Moving together: Exploring our shared humanity

Today’s blog post is a re-post from MCC’s Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) blog, specifically a photo essay from MCC LACA’s Anna Vogt. In today’s political climate, it seems more important than ever to tell the stories of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and people on the move in order to recognize and share our common humanity.

Moving Together

Come on a journey with us to explore our common humanity with migrants, their families, and helpers, across Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout this photo essay, you will find links that lead back to our blog for more information about the stories and people, our neighbours, featured throughout.

Anna Vogt is the Regional Advocacy Support and Context Analyst for MCC LACA.

On refugee resettlement, children and youth: A personal story

This piece by  Saulo Padilla, Immigration Education Coordinator for MCC U.S., was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Intersections: MCC theory & practice quarterly.

As governments consider the current refugee crisis, one area of special concern must be the well-being of children and youth. Research in this area is scarce and data is limited. Nevertheless, organizations working at resettlement must continue to search for better practices and support systems for resettling children and youth.

In my work with MCC U.S., I encounter many children and youth in various stages of migration. My thoughts on the topic of resettling children and youth start with my own experience of the resettlement of our family in 1986 from Guatemala to Canada. On the evening of February 18, 1986, many people from our church community and neighbors in Guatemala City came to our home to say farewell. We were departing the next morning to reunite with my father who had fled Guatemala for Mexico in May 1980. He was ultimately accepted as a political refugee in Canada in January 1981. I was 15 years old when I left Guatemala. I remember being happy to jump on an airplane for the first time and travel to Calgary, Alberta, and reunite with my father. This reunification had been our family dream for years. In retrospect, I wish our family had been better informed regarding what was about to happen.

As I reflect on our migration and resettlement process, I have often described it as a new birth, with all the pain, pushes and pulls of labor. We knew a few things about Canada. My mother had cousins in Toronto who had fled there a few years earlier, so we had seen photos of Canada, including of the majestic Rocky Mountains where we would be living. However, no photos or stories could prepare us for what we were going to encounter. Upon our arrival, the government provided some support to help us settle. We received winter clothes at the airport, along with some money to help us start life in Canada. We were enrolled in the health care system and a social worker was appointed to us, although we rarely saw him and he did not speak Spanish.

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Reunited with dad, after almost 6 years of separation. From left, Mauricio, Saulo and Herman Padilla stand with their father Adolfo Padilla in Calgary, Alberta in May 1986. (Photo provided by Saulo Padilla)

The first challenges that many newcomers to Canada speak of is the weather. It was -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) when we landed in Calgary. We had never experienced that kind of weather in Guatemala. Like newborns out of the comfort of the mother land, we were cold all the time and had to be clothed differently. While the first few months of snow were part of our honeymoon, the extended winter, followed by a blizzard in early May, which left us stuck without electricity for three days, challenged us. We started to miss home. Within a few months of arriving, we started asking our father over and over if we could go back to Guatemala. Nevertheless, the weather was not an insurmountable challenge.

The system makes you believe that the one major hurdle is learning the language. However, I believe that too much emphasis is put on language learning.  Language will come with time and does not deserve the amount of importance that it is given. A bigger challenge for us was to become family again. My parents had their own communication issues, even though they spoke a common language. They had lived apart for a long time and developed their own survival modes of functioning. We children would side with our mother in their arguments and this would upset our father. Even when our family was reunited, we were more fragmented and fractured than when we were separated from our father. Supporting families with counseling and emotional support as they reunite and resettle must be a priority in the resettlement process.

