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Remembering Jamillah



Not all migrants and asylum seekers at the US southern border are from Central America. In fact, many are from various countries in Africa. According to a recent article in the LA Times, there are approximately 5,800 total African migrants in Mexico in 2019 versus the 2,700 counted in 2018. This means the population more than doubled in one year’s time.


While many migrants and asylum seekers face serious challenges on their journey and in the US immigration system, African migrants encounter additional disadvantages. The color of their skin and their limited proficiency in Spanish make them vulnerable to different types of abuse. 


One victim of racism, colorism and swiftly changing US immigration policy was Jamillah Nabunjo. She arrived in Ciudad Juárez in April of this year after a long trek from her home in Kampala, Uganda where she was targeted for her political beliefs.  By the time she arrived at the southern border, a newer practice of limiting the number of asylum seekers permitted to present themselves slowed down the process dramatically. When Jamillah added her name to the metering list, her number was 12,636.


She joined the thousands of migrants and asylum seekers waiting in Ciudad Juárez. During this time she found support at a Methodist shelter that is a ministry of El Buen Pastor Church. This shelter has an official capacity of 60 people, but it regularly houses more than 130. Along with about 20 other Africans, Jamillah was relatively safe there, but was forced into a type of house arrest since it was not wise to leave the walls of the shelter. Migrants from all nationalities were regular targets of assault, robbery and kidnapping. Despite the pastor’s best efforts, African asylum seekers were isolated. None in her group spoke Spanish and they were easily identifiable as migrants. Many encountered race-based hostility as they tried to navigate Mexican bureaucratic systems.


During her five months in Ciudad Juárez, Jamillah was plagued by health problems. For three months, state-provided health insurance allowed her to see doctors who tried to address her symptoms. While definitely a benefit, she still faced prejudice when seen by medical professionals. When the insurance ran out, she was denied an extension. Jamillah managed to pull together the funds to see a doctor again and was diagnosed with anemia. Despite several efforts regarding her need for urgent medical condition, she was forced to remain in Mexico until her number was called. 


Sadly, Jamillah’s condition worsened and she was hospitalized in September. One week later she lost consciousness. Ironically, it was the same week her number was called. 


Jamillah died alone on September 29 in a Juárez hospital. 


As people of faith, we are called to bear witness to the suffering of our neighbors and enter the public square on behalf of justice for migrants. Our country’s immigration policies have consequences.  Jamillah’s death was one of them. 


Please consider a contribution to Jamillah’s Memorial Fund to help repatriate her remains. Donate online here through a partnership with CLINIC, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.


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