Volunteer Report From the Migrant Caravan

On November 8, 2018, attorney Nancy Arevalo responded to a call for Spanish-speaking immigration attorneys willing to travel to Mexico to provide legal help to refugees traveling with the migrant caravan.

Just two days later, with support from the L4GG (Lawyers for Good Government) Foundation’s travel fund, Nancy was on a flight to Queratoro, Mexico. We asked Nancy to share what she experienced in her own words, which are excerpted below. All photos and videos below are courtesy of Nancy Arevalo.


4 lawyers, 5,000 refugees, 19 hour days

I arrived at midnight on Saturday the 10th and met the other three U.S. immigration attorney volunteers whom I was going to work with for the weekend - Rebecca, Charlene, and Graham. That was the entire legal team for those days for over 5,000 people in the caravan.

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The four of us slept in a camper van that night, right outside the cold Corregidora stadium in Queretaro, where the caravan refugees were spending the night.

Everyone woke up at 4 a.m., started packing the belongings they could carry with them, and began walking by 5 a.m. Our team of lawyers started the day with all of them, passing out bread, water, toilet paper and other small donations that we had. We wore our bright orange “Preguntame del Asilo” (“Ask Me About Asylum”) hats, made signs, and told everyone passing by that we were attorneys and would be talking about asylum in the U.S. as soon as they arrived at their next stop, Irapuato.

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We loaded our van with blankets people were leaving behind because they could not carry more stuff, and other heavy items a few people could not carry with them and asked us to take for them. We also had room to give a ride to a few people so we took a mother with her baby and her four adorable daughters. Our van was fully packed, and we were out of Queretaro by 7 a.m.

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On our drive to Irapuato in the state of Guanajuato, we saw thousands of people walking and trying to get rides to the next location. That was about 70 miles that they had to cover that day. It took us about two hours to drive there.

Video credit: Nancy Arevalo

Once we arrived in Irapuato, we quickly begin setting up and talking to people who were lucky to get rides there. They were going to spend the night there at Centro DIF Irapuato, which the state of Guanajuato had prepared to welcome the caravan for one night.

As the immigrants slowly started arriving, we noticed their exhaustion, their broken strollers, their worn out shoes and bare feet, and their hunger, among other things.

Nonetheless, they also seemed happy to have made it to the next location.

Preguntame del Asilo - Ask Me About Asylum

People got in lines for food and other basic donations. At first, they were not too interested in hearing attorneys talk. As they began to settle, I grabbed a megaphone and strategically went around the facility to talk to people who were gathered in large groups.

I talked to them about what to expect when they got to the border, what asylum is, how they could ask for asylum in the US, and that they would likely be detained for a long time in the US.

Most people did not know this basic information about asylum so these big group presentations were useful in getting the word out.

After each presentation, people waited around to ask me questions. Some of these were more like mini-consultations with no privacy at all. I heard many horror stories of what they had suffered in their home countries. I tried to answer as many questions as possible and briefly prepped them for what to expect in their credible fear interviews.

I did this nonstop until 10:30 p.m. that night. By the end of the day, I was definitely recognized as “la abogada” and people were stopping me to ask more and more questions.

This was about a 19-hour day and we had to wake up at 4 a.m. the next day again because the caravan was moving on to Guadalajara. Our team of four attorneys barely had time to eat, definitely did not shower, and we slept in the camper van again, right at DIF Irapuato’s parking lot with the refugees.

I talked to over one hundred people that day and my voice was almost gone by then.
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The next morning, once again at 4 a.m., the refugee caravan got ready and started walking again. We passed out some donations again. Some people recognized us from the day before, hugged us, and thanked us. We wished them luck. We could not continue following the caravan to Guadalajara, so instead, Rebecca and I decided to drop off more donations at Casa del Migrante Manos Extendidas in Celeya, which is about an hour and half from where we were in Irapuato.

The majority of the people that I personally spoke to had valid asylum claims, so explaining to them how to navigate the process was a huge accomplishment.

There were more immigrants there who were traveling alone and had stopped there for food and to rest before continuing their journeys. I gave another presentation to about 30 more people and answered many more questions. Then, we headed to San Miguel de Allende where one of Rebecca’s friends was kind enough to host me for the night. I came back to the US the next day.

This trip was one of the toughest things I’ve done in my life. I saw thousands of vulnerable refugees: children, women, families, human beings seeking a last chance of life.

They were sleeping outside in the cold, and walked for hours every day, carrying babies, toddlers and the basics for survival that their tired bodies allowed.

And the horror stories of the lives they’d fled in their home countries:

  • women raped and trafficked;

  • a family that will only be safe from gangs if one brother kills the other brother;

  • people who refused to sell their vote to the president and now the government wants them dead;

  • large groups of Nicaraguan protesters/activists with broken teeth/scars from the beatings they endured;

  • a man who was tortured with his brother who died – he showed me multiple scars on his arms and face and his mutilated fingers;

  • survivors of domestic violence;

  • former police officers who refused to be corrupt so now the police/gangs want them dead;

  • people whose family members were killed by the police;

  • witnesses to crimes perpetrated by the police;

  • Hondureños who had lived in Mexico but were also persecuted there;

  • Mexicans pretending to be Honduran because that was their only safe way out.

A lot of these people should qualify for asylum. And asking for asylum in the US is LEGAL.

This is real life. These human beings deserve compassion.
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If you would like to help send more volunteer lawyers like Nancy to the front lines of the immigration crisis, please consider making a tax-deductible gift to help the L4GG Foundation reach its $250,000 goal by 12/31. We’ve set this ambitious goal in hopes of serving five times more immigrant families in 2019.