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PICA talk connects community to refugee crisis in Central America

On April 11 in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union, members of Power in Community Alliances (PICA) gave a talk on the refugee crisis in Central America. PICA is a group based in Bangor that connects with the small community of Carasque in El Salvador. The group tries to use their connections between the United States and El Salvador to contribute to and support social change and justice.

The talk focused on what the organization feels are the three main points of the refugee crisis.

The first point investigated “the general refugee crisis that resides in Central America,” specifically in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. This is a growing problem for the government of Central America. The second point considered the United States’ history in the region as a pivotal point in the refugee crisis, and the third touched on the fact that returning deportees face special risk when they reach their home country.

“Many began fleeing for their safety instead of their livelihood,” Katherine Kates-Chinoy of PICA said.

Many of those who fled the region migrated to areas of Los Angeles which at the time were embroiled in gang activity. Migrants, in turn, created their own gangs to give themselves a form of protection, according to PICA. When some of these individuals were eventually deported back to their home countries, they brought gang violence with them.

PICA claimed that gangs are involved in 30 percent of schools in El Salvador alone.

“The power of gangs in areas they control is almost absolute,” Kates-Chinoy said. “No one [in the city] is immune to the violence. Women and children are especially vulnerable to the gangs. Child recruitment is a major issue that faces those in areas that are littered with gangs. There has also been an obvious increase in the amount of police deaths due to the gang violence. Because of this, the police force has unfortunately adopted a ‘shoot first ask questions later’ attitude for their own safety.”

The typical immigrant is no longer a single adult searching for asylum, according to the members of PICA. Today, those who are attempting to cross into the United States are unaccompanied children and adults with their children.

“Children and Parental separation became a core feature of the United States’ zero tolerance policy,” Kates-Chinoy said. Many families have sadly still not been reunited with each other.”

If immigrants continue with the process of seeking asylum, they are faced with legal challenges that require a lawyer, regardless if they can afford one or not, the speakers concluded. The process immigrants endure is a long and grueling one, and sometimes the result is not what they were anticipating.

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