الناس.

كارمن جحا تتحدث عن الإصلاح الانتخابي في 27 تشرين الأول 2019 في بيروت، لبنان. صورة من كارمن جها

لا يمكننا انتظار الإصلاح السياسي. لا يستطيع معظم الناس إطعام أطفالهم في نهاية الشهر. أعتقد أننا بحاجة إلى اتخاذ خطوة إلى الوراء والاستجابة حقًا لما ينشأ بسرعة كأزمة إنسانية ليس فقط للبنانيين ولكن أيضًا للكثير من غير اللبنانيين أيضًا. لمليون سوري ونصف مليون فلسطيني والكثير من العمال المهاجرين [الذين يعيشون في لبنان]. يتم طرد الناس من الشارع ونحن بحاجة إلى البدء في معالجة هذه الأزمة.

مجلة بوردرلس: كما يضم لبنان 900،000 لاجئ سوري و 475،000 لاجئ فلسطيني. كيف يعيش اللاجئون في لبنان خلال هذه الفترة؟

كارمن جحا: يعيش خمسة وسبعون بالمائة من السكان والمواطنين وغير المواطنين تحت خط الفقر. هذا أقل من كافٍ لإطعام أطفالهم. الصورة العامة قاتمة وعنيفة ، لكن غالبية الناس لديهم تاريخ طويل في بناء التضامن وبناء المشاريع معًا. أي حي في لبنان اليوم لديه بنك طعام ، شخص ما يجمع الطعام والمال والملابس.

[ومع ذلك] لا يمكننا الاعتماد على المساعدة المحلية. نحن بحاجة لمنظمات دولية لمنح اللبنانيين فرصة ألا يكونوا رهائن من قبل هؤلاء السياسيين السيئين. أعتقد أيضا أن للمغترب لبناني دور كبير يلعبه ليس فقط في التمويل ولكن في إبقاء لبنان على الخريطة السياسية. من المهم ألا ننزلق إلى حالة فاشلة. من المهم جدًا أن لا يدفع الناس ثمن السياسات السيئة.

مجلة بوردرلس: أصبح الوضع في لبنان قضية عالمية ، مع اندلاع احتجاجات التضامن في جميع أنحاء العالم ، بما في ذلك اثنتان حدثت هنا في شيكاغو. لماذا اتخذ أعضاء المغترب اللبناني إجراءات بشأن هذه القضية؟

كارمن جحا: شباب اللبناني يهتم ببلدهم. الكثير من الناس غادروا لبنان ليس بإرادتهم ولكن لأنهم اضطروا ، حتى أولئك الذين غادروا منذ زمن طويل. غالبية اللبنانيين لديهم ذاكرة جيدة لبلادهم ويرغبون في رد الجميل ، ولكن ليس هناك ثقة في الحكومة.

كارمن جها. صورة من كارمن جها

عندما رأى المغترب أن اللبنانيين كانوا يهتفون كلهم في المظاهرات، كان ذلك بمثابة شرارة أمل. والأمر متروك للبنانيين من الداخل والخارج لإبقاء الشرارة حية.

مجلة بوردرلس: في خضم الأزمة في لبنان ، تتعامل أيضًا مع جائحة فيروس كورونا. كيف تعاملت الدولة مع ذلك؟

كارمن جحا: هناك نكتة قائلة بأن العرق يمكن أن تساعد في إبعاد الهالة.

كانت الأرقام منخفضة نسبيًا بسبب قدرة الاختبار المنخفضة ، ولكن هناك شعور عام بأننا قمنا بعمل جيد في الموجة الأولى.

عندما لا يكون لدينا كهرباء ليلا في المستشفيات ، هناك قمامة في الشوارع ، والأطفال يجريون حول المنزل جائعون ، أنا متشائمة للغاية بشأن الموجة الثانية. أعتقد أن هذا هو آخر شيء يجرنا إلى للأسفل. لدينا جميعًا المسؤولية ، خاصة أولئك الذين يتمتعون بامتياز أكبر لفرصة رفع صوتنا أو دعمنا بأي طريقة ممكنة ، لتجنب سيناريو يحول لبنان إلى كارثة دولة فاشلة.

مجلة بوردرلس: ما هي أفكارك حول القضايا الإجتماعية و الإنسانية التي أثيرت في هذه الثورة؟ 

كارمن جحا: أتمنى أن تكوني هنا لتري ذلك. عندما يكون هناك عمل جماعي بهذا الحجم ، تشعر أن كل شيء على الطاولة. الأشياء التي لا تناقشها عادةً ، والأشخاص الذين لا تراهم عادةً يناقشون الآن وهم موجودون على الطاولة لأن هناك شيءًا مبهجًا عامًا يجمعنا. لذا فإن الأشياء التي ربما استخدمناها في الجدل ، على سبيل المثال ، حول قضايا النوع الاجتماعي ، أصبحت الآن على الطاولة في النهاية. نظرًا لأن الحركة ليست هرمية ومن أعلى إلى أسفل ، كان من الممكن للمرأة أن تكون في المقدمة.

