Henri Aguilar with his one-year old daughter Genesis in the yard of their home. This photo was captured May 2, 2007. On May 7, 2007, he was assassinated by three masked men. Aguilar was a former member of the Mara Salvatrucha, but under the guidance of a Catholic program had left the gang and was married, working full-time, and heavily involved in parish life. Photo: Paul Jeffrey
by James D. Perdue
The churches in Mexico are suddenly realizing a new call. Mexico has not done a lot of advocacy work around migrant issues, but we have discovered a lawyer in Monterrey who says: “I don’t want to be a pastor. I want to help these people get legal status.”
We focus heavily on guaranteeing human rights. People have a right to stay where they are rather than being forced to migrate. They have the right to safe passage when they choose to migrate, the right to fair treatment in the countries to which they flee, and the right to safe passage and repatriation if they should be returned to their home countries. Along the way, some overriding humanitarian needs surface, and the local agencies we work with provide the necessary aid.
In El Salvador, community members are often threatened by violent gangs. Despite death threats, many families won’t yield. They simply can’t allow their children to be forced into gang membership. Their only other option is to flee. Having only 48 hours before the gangs come back to carry out their threat, these family members get up in the middle of the night and leave for the United States.
The local agencies that partner with us provide threatened families with protected houses for up to three months. They take steps to ensure that the families can’t be found. Meanwhile, teams of lawyers help the migrants secure the documentation they need to settle in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, or Panama—the trip to the United States being far too dangerous. Our partner agencies try to help people understand the risks and to weigh their more realistic options. Still, some emigrants decide to take unnecessary risks in the hope of reaching the USA. Instead they often get returned to their home countries. The emerging network of agencies that we helped to develop in Mexico work along the migration corridors to make sure that the migrants’ human needs and rights are protected.