Big Ask for Asylum Seekers at the Border

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Hi everyone,

Al Otro Lado  is an incredible legal services organization serving indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico. You can think of them as the partners to all of the US-based orgs that are pre-screening and providing services to migrants on the Mexican side of the border. 

Every week, anywhere from 40-80 volunteers in Tijuana help with everything from client intake, identifying services, connecting clients to pro bono attorneys, etc. 

With the spread of COVID-19, public health officials and enforcement are concerned about the spread of the virus not only in the community but especially at shelters (medical care is limited, space is tight, water is limited). 

As a result, organizations like Al Otro Lado are urgently trying to pivot to remote services, as they are increasingly being asked to offer limited in-person services. They anticipate that they will have to stop receiving volunteers from the U.S. entirely in the next few weeks and would like to continue to offer legal services through volunteers working remotely. 

They recently established a partnership with Vecina, through which Vecina will train and mentor pro bono attorneys offering mostly remote representation to our MPP("Remain in Mexico") clients. The attorneys commit to visiting the client in Tijuana once and attending the asylum hearing, but the rest will be remote.

So the ask: I know it's a lot, but they are in need of anywhere from 30-50 laptops for their volunteers based in Mexico, so that they can continue to work cases and communicate with  volunteers and attorneys from the U.S. who are likely to stop coming for a while. They've already received a bunch of cancellations this week from U.S based volunteers who can't travel and they don't have the infrastructure in place to connect them with Mexico-based volunteers remotely. 

Here is a note from their director, Erika. I also recommend watching her TED talk. I don't have the words to express her bravery and the many ways in which she has literally put her life on the line to serve migrants. She moved to Mexico from the U.S. to do this work and really, really needs our help. 

"Al Otro Lado also provides legal assistance to some of the 14,000 migrants forced to wait in Mexico for their hearings as part of the MPP program. Al Otro Lado has provided assistance to over 1,000 MPP migrants stuck in Tijuana and Mexicali who lack legal representation. Only around 5% of MPP asylum seekers are represented by counsel, and we have documented high rates of kidnapping, assault, rape, extortion, and other harms suffered by MPP migrants trapped in Mexico. Unfortunately, many attorneys are reluctant to travel to Mexico to represent these clients due to safety issues, and we have had many volunteer attorneys cancel due to COVID-19. Having laptops will enable us to connect vulnerable MPP asylum seekers to attorneys in the United States willing to provide remote representation."

Does anyone have connections with a tech company, or BestBuy or something (do they do this??), a donor (philanthropy or private family foundation) that might be willing to donate laptops? Or any other thoughts? 

It's been over two years now since this crisis (in this way) began at the border, but it hasn't gone away..even if we aren't hearing about it in the same way. 

I know that there's a lot going on and people are being asked to give to all types of causes. So I wholeheartedly understand that this is a stretch. But, as always, I will continue to ask for stuff on behalf of the generous souls who are doing really important work. And I will continue to hope that the requests are met with similar generosity and a desire to give back. 

So let me know, and thank you thank you thank you! 

Vivian Graubard