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Activist tells of 'heartbreaking' tales from detainees in Mexico

Brandon Paykamian • Oct 28, 2018 at 12:30 AM

Last year, Noah Nordstrom was a student activist at East Tennessee State University, urging congressional leaders to oppose the directive issued by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stopping new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications.

After President Donald Trump’s administration reversed DACA protections for many, Nordstrom moved to Mexico in July with Jose Sanchez, his partner and former DACA recipient.

On Oct. 19, the former Johnson City resident made a Facebook post saying he was detained in an immigration prison due to a passport error.

“I was detained last Friday at an immigration checkpoint on the highway because the border agent forgot to stamp my passport when I crossed into Mexico three months ago. This morning I was deported to Los Angeles. I am currently on a train from L.A. back to the border so I can re-enter Mexico, this time with a stamp. I am truly grateful and humbled by the outpouring of support that I received while I was behind bars,” his post read.

Nordstrom said his experience was the direct result of the DACA decision and of U.S. foreign policy in Central America, most notably the 2009 U.S.-backed coup in Honduras, which ousted President Manuel Zelaya and installed a “right-wing dictatorship” in the country. While in detention, he met many who he said were fleeing political violence in Honduras and other neighboring countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala.

“There was a sizable group of Afro Honduran men who were immigrating because of what the government is doing to their people,” he said. “Although they are considered native people in their country, the government is stealing their land to sell to multinational corporations who are exploiting the beautiful land to extract oil and build gated tourist getaways.

“The revenue being generated by the sale of their sacred land is going directly into the pockets of the corrupt politicians who all have houses in Florida. Unsurprisingly, the United States supports this illegitimate government who came into power through a military coup and continually rigs elections,” he continued. “After all, this exploitation is great for American business interests.”

As for the Nicaraguan detainees Nordstrom met, they told tales of political strife dating back to the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan gave support to the right-wing Contra “death squads” who fought to overthrow the socialist Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction. In the decades since, Nordstrom said Nicaragua has continued to experience political and economic instability and turmoil many have continued to attempt to flee.

“A lot of them talked to me about how Reagan was the one who got it started down there,” he said. 

Nordstrom described what he encountered and heard from political refugees — many of whom he said he forged friendships with — as “heartbreaking.”

“When I arrived to wait in line for the phone, I encountered a group of mothers who were nervously waiting with their children. As I sat on the ground, the sweetest little kiddo approached me,” he said of his second day in detention. “His name was Davíd. He was a 6-year old Afro Honduran boy who was being detained with his mom and 8-year old sister. After a few minutes of chatting with him, his sister and all the other kids gathered around me on the floor.

“The kids asked me to teach them some English, so we sat there for nearly half an hour as I taught them the colors,” he continued.

“As we sat there on the ground, a female guard approached. My heart shattered as she warned the mothers about what was happening at the border in the United States. Their eyes filled with pure terror as she told them about the family separations and the kids who will likely never be reunited with their parents. I did everything I could to fight off tears. Within a few minutes, they were taken away. Davíd and his sister gave me a hug then they went back to their cells with their mothers.”

After two days of detention, Nordstrom was in general population with the other detainees. He had been told by guards that most detained were violent criminals, but he tells a different account of the people he met.

“One was a marketing student who had to flee Nicaragua due to the political violence breaking out in the country,” he said. “One was a nurse who was fleeing gang violence in El Salvador, which was caused by the United States deporting gang members from the most dangerous prisons in America without notifying the Salvadoran government. His friend was also fleeing because he had witnessed a murder and the cartel was trying to kill him so he wouldn’t go to the police.

“One was a Guatemalan father who was deported from the United States in 2016 after living there since 2000. He proudly told me that his son was fluent in both English and Spanish and that he learned to read and write in Spanish by studying the Bible. His wife and American-born kids are still living in Michigan, and he has been desperately trying to reunite with them since his deportation,” he continued. “Why was he deported, you ask? Michigan took away undocumented people’s ability to obtain driver’s licenses, so he was ripped away from his family during a routine traffic stop. He is praying that he will be able to see his kids again before they grow up.”

After his week of detainment, Nordstrom urged Mexican political leaders to end their government’s detainment of Central American immigrants and the U.S. government to “end our government’s exploitation of Central American countries and its inhumane treatment of their refugees.”

“I think the U.S. has a history of encouraging free-market policies that rob the people that are there. I would suggest with governments like Honduras, I would like the U.S. to stop supporting them,” he said. 

He also said the U.S. should allow political refugees from nations such as Honduras to come to the United States to seek asylum.

“We have a moral responsibility to help these people who are fleeing these situations,” he said Monday.

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