On September 4th, Dominican University and our low-res MFA program joined protest readings held in more than forty cities across the US under the auspices of Writers for Migrant Justice, an informal grassroots protest campaign. We raised more than $500 for local migrant justice organizations and the volunteer-run Immigrant Families Together (IFT) Project, which supports and reunites migrant families separated at the U.S.–Mexico border. Established in 2018, IFT helps detained migrants by raising money for and posting bonds, providing pro bono legal representation, and offering travel, housing, food, and medical support for those released from detention. IFT is a non-partisan organization.
Our Vice President, Nicola Pitchford began the evening by reading a statement with the names of children who have died in ICE custody. These names were read aloud at events across the county. I will include it here:
According to NBC News, 24 migrants have died in ICE custody this year, as of June 2019. That figure doesn’t include the deaths of at least four immigrants who died shortly after being released from ICE custody. It also doesn’t include the deaths of immigrants held by other federal agencies, including at least five migrant children who have died while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection or the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services charged with caring for unaccompanied migrant children who enter the U.S. As of June 2019, ICE detains more than 52,500 immigrants each day. It is very difficult for us to find the names of our deceased community members online because often the deaths of migrants are treated as a mere statistic and not the passing of somebody’s mother, father, sibling, cousin. As we have learned from the Black Lives Matter movement, it is important to say the names of our community members when they are taken by state violence. We want to acknowledge Black Lives Matter for their activism and for paving a way for migrant communities to also resist the detention and violence against us.
The names we are about to speak were provided by a LA Times Article (https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-migrant-child-border-deaths-20190524-story.html) which reported on six migrant children: five from Guatemala and one from El Salvador — who died in federal custody since from September 2018 to May 2019.
Most of the children died after becoming ill in Border Patrol’s crowded temporary holding areas.
Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, 10, El Salvador
Jakelin Caal Maquín, 7, Guatemala
Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8, Guatemala
Juan de León Gutiérrez, 16, Guatemala
Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, 2½, Guatemala
Carlos Hernandez Vásquez, 16, Guatemala
Following Dr. Pitchford’s remarks, we welcomed a group from Solito Solita: Crossing the Border with Youth Refugees to the stage. Soledad Castillo told her story of traveling alone from Honduras to California and coming up through the foster care system here. Jonathan Freedman and Steven Mayers discussed interviewing youth refugees and working to share these stories far and wide. Poets Jane Hirshfield and Raina J. Leon read their work. In introducing her poems,
Hirshfield discussed the call to social action by saying that even when the chances of having any actual effect feel slim or nonexistent , we still must act, because to persevere in our efforts and our sense of shared fate is what keeps our humanity alive.
Thanks to Vice President Pitchford, Natalie Balber and Jaime Caster for helping to plan the event. Thanks to English major Sol Carrasco-Garcia and Dance & English double major Nyah Malone for introducing the poets. Thanks to MAH alumnus Dave Seter and MFA student Capella for welcoming guests and selling books Thanks to Academic Affairs and the Literature Department for sponsoring this event and to Marin Poetry Center for promoting it. We were grateful to have an audience of 80 people. Thank you to everyone who attended. It’s not too late to donate. The gofundme page is called “Writers for Migrant Justice”. Please name Dominican in the comment box so we can track the donations.
Organizers: Judy Halebsky
Hosts: Creative Writing program at Dominican University of California, Marin Poetry Center
Venue: Garden Room in Edgehill Mansion
Readers: Jane Hirshfield, Raina J. Léon
Speakers from Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders with Youth Refugees from Central America