The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


October 13, 2021/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

‘Stop in the Name of the Law!’: Helping Asylum Seekers

Wouldn’t be nice if those breaking the law stopped whenever asked? Fat chance, especially when the most powerful government on Earth happens to be doing the law-breaking.


Ever since World War II’s mammoth refugee crisis, laws agreed to by countries in the United Nations have given those facing the danger of violence and death in their home nations the right to seek asylum elsewhere — and not be forcibly returned to where that danger lurks. But the trick has been proving you face danger, and the United States has been setting the bar for that proof increasingly higher.


The result? Even lawyers have been having trouble keeping track of the ever changing US asylum processes and regulations. Imagine how difficult keeping tracking must be for a terrified rural woman with two kids in tow. She’s not doing legal research.

Attorney Rebecca Eichler has been doing that research. To help migrants prepare their cases and understand the legal obstacles that await them at the US border, she turned her VW camper into a traveling legal aid clinic. Along her way, Eichler met Meritxell Calderon-Varga, another attorney outraged at the conditions migrants face at both Mexican borders. The two became partners against crime.

But US asylum policy horrors will never simply “stop in the name of the law.” We need other means — like solidarity! What made President Biden end the mass deportation of Haitians in violation of international law? A powerful show of solidarity. And for Rebecca and Meritxell, their greatest success isn’t coming from winning lots of legal cases. That success is coming from the solidarity they’re building between migrants and the rest of us.


The thousands of asylum seekers passing through México desperately need legal help. Immigration attorney Careen Shannon, hosted by the Center for Global Justice in Guanajuato’s San Miguel, recently interviewed two lawyers doing their best to provide that help, Rebecca Eichler in San Miguel and Meritxell Calderon-Vargas in Tijuana. Both have devoted themselves to this Herculean task, and now a new documentary — Las Abogadas: Women Attorneys on the Front Lines of the Migrant Crisis — is exploring their work. We’ve extracted the discussion below from the Center for Global Justice dialogue.


Careen Shannon: You both have been at this for years. What was it like during the Trump administration?

Rebecca Eichler: You remember the caravans coming from Central America? All of a sudden, 5,000 people were traveling through México, and I knew the route would take many of them through San Miguel. The rules to get into the US kept changing. For example, Trump stopped allowing asylum to those at risk of being murdered by gangs or domestic partners. They had no lawyers to let them know their rights, or lack of rights. I had an old VW bus for camping. I recruited three other lawyers to help, and we turned the bus into a mobile legal aid clinic.

I knew that many of the migrants had next to no chance of getting into the US. But they didn’t want to hear that. These migrants had miraculously made it this far, and they didn’t see turning back as an option.  They were thinking magically: “God will help us” or “When I tell my story, they’ll let me in.” We would counsel them as best we could, by coaching unaccompanied children, for example, to say the word “afraid” to the border patrol. They had to say the right words to get in.

Meritxell Calderon-Vargas: At 14, I had already seen both the government and organized crime treat people like a bag of beans. So I went to San Francisco and got trained as an organizer by the Center for Third World Organizing. The CTWO was great, but its methods didn’t work in México. We don’t have nonprofit networks here. The political parties do the operating in the communities.


Trump’s “Remain in México” policy kept migrants outside the US waiting for their cases to be heard. In Matamoros, on the Northern border, migrants huddled for safety, in what amounted to be a huge refugee camp, only without services because these migrants didn’t rate as official refugees.

A few nonprofits tried to help in Reynosa. They got 24 port-a-potties for the 3,000 people.


What are conditions like now?

Calderon-Vargas: In Tijuana, people are living under the El Chapparal bridge, next to a river of sewage.


I specialize in women victims of sexual assault. Before their journey, some migrants take a contraceptive. They expect to be raped. I’ve met women who’ve been raped seven times, along the way or in camps.

Another danger: Supposedly Christian organizations are going into the camps to recruit drug traffickers, use little kids for child pornography, and force women into sex trafficking. And Mexican lawyers promise passage into the US for cash. Scams!


The scammers see people like me as obstacles to these schemes. They left a headless rooster on my doorstep as a warning. But I promise you, I’m going to find out who they are and I’m going to burn their asses!


To enter the US, there’s a process called “metering.” What’s that?


Eichler: This practice started under Obama with Haitian migrants. They came in too great a number to process quickly, and only a limited few could cross in per day. Immigration officials on the Mexican side would give out little pieces of paper, like the “take a number” when you’re waiting in line at a store. The wait could be months.


Calderon-Vargas: Black migrants didn’t even get on these lists! They live in a racist hell. They’ve been attacked with machetes, guns, and sticks by Central American migrants. Their tents have been set on fire.


We’ve been talking about the Northern border. What about the Southern border?