فيما يتعلق بقضايا النوع الاجتماعي، سأكرر شيئًا أقوله دائمًا: النساء سيخسرن أكثر إذا استمر النظام وسيكسبن أكثر إذا تم إصلاحه. بالطبع ، يعيش الرجال أيضًا في فقر وفساد. لكن الصفقة التي تمت بعد الحرب الأهلية سمحت لمجموعة من أمراء الحرب بتصميم نظام يضع مصالحهم أولاً. سواء كان ذلك في الحالة المدنية أو الزواج أو الاغتصاب أو الميراث أو الاقتصاد أو الأجور أو الشراء أو حتى التجارة. لم تتمكن المرأة من التجارة بمفردها حتى عام 1994. لقد تمكنت من التسلل إلى جميع هذه القطاعات والجوانب المختلفة لحياة المرأة وهذا هو السبب – سواء كانت ابنة أو أم أو أخت أو ناشطة أو كيفما كنت تريد أن تنظر إلى المرأة اللبنانية – كان من الطبيعي أن تكون في طليعة [الثورة].

الثورة تستغرق وقتًا، ستة إلى ثمانية أشهرلا تساوي شيء في الحياة السياسية. لنأخذ عام 2005 كنقطة تحول عندما غادر الاحتلال السوري والآن نواجه سياسيينا الفاسدين. نحن الآن بدأنا للتو. لقد كشفنا للتو عن هذه القضايا ووضعناها على الطاولة. أنا متفائلة.

مجلة بوردرلس: كارمن، ما الذي تأملي فيه؟

كارمن جحا: أنا أستاذ جامعية وآمل في الشباب في كل مكان لأنهم لا يملكون ندوب جيلي أو الأجيال السابقة. لا توجد نفس المحرمات أو المخاوف أو المخاوف التي كانت لدينا. أنظر إلى طلابي ولا يفهمون لماذا لا يمكنهم الزواج من الشخص الذي يحبونه إلا إذا ذهبوا إلى قبرص للزواج لأن الزواج المدني غير قانوني في لبنان. لذا فإنني متفائلة بشأن طلابي والشباب في كل مكان.

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Interview Video

Explosions Rock Beirut, Adding to Lebanon’s Growing Crisis

Above: Over one hundred people gathered in solidarity with Lebanon in Millenium Park Oct. 20, 2019 in Chicago, Ill. Diane Bou Khalil/Borderless Magazine

إقرأ بالعربي

Two explosions rocked Lebanon’s capital of Beirut today killing at least 30 people and injuring 2,500, according to reports from the New York Times and the Lebanese health minister. The blasts shook the country, which is in the midst of a political and economic crisis. 

Electricity is restricted to only a few hours a day in Lebanon, the streets are overflowing with garbage, and the unemployment rate is 35 percent. With hyperinflation, the Lebanese pound has lost over 80 percent of its value since the country’s October 17 revolution, causing food prices to skyrocket.

The revolution, or “Thawra,” began as civil protests against planned taxes on gasoline, WhatsApp, and tobacco last fall. As protests grew, banks began restricting the withdrawals of U.S. dollars and the local currency took a downturn. 

Borderless Magazine’s Diane Bou Khalil spoke to Carmen Geha, an activist and associate professor at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, about the country’s current crisis. 

This interview was originally broadcasted on our YouTube channel and has been condensed for print.

Borderless Magazine: Can you explain the crisis happening in Lebanon?

Carmen Geha: Try to imagine a revolution that starts in October that is followed by a currency crash in December, then is followed by a pandemic in early March. 

This is a country where young people are getting arrested and beaten up for a Twitter criticism of the Lebanese currency or the president. The politicians used to at least pay lip service to reform and international statutes. If you look at the narrative and the rhetoric now, they don’t care, and the world knows they don’t care. We will not watch them take us hostage.

Borderless Magazine: Many in and outside Lebanon are calling for government reform and many are scared of a war. What are Lebanese thinking about today?

Carmen Geha: We are stuck in a puzzle. We cannot escape economic depression and economic collapse without political reform. The system does not enable political reform. I do not believe you can fix public institutions without having good politicians and the will to fix them. If politicians fix the government, they will not be in power, because they live off of clientelism, making people afraid and threatening to use weapons. It is a country where people are afraid of them. 

Carmen Geha speaks on electoral reform Oct. 27, 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon during an initiative called badna nthour badna na3ref, which means “we want to revolt, we want to know.” The initiative used the streets to organize around key political issues. Photo courtesy of Carmen Geha

We can’t wait for political reform. Most people cannot feed their kids at the end of the month. I think we need to take a step back and really respond to what is quickly emerging as a humanitarian crisis not just for Lebanese but for a lot of non-Lebanese, too. For 1 million Syrians, half a million Palestinians, and a lot of migrant workers [who live in Lebanon]. People are getting thrown off of the street and we need to start addressing that crisis. 

Borderless Magazine: Lebanon is also home to 900,000 Syrian refugees and 475,000 Palestinian refugees. How are refugees in Lebanon surviving during this time? 

Carmen Geha: Seventy-five percent of residents, citizens, and non-citizens are living underneath the poverty line. That is less than enough to feed their kids. The general picture is grim and violent, but the majority of people have a long history in building solidarity and building enterprises together. Any neighborhood in Lebanon today has a food bank, someone is collecting food, money, clothes.

[However,] we cannot rely on local help. We need international organizations to give the Lebanese a chance not to be held hostage by these bad politicians. I also think the diaspora has a big role to play not just in financing but keeping Lebanon on the political map. It is important that we do not slip into a failed state. It is very important for people to not pay the price of bad politics.

