Summer 2014 Newsletter

Summer 2014 Updates

It's Gardening andFarmers Market Time!SEPA has a booth at the Oberlin Farmers Market every Saturday. We sell donated produce, Guatemalan textiles and coffee and baked goods. If you have produce you would like to donate, please bring it by the booth.

If you would like to help work the market, please send us an email.

New Board Members

The SEPA Board welcomed 3 new Board members this spring; Betsy Bruce, Ellie Flessner and Megan Schief.

Megan has served as a SEPA Board member in the past and was eager to help again. Betsy and Ellie have traveled to Guatemala with John Gates and visited Santa Elena and Copal AA. Betsy is very interested in helping the weavers in the villages establish a market for their goods. Ellie and others who traveled to Guatemala will teach an Ex Co course on Guatemala this fall. She has also helped reestablish the student organization OSSGUA (Oberlin Students in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) that will recruit and orient participants for future Winter Term delegations. Ellie shares many thoughts with us in the next two articles.

The Niños: my summer working with unaccompanied immigrant youth

By Ellie Flessner

Elmer is a four year old boy from Huehuetengango, Guatemala. As we sit on the floor of a detention center for unaccompanied immigrant children in Chicago, I try to teach him how to play Jenga. He was more interested in ramming a toy truck into the tower and watching it crash down, giggling incessantly every time. He has big brown eyes,shaggy sand-colored hair, and a round belly poking through his plain green t-shirt, the quintessential adorable child. Elmer has absolutely no understanding of why he's in America. He just wants to play with some toy trucks.

Elmer's uncle has a different story. Luis, who at the ripe old age of 16 traveled with Elmer through Mexico to the US on top of a train, tells me in an exhausted voice that he came here to save Elmer's life. "They told me they were going to kill me if I didn't join their gang. Then they said they would kill Elmer. We tried to move somewhere else in Guatemala, but the gangs are everywhere. I knew I had to take him and leave." This is one of dozens of similar stories I hear every day.

This summer I am working at the National Immigrant Justice Center on the Immigrant Children's Protection Project, providing free legal screenings and giving presentations on immigrant rights to unaccompanied immigrant youth, around 500 of whom are detained in Chicago. The kids with whom I work are a mere fraction of the 52,000 unaccompanied children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador who have crossed the border since October, but their stories are incredibly similar. They are tales of extreme poverty and danger, of young boys being forced into gangs and coming here to escape their own murders, which is the penalty for refusing to join the "maras". They are stories of 12 year old girls being raped, forced to marry gangsters, forced to have children (last week I met with a fourteen year old girl and her one-year-old son), forced to escape these abusers with their children on their hips.


By Ellie Flessner

There are three things everyone should know about the crisis on the border.

Increased border security will do nothing. These kids want to be apprehended. They are actively looking for border patrol agents as they cross the border. Mothers and Grandmothers pin pieces of paper to their children's shirts with their birth certificates and addresses of family members in the US for border patrol agents to more efficiently place them in a safe home. Increasing border security will waste government resources and do nothing to solve this problem, which is truly not a border security issue.

While we're talking about issues that don't pertain to this crisis, I should probably mention the big one: This is not an immigration issue. I cannot emphasize that enough. This isn't a case of young people crossing the border to find work, to go to school, to sell drugs and contrary to popular belief, this has nothing to do with the DREAM act or any other immigration reform. This is a refugee issue. This is a humanitarian crisis the United States is actively choosing to ignore. The vast majority of the children I see qualify for Asylum status under the USCIS definition, "A well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or particular social group." They must also be persecuted either by their government or an entity their government cannot or will not control. They are children, quite literally running for their lives.

This brings me to my next point: They are children.

They are your sons and your daughters, your brothers and sisters. They want to be doctors and lawyers, they want to live in a world where they can step outside without worrying about getting killed. They want to not worry about the people they love dying all around them. Most of these kids have witnessed atrocities that forced them to grow up far too early. In coming to the United States, they are reclaiming their own childhoods.

Why is America closing its doors to these children? Why don't we want a nation full of smart, strong, ambitious, motivated young people who take big risks for a better life? What's more American than that?


SEPA bids farewell Michael Kay who passed away in May. Haling from Marysville, TN, he received a PhD in History from the U. of Minnesota. Michael had a proud history of activism. He was on McCarthy's black list and lost positions at various institutions of higher learning because he refused to sign loyalty oaths. He was a proud supporter of the League of Women Voters and SEPA. He served on the SEPA Board for many years and at age 76 traveled with John Gates to Guatemala. He and his fine example will be missed.


SEPA now sells Guatemalan coffee from the CCDA cooperative in Solola, Guatemala.

12 oz. of this medium roast coffee sells for $12.00

Available wherever you see the SEPA booth.

Coffee is supplied through JUST COFFEE of Madison, WI


to become more informed about the refugee crisis and other issues affecting Guatemala.




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SEPA Treasurer

192 Forest St.

Oberlin, OH 44074

SEPA is a tax exempt 501c3 organization