Speaking in rapid Spanish, Rebeca Alfaro stood at the podium and told her story.
With a translator in my ear, I sat there, motionless, listening to her story with tears in my eyes. I listened to her recount the day she watched her husband gunned down by a gang member while walking across the street to buy tortillas in her small town in El Salvador.
I heard Alfaro speak at an International Women’s Day Event sponsored by Oxfam on March 7 in Washington, D.C. Oxfam is an international human rights organization that I have worked with for the past few years as a Sisters on the Planet Ambassador. I have been an Ambassador for Oxfam for a couple of years now, working to advance human rights across the globe.
As Alfaro cried in remembrance she told us how she did all the things that one would think to do when something like this happens. She immediately called the police, filed a report, and hoped for justice.
While she waited for justice, the gang threatened her life and the lives of her two small daughters, and the rest of her family if they didn’t withdraw the charges. Rebeca, with all the strength in the world, pressed forward, until she came home to see that the gang had viciously murdered her mother as well.
Fearing the lives of her young daughters and herself, Rebeca started out on the treacherous journey to America. In Honduras and El Salvador, a woman is killed every 19 hours.
Nearly half of international migrants are women and girls, including many women who are forced to flee El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras (also called the Northern Triangle) in search of safety.
Yet, we have a president who is pushing a “remain in Mexico” policy – which is illegal. He shut down the government and declared a national emergency to fund a border wall. And even after his own party rebuked him with legislation, he vetoed it.
Of the women leaving Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, 64% are fleeing violence. In the first nine months of 2018 in Guatemala, 7,689 reports of sexual violence were recorded by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, including 4,576 instances of sexual assault of children under 18 years old. Of those reported assaults, 90 percent were committed against women and girls.
Rather than demonizing and criminalizing those fleeing violence and instability, we should protect the right to seek asylum, foster a humane asylum process, and invest in programs that address the root causes of forced migration from Central America.
In 2018 the Trump administration initiated a detention and separation – or “zero tolerance” policy in a cruel attempt to deter families fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries which resulted in the cruel and massive separation of asylum-seeking parents from their children – affecting over 2,550 families, many who have yet to be reunited.
Our country was founded by immigrants and all of our communities are enriched by all of those who have arrived on our shores since our founding, including my own family.
Immigrants and refugees from around the world have gone on to revitalize the communities in which they are living, right here in Pittsburgh, weaving their culture deep into the fabric of our neighborhoods.
Casa San Jose is organizing a door knocking campaign to inform residents of the rights of their neighbors and how they can be better allies – March 30th in Beechview and April 20th in East Liberty. You can register to join them by signing up at bit.ly/2UG3F7b.
As an Iraq war veteran and Oxfam Sister on the Planet Ambassador, I know the difference between what a national security emergency is and what it isn’t and how we can best protect the people in our country.
What is happening on the border isn’t it.