Borderless Magazine: The situation in Lebanon has become a global issue, with solidarity protests breaking out all over the world including two that happened here in Chicago. Why have members of the Lebanese diaspora taken action on this issue? 

Carmen Geha: Young people care for their country. Lots of people have left Lebanon not by their own will but because they had to, even those who left a long time ago. The majority of the Lebanese have a good memory of their country and want to give back, but there’s no trust in the government.

Carmen Geha. Photo courtesy of Carmen Geha

When the diaspora saw that the Lebanese people were chanting “Kellon ya3ne kellon,” which means “All of them means all of them,” at the protests, it was a spark of hope. It is up to the Lebanese both inside and outside to keep the spark alive.

Borderless Magazine: In the midst of the crisis in Lebanon, you are also dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. How has the country been handling that? 

Carmen Geha: Some joke that arak (Arabic: ﻋﺮﻕ‎) [an unsweetened distilled spirit] could help keep corona away.

The numbers have been relatively low because of low testing capacity, but there is a general feeling that we did OK in the first wave.

When we don’t have electricity at night in hospitals, there is trash on the streets and little kids are running around the house hungry, I am very pessimistic about the second wave. I think it’s the last thing that pulls us under. We all have responsibility, especially those who are more privileged to have the chance to raise our voice or support in any way possible, to avoid a scenario where Lebanon slips into a failed case disaster.

Borderless Magazine: What are your thoughts on the societal issues and gender issues being raised in this revolution?

Carmen Geha: I wish you were here to see it. When there is a collective action of this magnitude you feel like everything is on the table. The things you wouldn’t normally discuss, the people you normally wouldn’t see are now having discussions and are on the table because there is this general euphoric thing that combines us. So the things that we perhaps used to argue about, for example, gender issues, are now finally on the table. Because the movement is not hierarchical and top-down, it was more possible for women to be at the forefront. 

On gender issues, I am going to repeat something I always say: Women stand to lose the most if the system continues and they stand to win the most if it is reformed. Of course, men also live in poverty and corruption. But the deal that was made after the civil war allowed a group of warlords to design a system that puts their interests first. Whether it’s in civil status, marriage, rape, inheritance, economy, wages, procurement, or even trade. Women couldn’t trade on their own until 1994. They have been able to infiltrate all these various sectors and aspects of women’s lives and that is why women — whether she was a daughter, mother, sister, activist, LGBTQ activist or however you want to look at the Lebanese woman — it was normal for her to be at the forefront [of the revolution]. 

It really takes time. Six to eight months is nothing in political life. Take 2005 as a milestone when the Syrian occupation left and now that we are facing our own corrupt politicians. We are now just starting. We just uncovered these issues and put them on the table. I am hopeful. 

Borderless Magazine: What are you most hopeful about during this chaotic time?

Carmen Geha: I am a university professor and I am hopeful about young people everywhere because they do not have the scars of my generation or the generations before. There are not the same taboos, fears, or concerns like we had. I look at my students and they do not understand why they cannot marry the person they love unless they go to Cyprus to marry because civil marriage is not legal in Lebanon. So I am most hopeful about my students and young people everywhere.

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DACA Interview

Should I Apply for DACA? Can I Renew? Lawyer Answers DACA Recipients’ Questions

Above: The United States Supreme Court, which made a decision in June impacting 650,000 DACA recipients. By Brandon Bourdages/Shutterstock

The Supreme Court rejected President Donald Trump’s attempt to end DACA in an opinion June 18 finding that the administration’s move to end the immigration program was unlawful. 

The court’s 5-4 ruling protects the eight-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for now. but it leaves the door open for the Trump administration to try to terminate the program in the future. Nearly 650,000 undocumented immigrants currently have DACA status, which allows them to work and study in the United States.

Shortly after the Supreme Court decision, President Trump announced his plans to try to end DACA again. 

“We actually won, because [the court] basically said, ‘You won, but you have to come back and redo it.’ We didn’t lose. We’re gonna refile it,” Trump told a crowd at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20.

To help answer DACA recipients’ questions about the Supreme Court’s ruling, Borderless Magazine talked to Vanessa Esparza-López, a supervising attorney with the Immigrant Legal Defense Project at the National Immigrant Justice Center. This interview was originally broadcast on Instagram Live and has been condensed for print.

Borderless Magazine: What exactly was the Supreme Court’s opinion?

Vanessa Esparza-López: The Supreme Court decided that it had the ability to review the administration’s decision to rescind DACA and that while the Trump administration has the power to end the DACA program, the way that the White House terminated the program in 2017 was not in accordance with the law, in particular with the Administrative Procedures Act. 

I think this was the second best possible outcome that we could have expected from the Supreme Court. The best possible outcome would have been the court addressing the DACA program itself, but they didn’t touch that. They didn’t say whether it was lawful or unlawful. What they said was the Trump administration’s process in terminating the programs was unlawful. So the ball is in their court now to make sure that they are complying with the law. 

Borderless Magazine: Now that the Supreme Court ruled, what happens to the DACA recipients?

Esparza-López: For those DACA recipients who have an application pending right now for their renewal benefits, the government is going to continue making a decision. For those that didn’t renew, we are encouraging them to go ahead and renew as soon as possible. 

My advice would be if you are eligible to renew, as soon as you’re able to, talk to a legal service provider and try to renew. Because we don’t know how long that window’s gonna open, unfortunately.

