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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA lecture cancelled after visas denied

    Two Guatemalan leaders who were scheduled for a three-week visit to the U.S., which included a lecture at the UA April 19, were denied multiple-entry visas – part of an increasing trend that has some UA departments worried.

    One of those invited, Pedro Bernal Raymundo, is a health promoter for a Guatemalan group called Comunidades de Poblacion en Resistencia, or Peoples’ Communities in Resistance. The other, Baltazar Solano Canay, is another elected leader of the group. Nazaria Tum Sanic, also of the resistance group, already had a visa to enter the U.S. but will not be coming now that Bernal and Solano were denied entry.

    The resistance group is comprised mainly of indigenous Ixil and K’iche’ speaking Maya in the Guatemalan highlands, many of who were targeted by the military during the Guatemalan civil war, which ended in the 1980s. The group works in 18 highland Guatemalan communities and has functioned as an alternative type of government organization since the war.

    The two men were denied visas under section 214(b) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which states: “”Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer … that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status …””

    Those applying for visas to enter the U.S. from Guatemala must prove to an interviewer that they are not intending to immigrate, said Ila Abernathy, coordinator of the Guatemala project.

    Those sponsoring them for their visas include Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and a Tucson-based group called the St. Michael’s Guatemala Project, which is organized by the St. Michael’s and All Angels Episcopal church, The Guatemala Project has been working with the resistance group since 1993 to promote health and the well-being of indigenous communities in Guatemala.

    “”During the interview, applicants have the burden of overcoming this presumption, usually by showing strong economic, social and professional ties to their home country,”” the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala wrote to Grijalva’s office in an e-mail obtained by the Arizona Daily Wildcat. “”Unfortunately, at the time of their visa interviews they were unable to demonstrate that they have ties to Guatemala sufficiently strong to overcome the law’s presumption that they are intending immigrants.””

    Organizers of the UA lecture, co-hosted by the women’s studies and Latin American studies departments, claim that the two were denied visas because of their salaries, which are around $130 per month, and point to their long relationship with the St. Michael’s church in Tucson, said Laura Briggs, acting head of the women’s studies department.

    “”If Pedro Bernal wanted to flee Guatemala, he was fairly close to the Mexico border,”” Briggs said. “”He made a choice in the 1980s to try to build a community under the harshest conditions possible.””

    The Guatemala Project has brought the resistance group’s leaders to the U.S. three times before, with the last time being in 2000, Abernathy said.

    “”It’s never been easy to get visas, but there was a track record for our bringing people up and having them return to Guatemala on schedule,”” Abernathy said, indicating that the pair already had round-trip tickets.

    Academic institutions, including departments on campus and other organizations, like the Latin American Studies Association, one of the largest professional organizations dedicated to the study of the region, are having an increasingly difficult time bringing in people for academic purposes to theU.S.

    The Latin American association has moved its international congress, a regular conference the organization holds, to Montreal, Canada, in part due to the difficulties participants have had getting visas, said said Milagros Pereyra-Rojas, the association’s executive director.

    “”It has changed in recent years – I would say since 2003 when we had the conference,”” Pereyra-Rojas said. “”More and more people were denied visas.””

    The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics states 231.4 million non-immigrant visas were granted in 2001, whereas in 2005 only 175.4 non-immigrant visas were granted. The number of non-immigrant visa applications that were denied were not reported.

    Pereyra-Rojas said some people were denied visas in the past due to security reasons.

    “”It seems like since 2001, there’s this apparently random clamping down on the availability of visas for legitimate educational and cultural exchange purposes,”” Briggs said.

    As for now, the visit by the leaders is being rescheduled for fall. Some organizers, however, are looking at the implications of the denial of visas for academic reasons.

    The increased denial of visas has a chilling effect on collaborative work, Briggs said.

    “”The larger effect that people in the United States …; and people outside the United States have less and less desire to work on cultural exchange, development, and collaborative projects because it’s just hard,”” Briggs said.

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