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Saulo Padilla, MCC U.S. immigration education coordinator, visits his mother, Amparo Marroquín de Padilla, in Guatemala City, Guatemala in December 2011. (MCC Photo/Melissa Engle)

In conversations with resettled refugees, I notice that a common tendency is to measure the success of the migration by what the family has accomplished in the new homeland. As I reflect on where we as a family are now, I am not so sure that is the best measure of successful integration. In many ways I am a success, because I learned English, got a series of good jobs and an education. However, thirty years after my family resettled from Guatemala to Canada, I am still trying to unpack the effects of our migration by different measures. It took only a couple of years to adapt to a Calgary winter and within four years of arrival my brothers and I were speaking English well. However, our family separated again. My mother has suffered from depression which lingers into the present. While my two brothers still live in Calgary, my mother and my sister returned to Guatemala. My father has a new family and lives in British Columbia. I live in Goshen, Indiana.

Looking back on our resettlement experience, I believe that supporting family reunification was an important piece of the resettlement process that was not adequately addressed. Because of this experience, I continue to seek ways to better understand how resettlement affects families and children. My hope is that resettlement agencies can adjust policies and practices to lessen the adverse impacts of resettlement on refugee families and to empower refugee families with children to make informed decisions about movement.

A transformative agenda on migration

This week’s guest writer is Kathrine Garrison, Program and Advocacy Associate at MCC’s UN Office in New York. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame where she majored in psychology and minored in international peace studies, and then went on to earn a Masters of Philosophy in International Peace Studies, with a focus on humanitarian aid and development, from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Her work at the MCC UN Office centers on migration, food security, and the region of Latin America and the Caribbean.

In recent years, the emerging crises of unprecedented migrant flows into Europe brought migration to the forefront of international policy discourse. These discussions culminated in a United Nations (UN) summit that assembled its 193 member states at its New York headquarters in September 2016. At this time, leaders from around the globe came together to agree upon a powerful outcome document, known as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.

This document expressed the political will and commitment of the international community to protect the lives and human rights of all refugees and migrants, as well as to address the imperative for a shared responsibility in facing future migration challenges. In addition, this declaration demonstrated that migration now holds a place as a significant issue of focus within the international agenda.

One of the specific plans of action outlined in the New York Declaration was the start of intergovernmental consultations and negotiations aimed at establishing a comprehensive framework promoting safe, orderly, and regular migration.  The process began in early 2017 and will culminate in a United Nations conference on international migration in late 2018, during which the General Assembly will adopt what has been termed the Global Compact for Migration.

This time of consultation and negotiation, leading up to the General Assembly adoption of a Global Compact for Migration, presents a powerful opportunity to improve the global governance on migration, to address the challenges of migration, and to enhance the ways in which migration can actually contribute to the UN agenda of sustainable development.

Acknowledging that Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) works with a great number and diverse spectrum of migrant populations around the world, the MCC UN Office decided to actively engage in the consultation, stocktaking, and negotiation processes, with the intent to ensure that migrant voices effectively reach the ears of those who will ultimately draft and adopt the formalized framework.

We delivered official statements at high-level meetings such as those deciding upon the methods and procedures for the negotiation process itself, and stressed the necessity of including civil society voices throughout the entirety of the proceedings. We attended countless meetings to monitor the consultations and remain attuned to the topics of focus along with taking note of those being overlooked. We met with Louise Arbour of Canada, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on International Migration, and with Swiss Ambassador Jürg Lauber, one of the official co-facilitators for the Global Compact for Migration process.

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Former MVS intern Emma Cabana delivering a statement on behalf of the MCC UN Office at the Informal Briefing by Civil Society on the Modalities for the Global Compact for Migration

Yet, it remains crucial to note that these advocacy endeavors are conducted not alone but in collaboration and partnership with a multitude of other civil society representatives, primarily through a coalition called the NGO Committee on Migration.

This coalition worked together to draft a vision for what it termed the UN Global Compact on Human Mobility and Migration, a set of ten acts that civil society believes are essential to a meaningful Global Compact. Read the entirety of “Now and How: Ten Acts for the Global Compact” here. This document represents civil society’s attempt to reframe the conversation on migration to emphasize human dignity, full participation in discussion and solutions (especially honoring the multiplicity of migrant voices), development for all, and a commitment to implementing both existing international human rights law and labor conventions and protocols and the actions outlined in the Global Compact for Human Mobility and Migration.