Borderless Magazine: What about those who are eligible for DACA but don’t currently have it. Should they apply?

Esparza-López: We believe the administration is compelled to begin accepting initial DACA applications. We haven’t necessarily received instructions from the agency, but we’re encouraging folks to start gathering the documentation that they’re going to need for eligibility, which might be a little difficult given that this is all happening in the midst of a pandemic. So it might not be easy to contact the school for your records or it might take a little longer for your employer to give you that employment letter. That proof is going to take a little time to gather, and so people should be focusing on that so that if they’re able to, they could submit that application.

Borderless Magazine: If undocumented immigrants need legal assistance, where should they go? 

Esparza-López: They can certainly contact our organization, the National Immigrant Justice Center, which is based here in Chicago. We also have offices in Indiana, Washington, in San Diego but the bulk of our direct legal services is located in our Chicago and Indiana offices. On our website we have a calendar that has the consultation dates that we have specifically for people that want to renew DACA and for those that want to apply for the first time.

Borderless Magazine: What other legal issues should undocumented people be thinking about at this time?

Esparza-López : We’ve seen that this administration is very enforcement heavy. In terms of whether they’re going to take actions against DACA recipients specifically, we haven’t seen that. We learned not too long ago that ICE actually had access to DACA recipients’ information this whole time. Previously, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the sub agency that handles the DACA cases, said that unless there was some sort of security or criminal concern, USCIS would not give out DACA recipients’ information. But through this recent lawsuit, we learned that while USCIS wasn’t giving information, ICE had information all along that they could access in a database. So, it’s important for DACA recipients to know this, but also understand that we haven’t seen that type of enforcement so that they can make the decision as to whether they want to renew or whether they want to apply for a first time. 

Borderless Magazine: What are you thinking about next now that the Supreme Court has ruled on DACA?

Esparza-López: The Supreme Court decision was great, but we have to keep fighting not only to preserve the DACA program, but also find a more permanent fix for all individuals in this community. I fear that the government is going to try to give relief to DACA recipients at the cost of individuals who are criminalized by our oppressive, repressed, racist systems that we have in place. The fights that Black Americans are facing right now are very similar to the fight that immigrants are facing. We’re facing the same racism, same oppression. The same system that is killing Black people is deporting Black and Brown immigrants. So we’re looking for solutions that don’t criminalize our community further, that don’t invest more money into enforcement. Like the call to defund police, we want to defund ICE. We don’t know how much time we have, but we want to encourage folks to renew for DACA but also think bigger picture.

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Coronavirus Interview

New ban and challenges for immigrants during COVID-19

Above: Photo by Elias Castillo on Unsplash.

President Donald Trump announced a new immigration ban Tuesday evening. Anyone applying for a green card will need to wait at least 60 days until the temporary ban is lifted.

The announcement followed a tweet late Monday night in which Trump said he’d sign an executive order “to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States” in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Immigration has already been stalled in the United States because of the coronavirus pandemic and steps the Trump administration has taken to curb both refugee admissions and asylum processing. 

In light of the new executive order Borderless Magazine asked Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), how Trump’s latest immigration ban will impact people.

Borderless Magazine: How does the latest ban fit into the larger framework of Trump’s policies regarding immigration and his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic?

Fred Tsao: It says more about him and his mindset than the real needs of this country. Instead of continuing to try to identify testing resources and mobilizing key industries to produce health care resources, he’s trying to play to his base and continuing to demonize immigrants.

Our country has a long, somewhat uneven, but really proud tradition of welcoming people who are seeking safety. That’s not to say individuals trying to come here should not go through a health screening or that we should not take measures to ensure that they’re not going to pose a danger, because we absolutely should.

But to shut things down entirely is a very steep and dangerous overreaction to the threat. 

When thinking about shutting down our southern border, we have many more COVID cases in the United States than in Mexico. In fact, we are exporting the coronavirus to countries in Central America. 

Let’s not lose sight of people who are trying to seek safety or people who are trying to be reunited with their families by coming here. Or for that matter, people who are filling key roles in our economy.

Borderless: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted immigrants here?

Tsao: The pandemic has revealed many disparities in our society. Not the least of which being the excessive percentages of cases and fatalities among our communities of color— both African Americans, Latinx and to some extent Asian communities as well. 

Fred Tsao speaks at a press conference outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office on June, 23, 2016 in Chicago, Ill. Photo courtesy of ICIRR.

On top of that, many immigrant families are outright excluded from many of the measures that the federal government has taken to provide relief. Mixed status families and undocumented families are just left out of the IRS payments. Undocumented workers are generally ineligible for unemployment benefits. The public charge rule continues to cause confusion among immigrants who may want to pursue COVID-19 testing or health care. 

People are hurting. They’re without work and without income. And particularly among undocumented immigrants there’s no relief available. So the question we’re asking is: How can communities come together to support those among us who are not able to support themselves in the moment? Can we pool our resources? If one person does not need the IRS payment, can that be donated to help support others? These are the kinds of things that are on our mind.

Borderless: Last month ICIRR launched the “Everybody In” campaign in response to the pandemic. What’s its goal?

