Immigration reform debate fuels protests for Central Americans seeking asylum

Posted at 5:52 PM, Jul 23, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-26 19:25:36-04

LANSING, Mich. – In the ongoing debate of immigration reform, the latest push appears to come from faith-based groups who are involving their local governments.

Cristo Rey Church along with BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary) are writing a resolution to present to the Lansing City Council to better protect and process Central American immigrant children. They rallied on the doorstep of the church on Wednesday demanding immigrant rights.

Among those in the rally was José Alvarenga, a man who left Honduras at 14-years-old with his younger brother.

“It’s a daily frustration to be treated as a second-class citizen knowing that you contribute to this country and make it what it is, just as much as anybody else does,” said Alvarenga.

Jose told FOX 17 that he and his brother left behind family members facing gang recruitment, and fled in pursuit of a better life. Now Jose works with BAMN to fight for other children fleeing life and death circumstances for safe shelter. He said leaving your home country is a decision not taken lightly.

“It’s a fear and you know there’s many dangers, but just the hope of having a better life makes it worth it; it’s pushing more and more people to make that decision every day,” said Alvarenga.

Faith-based groups rallied from Lansing to Grand Rapids Wednesday, again fighting for what they say is not an immigration issue, but one of asylum. The Dominican Sisters and the Christian Reformed Church of North America held a news conference in Grand Rapids. They quoted the Trafficking Victims’ Protocol Reauthorization Act of 2008 that requires the United States to process unaccompanied minors.

“That Act of 2008 does not allow us to put those children on planes and send them back home. So that’s our law; that’s the law of the land. Acting in accordance with that law means as we process them we figure out how we can transition, how we can give them homes, how we can care for them. Yes it’s going to take taxpayers’ dollars; it’s the law,” said Steve Timmermans, executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

However, immigration advocates told FOX 17 that even with the laws in place, namely the United States Immigration and Nationality Act, it is still extremely difficult for immigrants to receive asylum. Advocates said that finding representation for refugees can be difficult, along with obtaining sufficient evidence from the person’s home country to show that he or she is a targeted person of persecution.

“We’re working to shape the national debate on immigration policy, to be compassionate, to respect people, and to have a comprehensive system that works for everybody; that works for employers, that works for people trying to come here, for people that want secure borders. Right now the system is just broken,” said Father Fred Thelen, a pastor with Christo Rey Church.

Yet as organizations like Wolverine Human Services work to house Central American minors at Michigan facilities, like their 145-bed facility in Vassar, it’s fueling anti-immigration protests.

Despite the controversy, people like Alvarenga are hopeful that asylum laws will change to help refugees become citizens.

“I think that the laws that are in place right now are making it nearly impossible to do that, but I think they can change, they changed in the past,” said Alvarenga.