As the UN body works to compose a draft of the Global Compact for migration in the upcoming months, the MCC UN Office plans on participating, with the NGO Committee on Migration, in meetings with representatives from UN member states to present the “Now and How” document and advocate for the inclusion of its contents in the official Global Compact.

You can also help advance these advocacy efforts! The NGO Committee on Migration aspires to secure at least 1,000 organizational endorsements on the “Now and How” document by the end of November 2017. Therefore, we encourage you to share this opportunity for endorsement with other NGOs and ask them to sign on here to show support for its vision. In addition, at an individual level, we encourage you to utilize the attached template to send a letter to your parliamentarians or other government representatives, asking them to enter into a discussion about practical solutions to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration.

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As stated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Director General William Lacy Swing, “The Global Compact is a historic opportunity to achieve a world in which migrants move as a matter of genuine choice. It’s time for the international community to come together to more responsibly and humanely manage the movement of people.” Just as we are called on a personal level to welcome the stranger in Matthew 25:35 and to “love the alien” as ourselves in Leviticus 19:33-34, so too are we called on a collective level to strive to create more just structures and international policy to address the matters of migration.

Now is the time for a transformative agenda for human mobility, migration, and development. Let’s make it happen.

In the Migrant Journey

The following prayer was written by Saulo Padilla, Director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Saulo came to Canada as a political refugee from Guatemala in the 1980s and is now a U.S. immigrant. He wrote this prayer as he participated in The Migrant Trail, a 75-mile walk along the U.S. /Mexico borderlands, intended to bear witness to those who have died along the trail in search of a better life in the U.S. We offer Saulo’s prayer in light of the tragic deaths of migrants in San Antonio this week.

I walk with my brothers and sisters in desolation.
Are you here God?
Please don’t be far.
I am afraid and my soul is trembling.
You cried in Gethsemane, come cry with me.

Walking on the highway with border patrol.
Many hunt for us and we are accused of breaking the law;
You have been persecuted,
come be our witness,
defend our cause.

Make known the roots of our suffering and the causes of our journey.
Make public that our intentions are in accord to your law.

Intercede for those who walk with us in this path.
Make their rights be known,
and their voices be heard.

Migrant shoes
Guide the feet of those who get lost.
You know the darkness.
Hold our hands.
In the dim night shine your light and direct our path.

Restore the lands of our ancestors.
Bring justice to our people.
Pour rain on their crops,
and give them peace to harvest their fruit.

Anxiety and fear are our companions in our journey;
replace them with peace and hope.

Nurture our spirits while we are far from home.
Be with our loved ones.
Do not let time erase the way back home,
so that we may not live in exile forever.

Crossing into Sesabe, Mexico and having a prayer service at a church there.
The desert is arid and thirst awaits us.
You know the desert.
You’ve been exiled.
Come walk with us,
and bring a fountain of justice into our lives.

Sow seeds of peace and justice in the hearts and minds of those who resist our journey.
Let us be seeds of peace and hope in our new home, this land of our exile. Amen.

Mango chutney with a side of radical kindness

By Anna Vogt, Context Analyst and Advocacy Support worker for MCC Latin America Caribbean (LACA). This post is part of LACA’s ongoing series on migration and was originally published on Anna’s personal blog. 

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Pedro Cano from Centro Bono. Photo/Anna Vogt

I could hardly eat lunch as I frantically scribbled notes. Pedro Cano from Centro Bono, a Jesuit organization on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, has the most numbers in his head of anyone I have ever met. He rattled them off so quickly I was glad of the Spanish to English interpretation, just for the extra seconds to catch up. The numbers added up to a pretty depressing story of xenophobia based migration policies in the Dominican Republic. From January to the end of May of this year, over 3000 Haitians have been deported a month from official border crossing, violating all sorts of international standards. Given the number of unofficial crossings and the number of people who have choose to voluntarily leave, the numbers are probably much higher. (You can meet some of the children and youth now living in limbo here.)