Tsao: Much of our bread and butter is advocating for strong, pro-immigrant policies. We knew we needed to provide a response for all levels of government to assist and support immigrants during this time. Some of the ideas are pretty obvious, like increasing access to COVID-19 testing and treatment. Others may not be so clearly germane, but are important. Like extending immigration statuses and work permits while immigration services are shut down. 

We are also advocating for the safe release of as many people in immigration detention and criminal custody as can be done to prevent the spread of coronavirus. We are detaining way too many people. Most, if not all, people in immigration detention do not need to be there. The only people who are really benefiting from the detention system are the private prison companies and jails that get paid to house detainees. 

Many of the people in detention can safely be returned to their communities and their families or can be provided shelter though other arrangements that actually tend to their needs as opposed to just locking them away. 

Borderless: What makes you hopeful during this difficult time?

Tsao: People are coming forward and wanting to provide help to those who are in need and who are less fortunate. All of our member organizations have gone to remote work so they’re not able to see clients in their offices, yet they are still in contact with their clients. They’re still assisting communities and trying to run classes and help people fill out their immigration paperwork and citizenship applications. Despite all of the obstacles that are in place now that work is continuing.

I’m also heartened by so many people participating in our virtual action day. Who are eager to start planning for our electoral work in the fall or maintaining the census outreach work that is still happening. 

We’re not knocking on doors in neighborhoods. But many of our census partners are actively running phone banks and social media campaigns and other forms of outreach. If the census response numbers are any indication, that work has paid off. That’s kept me hopeful as well.

Finally, this is an opportunity to dream bigger. We can envision a society more compassionate which provides real and deep support for people of need. That is willing to take a hard look at racial and economic disparity. We need to be ready to roll up our sleeves to fix these underlying problems and not count out or exclude anybody based on race, ethnicity or economic status. As a society we need to truly realize that everybody should be included.

Fred Tsao will join Borderless Magazine Executive Director Nissa Rhee next Monday April 27 for a conversation about immigration hosted by New America and The Chicago Community Trust. RSVP for the virtual event here.


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Coronavirus Interview

Why 16.7 million people were left out of the COVID-19 stimulus plan

When Congress passed its coronavirus stimulus package late last month it left out one notable group of American workers: households with people of mixed immigration status. Families with both documented and undocumented members will not receive any financial support from the $2 trillion relief bill, the largest stimulus package in the history of the country. That population includes 16.7 million people, nearly half of whom are U.S.-born or naturalized citizens. Undocumented immigrants pay nearly $32 billion in federal, state and local taxes each year, according to a report from the New American Economy.

The omission of mixed status families doesn’t surprise Daniel Denvir, the host of the Jacobin Magazine podcast The Dig and author of the book, “All-American Nativism: How the Bipartisan War on Immigrants Explains Politics as We Know It.”

Borderless Magazine asked Denvir how the coronavirus stimulus package fits into the country’s history of discriminating against immigrants.

Denvir: It’s the same old story, but on steroids. Undocumented people are demanded as workers, but rejected as neighbors and citizens. It’s this total mismatch between people who are subject to the American government and are workers in the American economy and create wealth for it, but who are denied any sort of membership in the political community. And that’s a fundamental contradiction that has shaped society, politics and economics in this country since its foundation and before. 

American capitalism as we’ve known it can’t survive without undocumented labor. It’s only more clearly absurd and unjust when we rely on low-wage workers, very much including undocumented workers, now more than ever.

Borderless Magazine: In your book, you argue that a “bipartisan war on immigrants” explains American politics both past and present. How do modern policies that we associate with President Donald Trump, like the Muslim Travel Ban and the requirement that asylum seekers must remain in Mexico during their immigration proceedings, fit into this “bipartisan war”?

Denvir: You just named some really monstrous policies that Trump has implemented. And he is an obviously monstrous person who also says monstrous things to justify his policies, such as calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I think it’s easy for many liberal opponents of Trump to believe that he comes out of nowhere, when in fact everything about him, both in terms of the politics and the policies, is deeply rooted in this much longer bipartisan war on immigrants. 

We could go all the way back to the founding of the United States and the first naturalization law. This country opens citizenship to free, white people. Our entire country as a settler colonial project was about recruiting certain types of white migrants. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion act banned Chinese workers from the country. And then in the 1920s there was the first red scare that disfavored Eastern and Southern Europeans. Look at the fact that Mexican guest workers were brought here in huge numbers in the mid-20th century because they were seen as desirable as laborers, but not as citizens. 

More recently, we can look at the explosion of anti-immigrant politics as we’ve come to know them today on the national scene in the 1990s. Republicans, like California Gov. Pete Wilson, and Democrats, like President Bill Clinton, portrayed undocumented immigrants as both a criminal and an economic threat, taking American jobs or mooching off of welfare. 

But the good news is that the entire war on immigrants is falling apart. In the 1990s, the war on immigrants really did have a bipartisan basis. But today, the anti-immigrant politics have gotten so extreme that a growing number of Americans from the center have pushed back on it. Public opinion shows Americans may hold the most pro-immigrant views actually in the history of this country, which surprises people given who’s in the White House. 

Daniel Denvir. Courtesy of Verso Books.

Borderless Magazine: When did this more pro-immigrant movement get its start?

It really began about 14 years ago with the explosion of massive immigrant rights protests all over this country in response to a piece of legislation called the Sensenbrenner Bill, which passed the house in December 2005. It would have made it a literal crime to be in this country without authorization, which is currently just a civil offense. This Republican bill was so extreme that it prompted a massive backlash led particularly by Latino immigrants and some of the largest protests of the entire decade. [Editor’s note: That bill ultimately did not pass in the Senate.]

