I'm Rebecca Plevin, and I am the immigration reporter for The Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs, Calif., part of the USA TODAY Network. I previously worked as a health reporter for KPCC, the NPR affiliate in Southern California. My stories also appeared on NPR and Marketplace. I have earned regional and statewide awards for print, audio and online work. I was born in Washington, D.C. and am a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

I'm Omar Ornelas, and I am a Mexican photojournalist based in Palm Springs, California. For the last 15 years, I have been reporting on and photographing farmworker labor, education, health and housing issues in the Coachella Valley, as well as border security and Mexican and Central American migratory flows at the U.S.-Mexico border, for The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network. I reported and created visuals for “Rigged: Forced in Debt. Worked Past Exhaustion. Left with Nothing,” a USA TODAY investigative series recognized as a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist for the National Reporting category. My work has appeared in USA TODAY, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register in the U.S. and Milenio and La Jornada in Mexico.

We traveled to Guerrero, Mexico, twice to report this project, with the support of the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. We also spent four days in Oregon with an asylum-seeking family from Guerrero and more than a week in Tijuana, interviewing migrants from Guerrero, throughout the fall.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/hvk5f1zbvdj21.jpg

Update: 12:28 p.m. That's all we have time for now! Thanks for joining the discussions and reading our project. There's a lot to unpack, but we hope you read the stories that might shed light on the current situation of many Mexicans in Guerrero.

How cartels use social media to extort residents: https://www.desertsun.com/in-depth/news/2019/02/27/mexican-drug-cartels-use-social-media-for-extortion-threats-violence-facebook-whatsapp-youtube/2280756002/ Mexican indigenous communities are being displaced: https://www.desertsun.com/in-depth/news/2019/02/28/mexican-cartel-violence-displaces-guerrero-indigenous-communities/2280762002/

Comments: 1094 • Responses: 14  • Date: 

iwouldrun500miles246 karma

Another question: are Mexican citizens also fleeing to other countries in large numbers? For example, I see on your graph that El Salvador has a large number of refugees coming to the U.S.; are they also fleeing to Costa Rica, Panama, etc.?

thedesertsun_99 karma

Interesting question! I'd have to do more research to find out if Mexican citizens are seeking refuge in other countries. In our reporting, we met several people who were fleeing to the U.S. because they already knew the country or people there. (People have been migrating from the state of Guerrero, where we based our reporting, for economic reasons for decades.) In one case, a man had worked in the U.S. without authorization, then returned to Mexico, and then went to the U.S. again fleeing violence. In another case, a woman heard from her cousin, who lived in Southern California, about the option of asylum. --Rebecca

Utegenthal240 karma

Hello, do you think the new Mexican president, Obrador, can and will actually change things for the better?

Also, do you think Nieto, the former president, is in any trouble after having been named by multiple witnesses during the El Chapo trial?

thedesertsun_167 karma

Great question. AMLO has only been in office for three months, so it's too soon to tell what kind of impact he'll have on violence and security in Mexico. I'm definitely interested in following up on this.

iwouldrun500miles98 karma

So...what can be done about the cartel violence that's driving these asylum seekers away in the first place?

thedesertsun_67 karma

Hi there. That's a great question and requires a complex answer! At this point, I'm unable to comment on a strategy for curtailing the violence. We heard that when troops were deployed to the city of Chilapa, in Guerrero, homicides decreased, but increased again when troops were withdrawn.

There are other problems that cause people to flee, too: Many people in Mexico don't trust the authorities and are afraid to report crimes to officials. So along with violence, impunity is a main reason that people end up fleeing Mexico. Also, some people we spoke with said they were displaced by violence from their hometown, and didn't feel safer in other parts of Mexico, so they eventually decided to seek refuge in the U.S. You can read more about internal displacement here and what drives people to flee the U.S. here. --Rebecca

Stabiel79 karma

Do you believe people fleeing their home country is a long term solution or a short term one when it comes to the future of their homeland?

thedesertsun_78 karma

Good question. We spoke with one human rights activist in Mexico who said that asylum was definitely not a long-term solution. He called for much deeper changes in Mexico. --Rebecca

probablynotapreacher35 karma

Why is the cartel threatening these people?

thedesertsun_79 karma

Hi there. Great question. I've heard many reasons that people think they were targeted by the criminal groups. In this story, about three female asylum seekers from Guerrero, we wrote about one woman who said she was initially threatened because she'd witnessed a murder, and another who thought her family was targeted because they had some money. In this story, we reported that a criminal group killed six people from an indigenous community, and displaced the remaining residents, likely because the residents refused to work for the group. One source explained that criminal organizations sometimes give people three options: join the group, leave the land or risk being killed. --Rebecca

probablynotapreacher36 karma

So these are just run of the mill folks who are caught up in an overwhelming cartel presence?

