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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Garcia brings migrant issues to Grinnell

Nancy Garcia, who works at the Center for the Orientation of Migrants (COMI) in Oaxaca, Mexico, was in Grinnell this week as part of the Fall Speaker Tour of Witness for Peace. Witness for Peace is a grassroots organization that works to promote peace, justice and sustainable economies in Latin America and the Caribbean by changing policies of the United States. Through COMI, Garcia works to support migrants and their families through workshops and a temporary migrant shelter. Garcia is traveling the Midwest, giving a talk entitled “Railroaded by NAFTA/CAFTA: The Perilous Journey from Central America to the States.” She spoke in JRC 101 on Wednesday at 4:15 p.m. The talk was sponsored by the Peace Studies Program, the Center for International Studies and the Rosenfield Program. Mariam Asaad ’14 from the S&B sat down with Garcia, who speaks Spanish, and her interpreter, Moravia de la O, to ask her a few questions.

What exactly does the Center for Orientation of Migrants do? How are you helping migrants and what problems do you face?
We face a lot of risks during our work, but our main goal is to provide shelter, food and somewhere safe for these migrants. We also provide them with medical help. The main challenge that we have in this economic climate is that it is increasingly hard to get different organizations to help us and to get funding. It’s often easier to get funds if you provide productive projects, but it’s harder if you give humanitarian help. Another challenge is educating authorities—many times they have good intentions but they don’t know what sorts of things they have to do […] or sometimes, they may know what their responsibilities entail, but they don’t want to do the work.

Could you talk about the perils that these migrants face?
The main dangers that migrants face in their journey North are kidnapping, theft, extortion and violation—physical violations as in rape, or violations of their human rights. Extortion is mainly at the hands of authorities such as the police and oftentimes [migrants] are kidnapped by organized criminal groups. For example, migrants don’t carry the [phone] numbers of their loved ones written down because of the fear that these numbers will fall into the wrong hands of criminals who might use these numbers to call the family and tell them the migrant is kidnapped and to send money. Migrants also face discrimination in that everything from the sale of a soda, food or lodging is more expensive for them.

I understand that it’s a human rights endeavor, but do you come under fire because you are essentially facilitating a process that’s illegal?
To begin with, traveling through Mexico without documents is not illegal—it is an administrative or bureaucratic issue. Through Mexico, migrants face a whole number of human rights issues so if we didn’t have anyone to help them or provide them with shelter, they would be in an even worse situation than they are right now. As human right defenders who work with migrants, we are often put in precarious situations because we affect the interests of criminal groups and oftentimes the authorities as well. But now that we have a change in migration law, our work in providing humanitarian assistance is not criminalized anymore whereas before with the more general population law there was an article that stipulated that you could not provide help to migrants. All of the migrant shelters in Mexico have worked together through the Ministry for Migrants and Human Mobility to bring about this change in law.

You said that the main goal of these migrants is to get to the United States. Are you involved with any organizations in the United States or is that beyond the scope of what you want to get involved in?
We don’t work with an organization in the U.S. The work that we do to provide human rights orientation to help families. […] This work really overwhelms us. It would be my dream to find a group of people here who could help us in this work to continue to provide this sort of help to migrants.

How did you get involved with this organization and where do you hope to see it go?
Well, I would say that I came to this work almost by coincidence but in terms of the future of the organization, my dream would be for there not to be a need for these shelters to exist anymore and for migrants to be able to travel freely as human beings who are trying to find a better conditions of living. Migration is a phenomenon that has existed from the beginning of time. Humans have constantly moved to find means for survival, so my ideals would be for there not to be a need for these shelters, but our organization will continue to fulfill our mission of helping and serving migrants.

Is there anything you want to add?
I just want to say that if you ask someone in Oaxaca who has a family member who has migrated, you’ll see that many of them will raise their hand. I’d like you to ask people if they have migrants in their family. Perhaps by asking this, they can start reflecting on ways they can help migrants. This can be by advocating for laws that will improve their conditions for living and their conditions in the U.S.

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