By Marielena Castellanos
Looking to help detained immigrants and other people seeking asylum at the Otay Mesa detention center, Las Luchonas, a newly formed group made of former detainees organized their first fundraiser this past weekend.
“When you’ve been detained, you know how life is in detention. We know that there is very little medical assistance, medicine, no healthy food, and sometimes you want to talk to your family, but do not have money, especially when a call to Honduras (or) El Salvador costs 85 cents per minute,” said Jennye Lopez, one of the “Luchonas”, Spanish for “fighters”, and also a former detainee.
She explains there are many people who don’t have family or money, many of them qualify for asylum, but instead accept being deported because they don’t know anyone who can sponsor them.
At a recent community forum in Fallbrook, attorney Monika Langarica of the ABA Immigration and Justice Project, said 70 to 80 percent of people detained at the Otay Mesa detention center are underrepresented and don’t have access to attorneys in San Diego because they can’t pay for them and don’t have access to services offered by non-profits.
Lopez’s journey to the United States from El Salvador was unexpected. Her brother was killed for not being able to pay $20,000 to a gang. Fearing for her life and that of her mother, they decided to leave.
She was four months pregnant when she arrived to the United States, but said she suffered a miscarriage within hours of turning herself in at the port of entry.
Lopez said she asked for help in Spanish, but was told no one spoke Spanish. She added her case is still under investigation.
Last year, Human Rights Watch and Freedom for Immigrants released a report stating there is evidence of subpar medical care in immigration detention, including unreasonable delays in care and unqualified medical staff.
“The data reveals that people in immigration detention died needlessly under the Obama administration, even with its attempts at reform,” said Grace Meng, senior U.S. researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Trump administration has already announced its intent to roll back key reforms while detaining even more immigrants, which would likely mean more people will die needless and preventable deaths.”
A statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement from back in June of this year in response to claims of mistreatment at the Otay Mesa detention center said, “ICE is committed to ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of all those in our care. ICE ERO (Enforcement Removal Operations) officers assigned to the compliance unit at the Otay Mesa Detention Center review all detainee complaints filed at the center.”
Las Luchonas is led by three women committed to helping others, all three of which were held in detention and were able to get out. The group is a part of the Otay Mesa Detention Resistance, a committee with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a group made of volunteers helping immigrants in the U.S. and migrants and refugees on the move.
Roberto Corona, the founder of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, explained the significance of the group’s formation.
“I feel proud and hopeful that they did not stay to receive the benefit of continuing with their asylum process alone, but decided to lend a hand to the people who remain locked up.”
In December, Lopez will go before a judge who will decide whether she will be granted asylum.
Uncertain about what her future holds, Lopez’s attention is focused on the detainees who remain inside the detention center. She said no matter what the outcome of her asylum case wherever she ends up she wants to spend her life helping people.
She hopes more people will make donations to help detainees, and that others will consider sponsoring detainees so they can get out and continue the asylum process instead of being detained or getting deported.
“We, with the little time we have to be here, we want to continue fighting for the people. We want to help, play a small role to make the people inside feel that they have the support of many people,” Lopez added.
Donations to Las Luchonas can be made through the following email firstname.lastname@example.org that serves as PayPal.