TIME portfolio

Documenting Immigration From Both Sides of the Border

For the past eight years, Kirsten Luce has been documenting immigration issues between the U.S. and Mexico

On Nov. 20, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions to reform immigration laws in the United States. These new actions will protect up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation, expand border security, and create new programs to promote citizenship and legal immigration.


Photographer Kirsten Luce has been documenting both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border since 2006, when she became a staff photographer at The Monitor in the border town of McAllen, Texas. After moving to New York City in 2008, Luce had a shift in perspective and started to look at immigration issues from a national point of view, she says.

Earlier this year, immigration came back at the forefront of the national debate when a massive influx of unaccompanied minors and families crossed the border. “When I first started seeing the news in May and June,” Luce says, “I thought I was aware of how busy the border has been for a couple of years [and that] reports might be exaggerating things. I was wrong.”

Luce immediately went to Texas, embedding herself with local law enforcement. They encountered two groups of 12 women and children within an hour, and then another group several minutes later. “Normally, you go on a ride along, [and] you don’t see anything for a couple of hours,” says Luce. “You might see one group the whole time… [This time] it was surreal.”

And while news organizations usually had little interest for Luce’s work on immigration, suddenly “people wanted whatever pictures they could get from the Rio Grande Valley to try to understand this space that has become the focal point of the national debate on immigration,” she says. Since this summer, Luce has been able to publish every story that she has produced, with other journalists also reaching out to her for advice on how to work in the area.

Luce’s comprehensive body of work covers diverse aspects of immigration on both sides of the border – from illegal border crossing to border patrol agents, stash houses where migrants are kept on arrival in the US. She is well aware that, as a journalist, such access is hard to come by. Over the years, Luce has maintained good relations with several local law enforcement agencies and they have grown to trust her. And while she is not always allowed to ask migrants about their stories, Luce appreciates the law enforcement officers that give her a chance to document the situation while they do their jobs.

“My intention is to contribute to a dialogue on the current immigration system,” Luce says. She has seen the complex narrative of immigration evolve for years, and stresses the importance of understanding this fluid situation and the people it affects on both sides of the border.

Kirsten Luce is a freelance photographer based in New York City.

Marisa Schwartz is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

 

TIME Nicaragua

Thousands Protest Nicaragua Canal Project Over Land-Grab Fears

Demonstrators hold a banner during a march to protest against the construction of the Interoceanic Grand Canal in Managua
Demonstrators hold a banner during a march to protest against the construction of the Interoceanic Grand Canal on Dec. 10, 2014, in Managua, Nicaragua Oswaldo Rivas—Reuters

Entire villages will have to be moved for the new waterway

Thousands of flag-waving demonstrators marched through the Nicaraguan capital Managua on Wednesday to protest a $50 billion canal project set to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as a direct rival to the iconic Panama Canal.

Officials vow the 173-mile construction will have minimal impact on the environment and bring more than 50,000 jobs, but local people fear that entire villages will have to be forcibly displaced as a consequence, reports the Associated Press.

“Your lands belong to you,” Vilma Núñez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, told the crowd.

Protesters marched to the city’s U.N. offices to demand transparency and adequate compensation for those displaced. Groundbreaking is slated for Dec. 22.

[AP]

TIME central america

Powerful Earthquake Rocks Central America

One fatality but no major damage reported

A shallow 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of El Salvador and Nicaragua late Monday, killing one and sending tremors across Central America.

No major damage has been reported and an initial tsunami alert was retracted, Reuters reports. One man was killed by a falling electricity post, according to the mayor of the El Salvadorean city of San Miguel.

The quake happened at a 40-km depth, with the epicenter located 67 km west-southwest of Jiquilillo in Nicaragua and 174 km southeast of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, the U.S. Geological Survey says.

[Reuters]

TIME columbus day

See How Christopher Columbus Got His Own Holiday

The 15th century explorer is known for "discovering" the New World

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, or at least, that’s what they told you in Kindergarten class.

In fact, that’s probably all you really remember about the Genoa-born explorer, Christopher Columbus — and only when Columbus Day rolls around, if you’re fortunate enough to get a day off for it (Only 23 states give their workers a paid day off to celebrate it, according to a 2013 Pew poll).

So you may be wondering how Columbus Day actually became a federal holiday, and who celebrates it. Watch the video above to find out.

TIME

Panama Opens a Frank Gehry–Designed Biodiversity Museum

Panama Gehry Museum
In this Sept. 27, 2014, photo, two men stand in the atrium of the Biomuseo, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, in Panama City Arnulfo Franco—AP

The project has been a long time coming, construction having started in 1999

Panama has opened a biodiversity museum designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, his first project in Latin America.

The Biomuseo — a hodgepodge of bright-colored metal canopies swopping over the eight galleries inside — presents a tour of the Central American nation’s rich, diverse ecosystems, the BBC reports.