Eichler: People cross into México at Tapachula in Chiapas. Migrants call this place “Atrapachula” because thousands get detained there and deported, actions funded by the US government. To stop people from riding the rails, trains now travel at higher speeds, and concrete posts have been put up that knock riders off who are trying to hang on.


Calderon-Vargas: We know of cases where indigenous Mexicans get deported because they only speak Mayan and have no ID. They’re asked to sing the Mexican national anthem as proof they live in México, but who knows that! Even mentally ill US veterans have been deported. I reached out to the US expat community to see if they want to help, but they seem more interested in the arts.


The US and México are violating the human rights of asylum seekers “guaranteed” by international law. As lawyers, what do you think can be done?


Calderon-Vargas: At this point, we lawyers in México are not looking to get justice for anyone. That’s impossible, like putting a band-aid on cancer. We just document the facts and hope this might help people later.


We need a high-level international meeting called. Each country’s immigration laws should be looked at and then harmonized, based on the Vienna conventions on human rights.


Seeing people in migrant situations every day and hearing their stories can wear down your spirit — but you also feel compelled to work even harder.


In México City’s Agencies, Lawyers Representing Women

Crimes of gender violence are running rampant in México, especially for migrants, but all women can be potential targets. One part of the solution: Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor of México City, has created a cadre of lawyers to represent women in the capital’s 78 agencies, as this excerpt from an Aristegui Noticias news report details.

Foto: Cuartoscuro/Moisés Pablo

Un programa Abogadas de las mujeres en las agencias de Ministerio Públicotiene el propósito de brindar orientación y asesoría jurídica especializada con perspectiva de género en agencias del MP.

La meta del programa es contar con 156 abogadas y abogados en las 78 agencias del Ministerio Público capitalino. La jefa de Gobierno, Claudia Sheinbaum, dijo que esta acción contribuye a que cuando una mujer sufra de violencia u otros problemas pueda tener junto a ella a una persona, principalmente mujeres () que se siente junto a ella con paciencia, con conocimiento, sea su abogada permanentemente en el momento en que se levante una denuncia penal en el Ministerio Público”.


En el fondo, lo que buscamos es que las mujeres de esta ciudad puedan caminar seguras, subirse al transporte público, sin tener que sospechar del vecino; que puedan elegir libremente a sus parejas, sin miedo a ser asesinadas; que puedan amar sin miedo, y que si son víctimas de algún delito, tengan la certeza de que este gobierno buscará hacerles justicia, resaltó.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


David Bacon, A Candidate for Mixtecos in California’s Republican Heartland, The Nation. In the city of Madera, Elsa Mejia is running for a seat on the city council as the first Indigenous Mexican migrant candidate.


Felipe De La Hoz and Gaby Del Valle, GOP officials ramp up campaign centered on border fear-mongering, Border/Lines. In an absurd spectacle, ten Republican governors descended on Mission, Texas last Wednesday to call for the Biden administration to do what it was already doing: close the border to migrants.


Alejandro Cardiel Sánchez, Derechos Humanos en México, un pendiente ominoso de la 4T, Polemón. Hoy por hoy, el gobierno emanado de las elecciones de 2018 ha ofrecido disculpas públicas a nombre del Estado Mexicano por diversas violaciones a los Derechos Humanos. Esas disculpas públicas representan un gesto mínimo de reconocimiento.


Nacha Cattan and Maya Averbuch, Split in México Opposition Opens Door for AMLO’s Power Bill Passage, Bloomberg. The legislation seeks to cancel private electricity generation contracts, a move that would return México to the 1960s, when public utilities controlled the power market.


Camilo Pérez-Bustillo, US Brutality Against Haitian Migrants Highlights US-Mexico Collusion and Repositioning in Latin America, Just Security. Migrant flows through Mexican territory — primarily from Central America and the Caribbean but also from Africa and Asia — have intensified. We need global recognition of the right to migrate, something the US and México both deny.


Christopher Sherman, México, U.S. draw up outlines of new security framework, Associated Press. The two governments' joint declaration devotes considerable space to treating drug addiction and its societal effects in a public health context, a significant departure from the previous Merida agreement's emphasis on grabbing cartel capos. 


Víctor Chávez, Inicia la 4T indagatoria de hechos de 1968 y contra ‘guerra sucia’ de los 70, El Financiero. Prometió el subsecretario de Derechos Humanos, Población y Migración: “No basta solamente conocer la verdad, sino iniciar ante las autoridades ministeriales y judiciales todas las acciones que sean necesarias para que haya justicia los familiares de las víctimas y los sobrevivientes de la llamada Guerra Sucia.”


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati. We welcome your suggestions and feedback. Interested in getting involved? Drop us an email!


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