On March 30, Loras hosted the “Immigrant Families Under Fire: Call to Compassion in the Heartland” presentation in the ACC ballrooms at 7 p.m. The featured speaker of the event was award-winning journalist Margaret Regan. The event also featured two immigration attorneys from Catholic Charities, a question and answer session with all three guests, and booths with representatives from local organizations working with immigrants and the issue of immigration in the area.
Regan is an award-winning journalist currently living in Tucson, AZ, originally hailing from Pennsylvania. She originally worked as a French editor for TV Guide magazine and as a children’s book editor at McGraw-Hill in New York before becoming a journalist. She has been a journalist in Tucson for over 25 years, but began writing about the border and immigration in 2000. Since one of the most popular crossing places for immigrants from Mexico is through the Arizona desert, she described how the events taking place in her state’s backyard were impossible to ignore.
She read from her second and most recent book titled “Detained and Deported: Stories of Immigrant Families Under Fire.” The book has won numerous awards. In the excerpt, she described one of her visits to the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, where immigrants who are caught illegally in the country are taken. The center, as Regan described, was like a prison. Visitors are carefully monitored and unable to take photos. Regan described numerous acquaintances that she knew in the facility, many separated from their families, desperately trying to reunite with them and stay in the country.
Arizona has not always been the most popular place to cross the border into the U.S. However, after border regulations were tightened both above and below the state, where it before had been relatively easy to cross into the country, now the journey has become extremely dangerous, as the Arizona desert holds many perils.
“As soon as those safe crossings were boarded up, it was like a squeezing balloon,” Regan described to her listeners.
Related to the more dangerous crossing conditions, she told stories of people like Josseline, who crossed the Arizona border at 14 years old with her brother and the help of a “coyote” to reunite with their mother. Their mother was already in the U.S. and had saved enough money to send them with the coyote. However, the journey is extremely dangerous, especially through Arizona, and Josseline fell ill on the second day. She was abandoned by the coyote and the rest of her group, and her little brother had to tell her mother when he reached her that her daughter did not make it.
Besides stories of crossings and numerous immigrants she had come into contact with, Regan told stories of visiting deportation facilities, both for-profit and not, which operated more like prisons. On one recounting of a specific visit to one of these facilities, Regan described an interaction with one of the guards, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
“He said, ‘This used to be a prison, but we’ve renovated it!’ Oh, what a great architect you must have had!” Regan had just finished displaying a photo taken of that facility, where a “community room and lunch area” looked like a typical prison cafeteria areas.
Then, when Mexicans are back on the Mexican side of the border, they often have no money, no IDs, and are destitute, frequently living in shelters and sometimes being preyed upon and put to work in the drug trade. Regan described the endless cycle that seems to occur, with no end in sight as the Trump administration plans to add over 10,000 new ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcer) employees and continue building more physical wall along the crossing areas. Regan discussed how Trump has expanded the definition of “criminal” from someone committing a crime while here illegally to anyone crossing the border undocumented.
Regan transitioned from her speech into the idea of inspiring compassion in one’s neighbors. The speakers, two attorneys, do this through their work in immigration cases with Catholic Charities. Yer Vang and Mike Mbanza discussed their own experiences in working with immigrants. Mbanza had been a refugee himself, seeking political asylum. He wanted to become an immigration lawyer to help others like him, and he described the passion he has for doing so by describing his interview with Catholic Charities.
“They asked me why I wanted to do this, to work for them. I went to answer the question, and I cried. I cried during my job interview. But I never had to answer that question. They understood from my response,” Mbanza described.
After discussing their work briefly with the Catholic Charities, the floor was opened to question and answer, prompting many impassioned responses from listeners on both sides of the issue. The event was attended by a wide variety of people, ranging from students to many members of the community, and even some from out of state. It provided an open forum for many to express their views and learn more about the issue of immigration as it is discussed more and more frequently.