The building itself “was designed to tell the story of how the isthmus of Panama rose from the sea, uniting two continents, separating a vast ocean in two, and changing the planet’s biodiversity forever,” the museum’s website says.

Gehry’s other high-profile works include the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

The BBC reports that the project has been beset by budget overruns and delays since work began on it in 1999.

TIME Immigration

Poll: Most Americans Want to Shelter, Not Deport, Migrant Children

Obama Meets With Leaders Of Honduras, Guatemala And El Salvador At White House
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as President Otto Perez Molina (2nd L) of Guatemala, President Juan Orlando Hernandez (R) of Honduras, and President Salvador Sanchez Ceren (L) of El Salvador listen in the White House July 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

A survey finds bipartisan majorities reject immediate deportation

Roughly seven in 10 Americans would prefer to see unaccompanied migrant children in the U.S. treated as refugees rather than illegal immigrants who should face immediate deportation, according to a new survey released Tuesday.

The findings, released by the Public Religion Research Institute, show that only one-quarter of Americans expressed support for immediate deportation of the migrant children, while 70% preferred temporary shelter along with the option of permanent residency for any child whose safety is threatened back home.

Support for temporary shelter and possible refugee status crossed party lines somewhat, with 80% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans favoring the option over immediate deportation.

The results come as the White House promised last week to stanch the flow of unaccompanied children across the southern border, while bills to address the issue are working their way through Congress. The Obama administration estimates some 90,000 migrant children from Central America will attempt to cross the U.S. border this year. Some 57,000 unaccompanied minors, meanwhile, have been picked up by law enforcement at the United States’ southern border since October.

TIME Immigration

Migrant Girls Share Haunting Stories About Why They Fled

Central American Female Immigrants
Central American immigrants await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

A recent UN report gives haunting accounts from some of the girls who fled

The number of young girls captured at the US-Mexico border has increased by 77 percent this year, according to Pew Research Center analysis released Friday.

The number of girls under the age of 18 apprehended at the border this fiscal year was 13,008 compared to last year’s 7,339, according to Pew. The number of boys under 18 apprehended is still much higher at 33,924, but that represents only an 8% increase from 2013.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a report earlier this year that included haunting accounts from some of the young girls apprehended, in an analysis of 404 children from Mexico and Central America who had been detained at the border.

“The head of the gang that controlled her neighborhood wanted Josefina to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap her or to kill one of her family members if she didn’t comply,” the report writes, of one 16-year-old from El Salvador. “Josefina knew another girl from her community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members.”

Two-thirds of the children from El Salvador, both male and female, reported threats of violence from organized crime as one reason for fleeing. “One of [the gang members] ‘liked’ me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm,” said 15-year-old Maritza. “In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags. My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there.”

Other girls reported domestic violence as a reason for leaving. Lucia, a 16-year-old from Guatemala, escaped her abusive grandmother’s home only to move in with an abusive boyfriend. “He beat me almost every day,” Lucia said. “I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left that same day.”

The increasing numbers of children from Mexico and Central America seeking refuge in the United States has prompted a legislative battle in Washington. It remains unresolved.

TIME Immigration

Obama Weighing Refugee Status for Honduran Child Migrants

U.S. Agents Take Undocumented Immigrants Into Custody Near Tex-Mex Border
Immigrant Melida Patricio Castro from Honduras shows a birth certificate for her daughter Maria Celeste, 2, to a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the U.S.-Mexico border near Mission, Texas on July 24, 2014. John Moore—Getty Images

Administration believes it could be done by executive order

The Obama administration is considering granting refugee status to young Hondurans as part of a plan stem the tide of unaccompanied Central American child migrants flooding illegally across the U.S.-Mexico border, White House officials reportedly said Thursday.

Under the plan youths would be interviewed in Honduras to determine if they qualify for refugee status in the United States, CBS News reports. Administration officials told the New York Times they believed the move could be done by executive action, and without going through Congress, if it did not increase the overall number of refugees to the U.S.

The proposal is reportedly one of a broader group of potential initiatives to address the crisis.

After Speaker John Boehner said that the GOP-controlled House would not allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform this year, the President announced that he was prepared “to do what Congress refuses to do, and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

More than 16,000 unaccompanied Honduran children and 30,000 Hondurans traveling as families have been apprehended attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico illegally since October 1.

Juan Orlando Hernández, the President of Honduras, blames the crisis on a combination of factors, including lack of opportunity inside the country and drug cartels and street gangs enriched by narcotics trafficking who sow havoc through much of the country. Honduras has the highest murder rate of any country in the world.

President Obama was due to meet with Hernandez, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and El Salvadorean President Salvador Sanchez Ceren on Friday to discuss the high numbers of young immigrants crossing the border illegally.

