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Connecting Migrants and Their Families

2012 July 23

Mexico’s “El Rincon” Project helps families
stay in touch despite national borders…

The media caricature of undocumented immigrants – especially if they come from south of the border – sees them as economic opportunists, out to make an undeserved buck at our expense. The reality is that most come here because they have no alternative. They can watch their families starve at home or risk injury or death to have a shot at making a living up north.
            In a recent post, we looked at some U.S. programs that help migrants who are being deported, or who have already been deported back to their home countries. Today’s post profiles a unique program, based in Mexico, that helps local families to stay in touch with members living in the United States, and to cope with a daunting range of problems that arise from separation.
            “El Rincon,” or the Corner Project, was founded 14 years ago by American writer and photographer Ellen Calmus. It is in Malinalco, a town in the highlands southwest of Mexico City, in a region whose agricultural economy has been shattered by the impact of NAFTA. For many young parents, the only available route to economic survival has been north to the United States. Their families are often left behind.

Since the majority who cross the border to the north do so illegally, the journey often means years of not being able to return to Malinalco to visit their families…This has led to divided families, and to children being raised by a single parent or their grandparents…
            “These children must deal not only with the absence of a parent, and sometimes of both, but with the additional stress of not knowing for weeks after their parents’ departure whether they have survived the border crossing. With parents absent, these children often assume added family responsibilities, while the other family members who have remained behind must bear additional economic and psychological pressures…Malinalco is [also] experiencing an increasing number of cases where families are left permanently fragmented by the death or disappearance of relatives in the U.S….
            “A preliminary study conducted by the Corner Project in collaboration with Malinalco’s Department of Education found that 10% of the children in schools of the central barrios had one or more parents in the U.S., while in the municipality’s poorer outlying areas 60% of the children had been left in the temporary care of relatives by parents who had migrated to the U.S

The Corner Project’s services to migrants’ children include:

  • Crisis counseling;
  • Communications with distant family members, including free long distance calls, email support, and a message service for families without phones;
  • Help in locating missing relatives;
  • Help dealing with U.S. hospitals, prisons, detention centers and other agencies;
  • Assistance in locating needed legal services;
  • help to families whose relatives have died in the U.S., including getting remains returned for burial.

Below are a few quick stories highlighting the Corner Project’s work. There are many more examples on the El Rincon website.

Finding lost migrants…
Though all too often there are tragic reasons for a migrant’s vanishing, we are frequently able to give good news…When Margarita came to get help finding her husband Constantino, we investigated and learned that he had been stopped for a traffic violation and was in jail, but would probably be deported soon. A prison social worker helped us place a call so Margarita could talk to Constantino and assure him that she and their children were well, which was clearly a huge relief to him.

When migrants die in the United States…
Most often we are contacted by the families themselves, who come to us for help bringing home their migrant relatives’ bodies for burial in Malinalco – though on occasion we are contacted by Mexican government agencies seeking help locating families of migrants who have died in the U.S. Then we take on the heartbreaking task of notifying local families of their migrant relatives’ deaths.

Bringing U.S. and Mexican lawyers to the rescue…
When we found that an unprincipled lawyer was helping a non-beneficiary claim the insurance compensation due to the widow and children of a migrant killed by a drunk driver in California, another lawyer helped our Malinalco migrant’s widow receive the benefits legally due to her and her two young sons…and then this concerned lawyer decided to send his Mexican associate to visit our office on a regular basis to help with other cases.

It goes without saying that El Rincon needs help to continue providing the kind of personnel-intensive care and services for which it is known. Information about its supporting organizations and individuals is on the website, along with information about how to donate.

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