For Pedro, these policies serve as a smoke screen to blame rising inequality and lack of public services on Haitians, not on corruption or government mismanagement of funds. In the van ride back to Port au Prince, our group reflected on how pervasive the narrative of hatred against individuals and groups seems across the Americas, not only in the DR.  Blaming a person is always easier than dealing with structural issues; generating hatred out of fear, however, only contributes to an escalating crisis that leads to spiralling rates of migration.

At the end our of meal in Haiti, Pedro gestured at the table, a mess of fish bones and leftover bowls of broth. “Maybe in the DR people serve the hot sauce on the side instead of directly in the soup, but the food is basically the same. That’s what we have to remember, when we talk about bringing people together, is that we are already sharing life together. Cross the border and it is not even obvious who is from where. Rather, there are mixed families, there are kids that play together, and economies and cultures are already woven together.”

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Photo/Anna Vogt

Last week, I ate squash blossom quesadillas in Mexico City and attended more meetings around migration. I sat in a circle with three partner organizations, Frontera de Cristo, Casa de los Amigos and Voces Mesoamericanas, who work and advocate around migration on the northern border, the centre, and the southern border with Guatemala. As we brainstormed how to better work together, we discussed the idea of alternative documentation, not simply of victimization and of violence, but also of radical hospitality, welcome, and the good that migration can bring.

From Douglas Arizona, Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico City, and the border state of Chiapas, people and organizations open up homes and hearts to those passing through, recognizing that because they are human, they also belong. Together, we reflected on how our local realities often cross borders and countries, despite narratives that demand we remain separate. We are all interdependent upon each other. How can we reflect on all the ways that our lives already go far beyond borders?

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The most damaging structures are the ones that rob us of our natural impulse for kindness. These are the systems that cause us to feel helpless and isolated, in the midst of events swirling beyond our control. While we continue to advocate for changes in policies and systems, sometimes the most radical acts we can engage in are kindness and welcome. When we recognize the humanity of those around us and do not allow smoke screen policies to dictate who is worthy, we are participating in a long human tradition of movement and acceptance that has already shaped our world.

Later that evening, Jocabed of Frontera de Cristo and I sat in Coyoacan, sipping on Mexican coffee and sharing stories at the end of a long day of meetings. She told me about a campesino from Chiapas who visited to the northern  border through Frontera’s work with Cafe Justo, for the opening celebration of a coffee shop. Cafe Justo sells fair trade coffee from Chiapas with the premise that when farmers are paid a fair price for their labour, they often don’t migrate. In fact, families are starting to return from the US to Chiapas, because of the  opportunities fair trade coffee provides.  At the border, the farmer stuck his hand out through the bars of the wall, just to feel the air on the other side. Later he shared about how he may not be able to cross, but his coffee, and therefore a part of himself, is constantly making that journey.

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Jocabed also told me a parallel story of a man in the US who cuts out the picture of the farmer on each bag of his Cafe Justo coffee and strings them together like a rosary, in order to remember each person as he sips his drink every morning. While I don’t think increased consumption is a solution to global problems, fair prices and the recognition that we are all already connected through the products we consume is an important step that should cause us to demand trade and border justice, and also open our homes.

There is power when we meet face to face, person to person, community to community.

Instead of focusing on what divides us, let’s celebrate what brings us together and the radical acts of welcome that connect us across countries, regions and the globe. In the book, Undoing Border Imperialism, Harsha Walia writes, “Undoing the physical and conceptual orderings of border imperialism requires a fundamental reorientation of ourselves, our movement, and our communities to think and act with intentionality, creativity, militancy, humility, and above all, a deep sense of responsibility and reciprocity.”

As part of a celebration of the trans-local, of cultures and communities that cross borders, I want to share this recipe for mango chutney with you. I learnt it in Haiti, from a Canadian women who worked in Sudan and now runs a lovely Airbnb on the Haitian seaside. The recipe is from the MCC cookbook Extending the Table, comes from Botswana and originally calls for peaches instead of mangos. In both Haiti and Colombia, mangos are much more common than peaches. Adjust accordingly for your local and serve with curry or simply on toast.