So we see the bipartisan consensus begin to fracture. That fracturing accelerated under the Obama administration because he, like George W. Bush, was pursuing what has become known as “comprehensive immigration reform.” Basically, an attempt to combine border security to appease the right, with guest worker programs to appease businesses, and a pathway to citizenship to provide legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants. 

The problem is when Obama and Bush fail to secure comprehensive immigration reform, they take executive actions and sign legislation to intensify the enforcement aspect. So the right gets everything that it wants and gives nothing. Barack Obama becomes known rightfully as “the deporter-in-chief” because he engages in mass deportations. Particularly using these two programs: Secure Communities and 287(g) — which basically makes local law enforcement into proxy ICE agents and makes every single police department and sheriff’s department jail in this country into the front door of the deportation pipeline. It’s incredibly effective in a country with mass incarceration where enormous numbers of people are making contact with the criminal justice system.

Borderless Magazine: How did organizers respond to the further criminalization of immigration?

So in 2006 you had the eruption of the immigrant rights movement in response to the Sensenbrenner Bill. Then under Obama, you have the eruption of a similar movement led by Dreamers and undocumented young people who came to this country as children. They secure not only DACA for themselves, but also force Obama to curb his deportation programs.

Obama had been using these mass deportations to try to win over the right. But the youth-led immigrant rights movement says to Obama, these strategies are not only failing, but they’re taking us for granted, and you can’t take us for granted. 

Then you have the third stage of the shift toward pro-immigrant sentiments: Trump’s election and his toxic brand becoming associated with all of this previously ordinary and normal anti-immigrant politics. Suddenly this ordinary border militarization that was once seen as common sense, smart, moderate politics is exposed because of its association with Trump as what it truly is: monstrous, racist scapegoating.

What this Democratic primary has shown is that winning Democratic primary voters means winning pro-immigrant voters. This is why we have seen a debate over immigration and the Democratic primary utterly unlike that which would have taken place eight or 12 years ago. I think it’s really quite fitting that immigrant workers and immigrant descendant workers are at the forefront of the revitalization of the left in this country. 


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Chicago show brings immigrant stories, journeys to centerstage

Above: Nestor Gomez wins his 41st Moth Slam on Dec. 16, 2019, at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, Ill. Photo by Matt Lingenfelter/The Moth 

When Nestor Gomez came to the United States from Guatemala in the mid-1980s as a 15-year-old, he only knew a few words of English. Today, he is the force behind Chicago’s regular immigrant storytelling performance, 80 Minutes Around the World: Immigration Stories.

Gomez’s first introduction to live storytelling came in Chicago in 2014, when he signed up for The Moth StorySLAM at Martyrs’ on the city’s North Side. He says he hoped the performance would help him overcome his fear of public speaking. 

Gomez continued to perform in The Moth events, but after President Trump was elected he felt the need to bring more stories like his own to the stage. The result was a storytelling performance featuring true stories told by immigrants, their descendants and allies curated and hosted by Gomez dubbed 80 Minutes Around the World.

Since its debut in 2017, a revolving cast of storytellers, writers and comedians have brought their personal experiences to life in over a dozen performances in Chicago and New York City. Performers include Danny Forster, the host of the Science Channel’s series Build it Bigger, and Anurag Gupta, a lawyer turned entrepreneur who gave a 2017 TED Talk on removing unconscious bias. 

Last year, Gomez partnered with Hong Kong immigrant Angel Ling, herself a podcaster and storyteller, to produce a podcast based on the show called Immigration Stories with Nestor Gomez. The podcast features selections from performances and conversations with performers about their story and its relevance amid shifting immigration policies. 

Ahead of hosting a performance of 80 Minutes Around the World this Friday in Chicago, Gomez spoke to Borderless Magazine’s Nissa Rhee about the project.

Nestor Gomez pictured at First Person Livea storytelling show in Arlington Heights, Ill. Photo by Diane Kastiel

Borderless: I first met you when you performed at a storytelling event we held to mark the first anniversary of the Muslim Travel Ban in 2018. How has the world changed since then for storytellers like yourself who talk about their immigration journey?   

Gomez: I think there are more stories being told now. Because of the political climate, we know that we have to speak up. We know that if we don’t speak up, then other people are going to tell our stories and other people will be telling information that is either misleading or completely wrong about immigrants. 

So I think the current climate has helped a lot of people speak up about not only what are things the administration is doing wrong but our own history. With the current administration, there are a lot of anti-immigration policies that the president has enacted to keep people of color from coming into the country and to try to get rid of people of color who are already in the country. And the situation at the border, the Muslim Ban, all of those things have made us aware that we have to speak up.

Borderless: Tell me about the storytellers in 80 Minutes Around the World. What types of people do you include? 

Gomez: We try to be diverse. From the very first day that we did the show, I didn’t want to have just a bunch of Latinos talking about crossing the border. That’s what most people think about immigration. No, immigration comes from all areas of the world. So from the very first show, I’ve wanted a diverse line up of storytellers telling stories from Latin America, from Europe, from Asia, from Africa. 