If the cartel is that powerful, what is their path to stability?

thedesertsun_51 karma

Yes, the people we interviewed for these stories were regular citizens caught in the crossfire. Some of these people were hopeful that violence in Mexico would decrease and they could return home to a more peaceful country, while others were less optimistic. --Rebecca

_kinglouis34 karma

  1. does cartel violence qualify them for asylum?
  2. how does this affect the palm springs community?

thedesertsun_50 karma

Great questions!

  1. To win asylum, people must prove they have suffered persecution, or fear they’ll suffer persecution, due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. When the alleged persecutor is unaffiliated with the government, people must show their country’s government is unwilling or unable to protect them. From what experts tell me, fleeing violence isn't enough; people must prove they were targeted due to one of those five factors. In one of our stories, a man was able to win asylum by proving that he was targeted by the criminal groups due to being part of his family (his nephew was killed.) But he was one of few. About 13 percent of Mexicans seeking asylum in 2018 got it, a lower percentage than for asylum seekers from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Here's the story.
  2. As for the Palm Springs community: Palm Springs is about 120 miles from the US-Mexico border, so people living in the Coachella Valley can be affected by what happens on both sides of the border. --Rebecca

inlaguna32 karma

Can you be more specific than "a wave of Mexican asylum seekers"? We already saw an "invasion" from Central America exaggerated repeatedly. If a few thousand asylum seekers from Central America made the headlines, how would a "wave of Mexian asylum seekers" go unnoticed?

thedesertsun_11 karma

Sure. We reported that in 2018, 10,923 Mexicans applications for asylum in the U.S. were decided, second only to El Salvador, with 12,002 asylum applications. Practically one out of every five asylum applications processed in 2018 came from Mexico. Here's the story with more information.

2ducks4geese27 karma

Which cartel?

thedesertsun_69 karma

Hi there. According to the Congressional Research Service, the major drug trafficking organizations have splintered into between 9 and 20 smaller groups. Our reporting was focused in Guerrero, in southwest Mexico, where two criminal organizations, called Los Rojos and Los Ardillos, are warring for control. --Rebecca

jonpdxOR18 karma

Is the new administration in Mexico making the situation better or worse?

thedesertsun_11 karma

Good question. AMLO has only been in office for three months, so I think it's too soon to tell. I'm interested in tracking this. --Rebecca

PeterWyvern7 karma

Have Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán's trial increased the number of asylum seekers ?

thedesertsun_5 karma

Interesting question. I think it would be hard to establish or trace a connection between those two. --Rebecca

mickeylouse2344 karma

Has the US maybe got something to do with the rise of Cartels?

thedesertsun_27 karma

Hi there. Interesting question! Here's what I can tell you: Despite Mexico's drug war, the flow of drugs into the U.S. hasn't slowed. We reported that, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, Mexico produced about 93 percent of the heroin seized in the U.S. in 2015. One source told us that the state of Guerrero, where we did our reporting, is the source of between 50 and 70 percent of the heroin produced in Mexico.

You can read more here. --Rebecca

rapidfruit-9 karma

What can ordinarily American citizens do to help asylum seekers? I feel so helpless when I read about the danger these people are facing; are there any organizations I could donate to? What resources will they have access to when they seek asylum?

thedesertsun_9 karma

Hi there! Our reporting for this series was more focused on what spurs people to flee Mexico, and less on the organizations that support the asylum seekers. As a reporter, I can't recommend you contact certain groups, but I'm happy to share what we saw in our reporting. For example, in Tijuana, migrant shelters like Instituto Madre Asunta accept donations of food and clothing for women and kids seeking asylum. One of the asylum seekers in our story received assistance from groups that support transgender asylum seekers, including one in Santa Ana, Calif. called Las Cristantemas.

Separate from this series, I learned that this weekend, several non-profits worked together to help 29 Central American parents enter the U.S. to seek asylum and reunite with their kids. Those groups include Together Rising, Families Belong Together and Al Otro Lado. Reach out to them for more information! --Rebecca