Violence flows at the Mexican border where many seek asylum in the United States. That issue will be highlighted Wednesday night as the 33rd Annual Father A. Joseph Bissonnette Lain America Event will be held at Daemen College in Amherst.
The Latin American Solidarity Committee of the Western New York Peace Center will feature a conversation titled "The Bridge: From violence to revictimization. It will feature a Buffalo native who works as an asylum seeker and a Mexican who managed to escape into freedom. WBFO's Eileen Buckley met with them during a visit to our studios.
"My name is Bianey Reyes. I'm part of a family of human rights activist in Mexico," said Bianey Reyes, a Mexican Asylee. Crystal Massey, a Buffalo Native works as an Asylum Seeker. She translates for Spanish speaking Reyes. Reyes now lives in a town east of El Paso, Texas after fleeing from Mexico.
"We had to come flee the violence the exists in Mexico," said Reyes.
Reyes has lost six family members to the violence, including her own father and two aunts.
"It's a history that I would not wish on anyone, because it is something you never completely recover from," said Reyes.
Reyes and Massey are both working for the Southwest Asylum and Migration Institute in El Paso. Massey married a Mexican man. Her son was born in Mexico and has duel citizenship. She had previously worked as a Spanish teacher, but as she witnessed the difficulties of Mexicans trying to flee at the borders, Massey turned her attention to immigration issues.
“With regards to immigration -- there are many parts of the system that are broken," said Massey. With Bianey, her father as murdered. Her mother, who had immediate relatives, including her father and siblings, who are U.S. citizens came to the United States, being told by lawyers that they would be able to adjust their status. Her mother and brother were able to adjust their status, but the baby of the family -- a teenager when she arrived here -- was not able to adjust her status. Our laws are so particular and so dysfunctional at this point and time, that in her particular situation that was something she was unable to do."
For Reyes, asylum was her only recourse.
"We are one of the few countries that has bar that if you in the country for one year before you ask asylum, you are barred from seeking asylum unless you can prove extraordinary circumstances. In her case, --- after she had come here, the government did accept her as extraordinary circumstances, and she was granted asylum," said Massey.
Massey says since 2006 violence in Mexico has been spiraling out of control, with over 120,000 killed as they tried to flee. Since 2008 many more are seeking asylum into the United States. Massey says those numbers have escalated since 2011. An Immigration reform bill before Washington lawmakers could make a big difference.
"The Senate bill actually includes specific language that they've talked with people who work with asylum throughout the country to make the bill a better bill," noted Massey.
While appearing at Daemen Wednesday evening, Massey and Reyes will describe the difficulties caused by current U.S.Policy and bureaucracy Mexicans face at the border as they try to escape deadly violence.
"And we just feel this is just so important of an issue, and we had to let the American public just hear some of the struggles that people go through, especially in the border areas," said Wayne Alt, with the Latin American Solidarity Committee at the Western New York Peace Center.
When he learned about Massey's work and knowing she is a Buffalo native the committee secured her visit to the region to discuss these struggles.
"By just seeing the resilience of the human spirit is inspiring on a daily basis," said Massey.
But despite the struggles- -- Massey says she loves Mexico. She is also an advocate for the Dream Act -- that stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors -- Students -- who came into the U-S illegally -- would be offered state financial tuition assistance to attend college. But recently the New York State Senate rejected a Dream Act bill already approved by the Assembly. Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo was one of the no votes, while on the senate floor, told lawmakers he would not justify spending tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money for those immigrants students when so many American families struggle to pay for college.
"Enacting the Dream Act does not convey citizenship. It takes away tax TAP from the legal residents, those 76% that don't have the ability to afford college either," said Senator Grisanti.
But Massey disagrees with that argument.
"I find it morally apprehensible, at a personal level, because I was a teacher for 12 years, that we would look at young people, who have grown up in our community, that are part of our community, and that we would deny them the opportunity to have any type of meaningful life here," said Massey.
15-states have implemented their own version of the Dream Act -- including California, Washington, Texas and New Mexico. Massey says federally she would like to see Congress pass something for the so-called "Dreamers".
Massey and Reyes call on both President Obama and the U.S. government to work hard on immigration reform.
Reyes says Mexicans are not just coming to the U..S for jobs. She says instead they are seeking protection and a "basic right to life" that her country is not offering.
You can hear Reyes and Massey Wednesday evening, March 26th speaking in Daemen's Wick Center. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. with speakers scheduled for 7:30 p.m.