Ingredients:

1 onion, grated

1 small apple, grated

1 tps caynee pepper or a minced hot chili

4 large Tommy mangos, peeled and chopped

⅔ cup of sugar

¾ cup of raisins

¾ cup of vinegar

1 tsp salt

3 tsp curry powder

Combine everything together in a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil and then simmer for up to 2 hours, until the consistency of jam. Stir often as mixture tends to stick and savour the wonderful smell filling your home. Eat and enjoy!

Haiti is passionate

The international press offers a single narrative of Haiti – one of political instability, malnutrition, disease and devastation. “The poorest country in the Western hemisphere” – this is how Haiti is too often described, ignoring the many layers that comprise Haitian culture and customs and make Haiti one of the most fascinating yet least understood countries in the region.

In late May, four staff from MCC’s North American advocacy offices and the Colombia-based regional policy analyst visited Haiti for one week to engage with MCC Haiti partners with the goal of strengthening MCC’s Haiti advocacy work among its New York, Ottawa, Washington, Colombia and Port-au-Prince offices. During this time they got to encounter Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows is Rebekah Sears’ description of Haiti as she experienced it. It originally was published on the MCC Haiti blog

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Members of CCODMIR and the Dominican human rights organization Centro Bono with the MCC team in Malpasse.  Photo/Ted Owald.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic (D.R.) are facing a migration crisis. For much of their history, tensions have been high between the two nations, most recently due to D.R. policies that discriminate against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants. In 2013, a new law stripped tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship and, along with Haitian migrants, were made victim to sporadic and sometimes violent deportations to Haiti.

These policies and actions in the D.R. can be understood as a further attempt by the D.R. government to blame the country’s social and economic ills on Haitian migrants or Dominicans of Haitian descent, essentially scapegoating an entire group of people.

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When one person’s human rights are violated, everyone’s rights are violated.” — Pierre Garot Nere, Coordinator of CODDEMIR in Malpasse, Haiti. Photo/Anna Vogt.

During our journey in Haiti we spent time at the border, visiting those working on the front lines of this crisis. We met with members of a coalition of 15 Haitian groups, collectively known as CODDEMIR. For the past seven years, CODDEMIR (in English, the Collective of Organizations working for the Defence of Human Rights for Migrants and the Repatriated) has been pooling financial and human resources for one common goal of standing with the displaced from the D.R.

CODDEMIR engages in national and international advocacy on their behalf, through press releases, reporting, emergency assistance and education. Their passion and dedication spoke volumes to me; I felt hopeful creating a sense of hope as they shared their desire to protect  those who face difficult and divisive situations

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Stripped palms on Lake Peligre, in the border area of Malpasse. Photo/Anna Vogt.

The influx of people crossing the border since June 2015 has caused resentment in some Haitian communities. CODDEMIR has come alongside these communities to educate them about returnees’ needs. As a result, when CODDEMIR’s welcoming center is overcrowded, more local families and communities take displaced people into their homes.

Human rights groups, including CODDEMIR, are calling for significant action; action inside the D.R. to reverse laws discriminating against Haitians and those of Haitian descent, and action by the Haitian national government to come alongside migrants and also invest more in Haitian communities so people don’t feel they have to leave. They are also calling on the international community to pressure both governments to respond justly to the situation.

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In 2015 Michana (R) was living in the D.R. with her infant son. They were deported spontaneously and had no relations to help them on the Haiti side of the border. Miatrice (L) saw her crying on the side of the road and convinced her parents, who already had 8 people living in their home, to take them in. Terre Froide. Photo/Ted Barlow, Operation Blessing.

At the core, these organizations are calling for the recognition of our common humanity, encouraging all of us to welcome others, support each other, and stand together. In this, we can say that Haiti is passionate about welcoming and caring for others.

