Friday, April 13, 2007

Update: Guatemala Visitors

Dear Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, Congressman Grijalva, Consul General Padilla, Denver Justice and Peace, UA contacts, NAU contact, Guatemala Project friends, Samaritans, Latin America Network - Tucson, St. Michael's Social Concerns, reporters, and various involved NGO's:
With great reluctance, St. Michael's Guatemala Project has had to cancel the planned visit of three Maya leaders from the CPR-Sierra, scheduled for April 17 - May 5. We will plan to reschedule for September or October and will work in-country this summer to avoid the problems the applicants experienced at the U.S. Embassy this week.
As I indicated in an earlier note, key Health Promoter Pedro Bernal and elected Consejo General leader Baltazar Solano were denied visas April 11, despite strong support from Congressman Grijalva's office and other supports from the Project. Congressman Grijalva's Washington office followed up this morning to try for a "special interview," but the best advice was that this was going to be impossible at this time.
Nazaria Tum Sanic, who has a multiple-entry visa, suffered a broken foot last December and is still having difficulty walking and experiencing swelling when she travels -- even, as Consejo leader Jacinto Vicente told me today, on a trip they made to Nebaj yesterday. The Consejo General (highest elected CPR body) is very reluctant for her to attempt the trip alone, and she sensibly points out that, as the only experienced traveler of the three, she will probably be needed for the fall visit. She goes to the doctor today or Monday and will attempt to get a letter that MIGHT let us switch her air travel dates without penalty.
We are especially disappointed to lose this visit at a time when immigration legislation is pending in this country, and when there is curiosity here about the election year in Guatemala.
We regret everyone's time, labor, and frustrated anticipation. Please get in touch with me if you need to (or just want to).
Later I will be sending a strategy for complaining about the visa process, and particularly about Section 214(b) of the immigration law, which states that the presumption is that every non-immigrant visa applicant wants to immigrate and gives the interviewer discretion to deny anyone who has not proved the contrary to the interviewer's satisfaction. Clearly, our two applicants were not a terrorist or immigration threat; their rejection amounts to an entirely legal abuse of power. The financial proofs of close ties to Guatemala alone are draconian; poor people are routinely denied, no matter what the reason for the visit.
We are thinking that strong but not inflammatory letters to the Embassy are in order. An NGO with people on the ground in Guatemala says institutions are talking about trying to schedule a meeting with the ambassador, because the problem is so pervasive for groups who have relationships with communities in Guatemala. If you want to know how bad the situation is, check below.
Again, thank you for your continuing support. La lucha sigue!
How hard is it to get a visitor's visa?
Harder than we thought, obviously, as I though the support from Raul Grijalva's office would be sufficient for our group, with their other evidences.
UA professors tell me that Latin American academic professionals are so regularly denied visas to attend conferences in the U.S. that one prominent association will no longer schedule meetings in this country.
An NGO reports that a Parish invited 4 people from a sister community in Guatemala to a celebration of 25 years of their relationship, and all four were rejected (one was a 70-year-old man).
The same NGO sends its visitors in with every economic and other proof of ties to Guatemala that they can secure -- right down to their children's school registration and inventories of pigs and chickens. They still have had problems from time to time. They recommend not one congressional letter, but a slew of them (I dislike this costly redundancy, when congressional offices are dealing with multiple global concerns).
A few years ago youth from the Episcopal Church in Guatemala were invited to a structured Episcopal youth convocation in the U.S. The Bishop was to accompany them. Half (the rural Maya, naturally) were denied visas.
How hard is it for an institution to communicate directly with the Visa Section of the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala prior to interviews?
You can't. In the past, e-mails were answered by a person with a name. It was possible to telephone and fax support. Now, the ONLY mode of making an inquiry is through a general e-mail. I e-mailed March 14, the day after Pedro Bernal got his passport. When I received no reply, I telephoned the consular section to ask for a number or a name. They told me there was no way to call directly. My March 14 e-mail received a response April 2, but most of the response seemed to be formulaic and didn't apply to the situation. Pedro and Baltazar went to their interview with a memo from me stating I would be waiting by my telephone and for the interviewer to call collect if there were any questions or needs for clarification.
Visa process for applicants: Buy a special phone card that costs Q100 (about $13.50) for 6-minute call. Use the card to schedule your interview. Find a computer that will suffice and DOWNLOAD and complete an application (you will receive a printout and barcode). Go to Banco Uno and pay $100 (a bit more if you use quetzales, the national currency) for the application. Bring the receipt, the application, and all your supporting documents to the Embassy for your very brief interview (the interviewer is not required to review all your evidence). Turned down? Most are. Think you have new evidence that may convince? Begin the process anew, repeating all the expenses.