We tell stories from people who are documented who become undocumented. They came with documents but then they didn’t have documents anymore. We also try to include at least one person from the LGBTQ spectrum in each show. We wish we could include more people with disabilities, but we have only been able to include two or three people with disabilities in our show. 

At least a quarter of the people who have told stories in our show have never told a story in their life before. Not only are there a lot of people out there speaking out, but we also try to do our part by bringing more storytellers out.

Borderless: What has been the impact of the stories that are shared in 80 Minutes Around the World?

Gomez: For me, it’s been a sense of being proud that I’m able to provide a platform for people to tell their stories. I came to this country undocumented, I didn’t speak any English and I used to stutter. And to be able to tell stories in front of an audience and to give other people the chance to tell their stories, which makes me feel really proud.

For the audience, I hope the impact has been that they have been educated about other people’s immigrant experience and that they are able to build bridges from their own experiences to our experiences.

I go to high schools that have a large immigrant population and they tell me it’s really exciting to see somebody of color with their own experiences sharing in front of their class.

Borderless: But not all of the responses have been positive, right? I’ve seen you share some of the hate mail you’ve gotten on social media.

Gomez: Yes, it’s mostly been on Twitter. There’s a lot of people who let me know that they’re not happy with what I do and they are not happy with the fact that I came to this country undocumented.

So that happens and I usually gather them and post 30 to 50 of those new messages on my Facebook account once a month. I started doing it because I was feeling overwhelmed by all of the hate. And at the same time, it helps me remember why we’re doing this. Because there are people who are ignorant or don’t know any better. So we continue to do our stories because they need to be informed and educated. Hopefully, once they listen to a story they could understand the reality is different from what they think.

Borderless: What are we as the media getting wrong about immigration stories?

Gomez: The media is getting a lot of things wrong. Some of the media demonizes immigrants, they say they are criminals, people who don’t want to work or take other people’s jobs. So they get a lot of things wrong. And then a lot of the media that don’t want to portray immigrants in a bad way; [instead they] portray immigrants as victims.

Immigration coverage should be constant. It shouldn’t be something that the news discusses for a couple of weeks and then people aren’t talking about it anymore so the reporters don’t cover it.

I think the Spanish-speaking media could do a lot more to provide information to people and to provide resources. Like where do you look for a good lawyer? What do you do if you’re undocumented and want to become documented? That’s the kind of information that people need.

You can see “80 Minutes Around the World: Immigration Stories” on Friday, January 24 at 8:30 pm at the Lifeline Theatre in Chicago as part of the Fillet of Solo Festival and on Saturday, February 8 at 4:00 pm at Caveat in New York City. Future performances can be found online.

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‘A black box where there is no accountability or oversight’: Attorney reflects on US immigration and detention system

The United States will not accept any refugees for resettlement this month, after canceling around 500 flights that would have brought refugees into the country in October, according to a report by CNN Tuesday. This news comes just weeks after the Trump administration announced that it will cap refugee admissions to the United States at 18,000 for the 2020 fiscal year, the lowest number since 1980, and follows a series of other policy changes made by the White House intended to dramatically decrease the number of asylum seekers and refugees allowed into the country.

Hannah Cartwright is a supervising attorney who works with asylum seekers through the National Immigrant Justice Center’s Adult Detention Project. In this role, she helps provide legal information to detainees in Chicago-area immigration detention centers and serves as a representative for detained clients with serious mental health conditions. 

Borderless Magazine’s Sarah Conway spoke with Cartwright about the growing number of challenges refugees and asylum face seekers today. 

Hannah Cartwright at her office in the National Immigrant Justice Center. Photo by Michelle Kanaar.

Borderless: You began your career working with refugees from the Iraq War who were living in the Indianapolis area. What did you learn from those early days?

Cartwright: At the time I didn’t have any words for it, but I learned through working that many families face a “triple trauma paradigm.” It’s the idea that for many immigrants they are experiencing the trauma that causes them to flee their country of origin. 

Then there is the trauma of migration. Whether that’s getting lost in the jungle or being in an enclosed space—like say, a shipping truck where many people have died of suffocation or on a train coming up through Central America. There is a level of vulnerability that many people experience. We regularly talk with people who were sexually assaulted or just left with a lot of fear. Migration is often people taking extreme risks with their safety to get here. 

Then we talk about the trauma of integrating in the US. Even when we talk about a refugee who has legal status, it is still incredibly traumatic integrating into a culture that is so xenophobic and discriminatory, especially in the current political environment. 

Borderless: Does the ‘triple trauma paradigm’ cover the full extent of trauma that refugees and asylum seekers experience?

Cartwright: It doesn’t at all acknowledge the levels of trauma that people experience because of the immigration system today. It’s just a dent. Today trauma is immigration court, it is trauma as a result of the US’s policies and systems like family separation or Migrant Protection Protocols [the new US policy for people to remain in Mexico as their asylum requests are pending]. It is people required to sit in detention in the hieleras [ice boxes] or in Customs and Border Patrol custody for many weeks before they are even given a credible fear interview. There is a big spectrum of experiences that people have when they arrive in the US that can be incredibly traumatic.

Borderless: What new challenges are your clients facing today?

Cartwright: It feels like sometimes this work is advocating into a black box where there is no accountability or oversight. Politically, the Trump administration is doing a very organized and effective onslaught of problematic immigration policies to attack my clients and the population that I serve. It is hard when you come up against a brick wall and to know that they are succeeding at that front. 