Rebekah Sears is a policy analyst with MCC’s Ottawa Office. 

More than a single story: Migration in the Americas

This week’s guest writer is Anna Vogt, policy analyst and advocacy support for MCC Latin America Caribbean (LACA), based in Bogota, Colombia. This reflection was first posted on the Latin America Advocacy blog and is the first of a special series of articles on migration.

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Stories of people on the move dominated headlines throughout 2015: refugees from Syria; deportations and raids of Central Americans living in the United States; the journey of unaccompanied minors north through Mexico and many other stories. So far, analysis for 2016 predict more of the same: people continue to move throughout our globalised world at the highest rate since World War Two.

It is easy, however, to read headlines and come away with a stereotyped idea of migration. How well do we really understand the complexities of this theme, especially from a Latin American and Caribbean perspective, where this blog is based? How does our understanding influence public policy and how we treat our neighbours?

In the book Advocacy in Conflict, Casey Hogel emphasis that, “The power to define a campaign or movement’s narratives- and the amount of diversity and nuance that is allowed within narratives- has huge ramifications for the level of solidarity that activism espouses.” A complex understanding of migration, from migrants themselves, is vital if we want to realistically advocate with people on the move, not simply assume we understand their situation.

As Hogel mentions, that complex understanding starts with asking who is defining the narratives around migration: those who are experiencing the pressure to migrate and the migrants themselves or others?  Yet the majority of the time, migrant experiences are not present in public coverage of the theme. In a recent report, researchers found that migrants were referenced in only 15% of British newspaper articles on migration and that 85% of British articles on the topic did not even include a migrant perspective.

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The report goes on to state that “46% of stories represented migrants as a threat or a danger to the economy and to society, while 38% represented them as victims. Furthermore, migrants’ voices were mostly absent from the coverage of migration.” Given similar news coverage in Canada and the United States, this is a problem of perception that impacts and reflects on policy decisions and debates.

In fact, readers only heard the voices of migrants when the articles included in the studied portrayed the migrant as a victim. While allowing migrants to share their experiences is a good thing, telling a story of only simplified trauma in a portrayal that presents people only as victims, does not allow the nuances, complexities and contributions of migrants or their agency to shine through. Complex narratives demand more than simply an emotional reaction. They include the facts about who migrants are, where they have come from and why, in order to contribute in a meaningful and realistic way to advocacy.

Migration is a normal part of life and society, both in the north and the south, yet migration is “still framed as extraordinary and involving extraordinary individuals and stories…. As with most of us, the majority of migrants lead lives which are fairly normal and not particularly newsworthy. Their migration experience may not be a key or significant feature of their identity. Or it might just be seen as another characteristic to be shared, but not shown off or emphasised, with their neighbours.”

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A complex understanding also examines the variety of forms of migration that take place throughout the region. Did you know that many migrants move from one Latin American country to another, instead of heading north?  That more Mexicans have left the US to return home than have left Mexico to move north in 2009-2014? That the amount of migrants coming from Africa to Latin America has dramatically increased over the last five years?  That 15,000 migrants from the United States live in Colombia?  (Check out thiscool app for a global perspective of migration!)

During orientation at MCC, participants watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk on the danger of a single story. How we talk and write about people and issues matters because our beliefs either perpetuate stereotypes or challenge them and the structures that hold them in place.

We are excited, therefore, to present a new blog series on migration in LACA, where we want to tell more than simply a single story about migration, portraying migrants as neither simply victims nor villains, but ordinary people, seeking to live ordinary lives. Throughout the course of the series over the next few months, we will cover topics ranging from south-south migration, migration and climate change, urbanization, reintegration, armed conflict and migration, those who choose not to migrate, migration and gender, and much much more.

We invite you to participate and to pay attention to the diversity of meanings included with the theme of migration throughout our series and in the people around you.

To read subsequent posts on migration, visit Latin America Advocacy Blog.