By Leora Hudak, CVT migration partnerships program manager.
When people think of the U.S. Southern border, many different images come to mind: walls, barriers, people caring for children and babies, border agents in uniforms. Lines of people trying to make their way to safe haven. These images are real. They are part of the experience of many people who travel to the border to seek asylum. However, there are other images as well, ones that symbolize hope and care.
‘Mariposa’ means butterfly in Spanish. We named our new CVT program at the U.S. Southern border Proyecto Mariposa because of its unique partnership role and its unique offering.”
“Mariposa” means butterfly in Spanish. We named our new CVT program at the U.S. Southern border Proyecto Mariposa because of its unique partnership role and its unique offering. The program includes a small team of CVT staff embedded in the Casa Alitas Welcome Center, a shelter in Tucson for people who have crossed the border. “Alitas” means little wings; the center is the house of little wings. And we are mariposa, the butterfly. We chose this name because Proyecto Mariposa extends support to asylum seekers as they arrive in the United States and make their journey to the places where they will settle and begin to rebuild their lives in the U.S. CVT is a part of that journey while people are actively in migration, moving from the little wings to the mariposa.
People come to the U.S. Southern border from all over the world to ask for asylum. People are fleeing violence, poverty and other human rights abuses in their countries or cities of origin. Over the years, the majority of clients coming to Casa Alitas were from the Northern Triangle: Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador. However, since the U.S. government implemented harsh policies in recent years, people from those countries have not been allowed in. Today the majority of clients are from Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia. Once they leave home, they take on long routes through South and Central America and Mexico; this journey can take years. In addition, asylum seekers report having been profiled by organized crime groups and targeted as they move through their journey in Mexico. Kidnappings, extortion and other forms of violence are quite common. So while many clients describe incidents of violence or torture that caused them to flee their countries of origin, many more describe violence that occurred on the journey.
And once they arrive at the border, they find that the U.S. policy toward asylum-seekers is one of deterrence and exclusion. It can take additional years to request asylum. Many have to remain on the Mexico side of the border in overcrowded shelters without security and lacking many humanitarian basic services, largely because of the U.S. “Remain in Mexico” policy that forced people to stay south of the border. These scenarios result in well-documented incidents of violence and human rights abuses.
The Trump administration put in place a number of cruel policies to keep out asylum seekers, including Remain in Mexico and a policy known as the Title 42 ban, which was used as a pretext to expel or keep people out on the false claim that this protected public health during the COVID pandemic. However, additional policies used to keep people out existed before the Trump administration took office, and much has endured or worsened since. For example, U.S. border holding facilities are notoriously known as “hieleras” – iceboxes. These facilities are known for their extremely cold conditions, cold enough to function effectively as a deterrent and to create suffering, especially among children.
Overall, the U.S.-Mexico border is a very difficult place to exist as a migrant or asylum seeker.”
Overall, the U.S.-Mexico border is a very difficult place to exist as a migrant or asylum seeker. Anyone who is finally able to cross the border and enter the United States has undoubtedly lived through significant, difficult experiences by the time they connect with CVT at Casa Alitas. And because of the extreme level of danger and likelihood of having experienced multiple instances of violence, people arrive with a very complex picture of trauma.
This is where CVT’s Proyecto Mariposa provides support. Today, we have two CVT staff co-located at Casa Alitas. They extend trauma-informed, culturally-competent services, including psychosocial screenings, psychoeducation information and destination tele-case management. The team connects clients to resources in their destination cities, including shelter, health care and mental health care, schooling and more. And the team supports the Casa Alitas staff with psychosocial support groups and staff care programming.
The team is gathering measures of program effectiveness, using outcomes-focused evaluation tools, such the Brief Family Social Circumstances and Functioning Inventory (BF-SCFI), along with learning-focused evaluation questions on topics such as referrals and best practices.
The need is great and it is growing. In May 2022, Casa Alitas received 6,262 people, often receiving up to 250 each day. In June 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported more than 207,000 “encounters” at the border, down from a peak of 241,000 in May. These encounters include people who were admitted to the U.S. and those who were expelled under Title 42 and other policies. Indeed, CBP notes that Title 42 was used as the basis for expulsion of 44 percent of these individuals.
Like the hope that many people see in the beautiful mariposa, we see the hope and the better futures our clients are building for themselves. We want to provide care along the way.”
Looking ahead, we hope to expand and enhance the work of Proyecto Mariposa, connecting to survivors of torture and asylum seekers more quickly and providing services to family units. In addition, in the future we will work to expand our offerings along routes of migration throughout North America as well. Like the hope that many people see in the beautiful mariposa, we see the hope and the better futures our clients are building for themselves. We want to provide care along the way.