We are seeing people having to wait out in MPP in Mexico now at the southern border. I see the impacts of MPP play out once people are transferred to immigration detention centers at one of the facilities I serve. I may be talking to an individual that started out their journey months ago, and they are very confused and traumatized that their process has taken longer than what we normally see. This new policy deepens their confusion about the asylum process, and this is always where I explain so they can understand their legal rights and how to move forward. 

Borderless: What does the immigration detention system look like in the Midwest?

Cartwright: The immigration system is organized based on the jurisdiction of the courts. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains people at ICE detention centers, be it private or county jails. Wherever detainees are, they align with a particular immigration court. We serve all the detention facilities that flow into the Chicago immigration court, which has jurisdiction over Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Kentucky. We reach people in a variety of ways but we represent people in many of these facilities.

Borderless: It seems like a very opaque system.

Cartwright: NIJC definitely has been a huge critic of the growth of the immigration detention system and we have a transparency project that has done a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests on ICE’s efforts to grow. You used the word opaque, that is a kind way of describing it. ICE has very effectively used its appropriations to create a shadow system in many problematic ways. We are part of an effort called Defund Hate to shine a light on appropriation funding that ICE has acquired and to not allow them to expand further without oversight or without opening up to the public about what they are doing, which they currently do not do. It is intentional and it is complex, and difficult to understand partially because it is a large system, but it is a way for them to operate covertly while using US taxpayer dollars with little accountability.

Borderless: How did we get to the system we have today?

Cartwright: Immigration detention has a long history but it started to grow due to policy changes in 1996 when the US created much stricter standards on who would be stuck in the detention. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a bill that overhauled immigration enforcement in the US and set the blueprints for the massive deportation machine that exists today.

The Obama administration increased the immigration detention system much more than others, which is incredibly problematic. The detained population hit record numbers under the Obama Administration. 

So now you have the Trump administration having this carceral immigration system apparatus that is weaponized in a sense, and he is using it in very problematic ways. Since Trump started his administration we began to see more people who may have had some contact with ICE but wouldn’t have been put in detention [before] end up in detention, and the growth of policies that have required the detention of more people, which has made for problematic and often unsafe detention conditions. 

At the border, this is the separation of families, longer detention in Customs and Border Protection facilities. In the Midwest, we are seeing overcrowding in county jails and multiple quarantines for chickenpox or Mumps, which can limit the attorney visits [legal aid groups are not permitted to enter facilities under quarantine]. The amount of confusion that this system has is awful, much less the health implications of experiencing immigration detention.

Borderless: What are three things you wish more people knew about the immigration detention system?

Cartwright: One, the extent of the immigration detention system. Check out a map of ICE detention facilities. So many of these facilities are in incredibly rural areas. It leads to a lack of oversight and makes it difficult for people to access legal representation. When I talk about ICE with family and friends, I show them a map so they know where they are. I wish everyone would take a look at those maps. 

Two, I would encourage people to learn about the efforts to fight ICE appropriation expansion. People can think it is overwhelming in looking at appropriations, but that’s how the USG spends money, so you need to learn how this system works. We have given ICE a huge blank check and allowed them to do crazy things with their money. For instance, ICE used disaster aid funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency during hurricane season to expand detention. We should know as citizens how our government is allowing ICE to spend their money. 

Three, here at NIJC we are working with our communications team on sharing the human side of being in ICE detention and hearing first hand the stories of being in ICE custody. Reading the voices of people who have been ICE custody recently is something we all need to do because they matter and their experiences and stories do, too.

Borderless Magazine is your source for stories that transcend boundaries. You can support our work with a tax-free donation today.

Interview La Vida de La Villita

Light skin, blue eyes and born in Mexico: An artist shares what life is like with two nationalities

Above: Natalie González. Photo provided by Natalie González.

Natalie González is a Mexico-based artist and illustrator. She previously lived in Chicago while attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After Natalie illustrated two stories for Borderless’ La Vida de La Villita issue, we talked to her about her own experiences with immigration.

Borderless: What is your own connection to the issue of immigration?

Gonzalez: I am a dual-national who was born and raised in Mexico. My mother is American and my father is Chicano. I look like my mother, who is light-skinned and blue-eyed. I have the privilege of holding two passports so I can go between countries without a problem. For a lot of people, it’s problematic that I am mixed, fluent in both languages and white. I am Mexican and American but I am not accepted as that in either culture. In Mexico I’m told I’m too white, and it the United States I’m told I’m not brown enough.

Borderless: What do you think most reporters get wrong when they are reporting about immigrants?

Gonzalez: I think that it’s hard to communicate how human the issue is. More specifically, how hard life is for people who are leaving their previous lives and sometimes risking everything for the thought of having a better life. People don’t risk everything if there isn’t something deeply wrong with the conditions in which they are living. I think it’s hard to live in the United States and understand how corrupt, unfair and dangerous it is in many countries around the world.

Borderless: What do you love most about Little Village in Chicago?

Gonzalez: Little Village felt like home when I lived in Chicago. People are out on the street and there is a lively neighborhood life. It’s loud and it feels like a stronger community than the place I’d lived on the North Side.

Borderless: What’s your favorite place to eat or shop in Little Village?

Gonzalez: Los Comales in La Villita is the best one in the chain!