TIME Immigration

Pope Francis: Child Migrants to U.S. Must Be ‘Welcomed and Protected’

Pope Francis waves as he leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on July 13, 2014.
Pope Francis waves as he leads his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on July 13, 2014. Tony Gentile—Reuters

Immigrants "continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes" said the pontiff, as the U.S. struggles to deal with a wave of unaccompanied child migrants at its southern border

The Pope has called for tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants to be “welcomed and protected” as they attempt to enter the U.S. from Central America and Mexico.

In a letter read Monday at a Vatican conference in Mexico City on human migration and development, Pope Francis said migration “has now become a hallmark of our society and a challenge.”

The Vatican Radio translation continues with the Pope noting: “Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often die, tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes.”

The pontiff calls on nations to become more welcoming towards migrants, singling out the increasing numbers of children who migrate alone as deserving special care and attention.

“They are increasing day by day,” the Pope said, in a reference to the rising number of unaccompanied child migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border. “The humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”

Pope Francis ended the letter by suggesting that the international community should inform migrants about the dangers of their journey and instead promote development in their home countries.

In an accompanying press statement, the Vatican noted since October, the U.S. has detained around 57,000 unaccompanied children, double the number from the same period last year.

TIME central america

Honduran Children Deported From U.S. Back to World’s ‘Most Violent City’

A chartered flight of minors and mothers deported from the U.S. landed on Monday in San Pedro Sula, said to be the world's murder capital

Twenty-one Honduran children and 17 mothers deported from the U.S. landed in San Pedro Sula on Monday — reportedly the most murderous city in the world — to be greeted with balloons and smiles from Honduras’ First Lady.

“These are people coming home with a broken heart and a broken dream,” Ana García de Hernández told a throng of reporters and cameramen pushing at a barricade as the deportees were given food. “We have to give them the best welcome we can.”

Children have been deported before from the U.S. to Central America, although usually seated more discreetly on commercial flights. But the plane that landed on Monday from New Mexico was the first flight entirely made up of women and children deportees to be sent to this impoverished Central American country, Honduran officials said. García said it would be one of dozens of such flights chartered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the coming weeks, delivering deportees not only to Honduras but also El Salvador, Guatemala and parts of the region.

Tens of thousands of Central American minors have made the hazardous journey to the U.S. by themselves, in the hope of forming an immigration foothold for their families. Because U.S. border facilities are so overwhelmed, authorities often release children into the care of relatives already in the country. The largest number comes from Honduras, a mountainous land of sprawling banana plantations that has become the deadliest country in the world outside a war zone. In 2012, it suffered 90 killings per 100,000 people. While poverty has long been a driver of emigration, many children cite the violence as the reason they flee.

However, with these chartered flights the new attitude from Washington is clear: children should no longer come because they will not be allowed to stay.

“These deportation flights send a message to people and families in Central America, but also they send a message that the governments should listen to,” says Héctor Espinal, the Honduras spokesman for the UNICEF, which is overseeing the reception of deportees. “The message is that governments should do what they need to do to stop the violent conditions that are making these children leave.”

Exactly how to stop the violence in Honduras is a subject of much debate. Many murders are carried out by two major gangs, each with thousands of members — the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Surviving military crackdowns and anti-gang laws, they have grown into transnational criminal organizations capable of shaking down businesses large and small. Adding to the bloodshed, drug cartels from Mexico and Colombia use Honduras as a staging point to move cocaine north to the profitable U.S. market.

Speaking to TIME, First Lady García said Honduras needs its own U.S.-funded anticrime program, akin to Plan Colombia or Mexico’s Merida Initiative, to fight the gangs and cartels.

“We have been having a frank conversation with U.S. Congressmen, and we accept that a cause of much of this emigration is the violence. The 30 most violent municipalities in Honduras are also the municipalities with most unaccompanied minors leaving, and these are places that have been hit by drug trafficking,” García said. “Drug trafficking starts in South America, unfortunately passes through our country and continues to the United States. We have spoken about the need for integral support to solve this problem. My husband, the President, has spoken about the need to implement in Honduras what they implemented in Colombia and in Mexico.”

Any improvement however, will take time — and in the meantime, many are desperate. Coming out of the deportation-processing center after arriving on another flight, 20-year-old Wilson Hernandez said he was concerned about going back to his home in the Pradera del Sur neighborhood of San Pedro Sula.

“It is a brutal place. There are gang members with rifles and grenades. I am scared to go out of my house a lot of the time,” says Hernandez, who was caught crossing into Texas.

In April and May, eight minors were murdered in Pradera del Sur. Police say they were killed by gang members, possibly because they refused to be recruited.

“This kind of violence makes kids want to run away. They just want to survive,” Hernandez says. “They can fly people home, but if this carries on they will still head north. Things have to change here.”

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