|Bay Window: No Turning Back: Press Release
"GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR, YOUR POLITICAL REFUGEES..."
KQED TV9's "Bay Window" Profiles Personal Struggles of Refugees Seeking International Political Asylum with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
San Francisco, CA, June 05, 2000In recent years, San Francisco International Airport has become a gateway of freedom for many people attempting to escape persecution in the homelands. In just a short periodfrom October 1998 to February 1999127 individuals used San Francisco International Airport as a port of entry in their attempt to forge a new life. In 1997, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Asylum Office in San Francisco was responsible for nearly 50% of all the successful political asylum grants in America. Over a third of these individuals came from China, others from Mexico, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Algeria, the Philippines and Albania.
On June 14, 2000 at 10:30 p.m., Bay Window investigates the process of political asylum in "No Turning Back." Bay Window is KQED TV9’s local series that provides a Bay Area perspective on national issues in conjunction with national PBS programs. Bay Window "No Turning Back" follows the Bay Area television premiere of P.O.V. "Well Founded Fear" on Wednesday, June 14 at 8:30 p.m. Both programs contribute to the renewed national dialogue on immigration fostered by the Elian Gonzalez case, while "No Turning Back" focuses on political immigration in the Bay Area.
Bay Window is hosted by Evelyn Cisneros and is funded by The James Irvine Foundation with additional support from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation.
"Some of these people are fighting for their very lives," said Peter Calabrese, vice president of television production at KQED. "With this installment of Bay Window, we wanted to tell their stories and document how hard they have fought for their beliefs and how hard they must continue to fight to survive the process of political asylum."
Bay Window "No Turning Back" presents the struggles and triumphs of three asylum seekers applying through the San Francisco office of the INS:
Khaled Zeggai is a 26 year-old Algerian who was a torture victim and suffered multiple arrests for having worked for the former president of Algeria. He left Algeria in 1998 and bribed officials for a passport and a flight out of Algeria. He fled first to Malaysia and then Thailand, and finally arrived on American soil at San Francisco International Airport on January 30, 2000, with a forged passport.
According to Zeggai, he was continually harassed by the current Algerian regime and was repeatedly and randomly detained by them at least 10 times. They allegedly wanted Zeggai to assassinate the former President of Algeria for whom he had worked. Then last year, his father was killed under mysterious circumstances. Zeggai left behind five brothers and two sisters in pursuit of safety and freedom.
After he arrived in San Francisco and made an initial declaration for asylum, he claims that customs officers and the police gave him a harsh, unsympathetic response. He was repeatedly told that he would be sent back to Algeria. In a fit of desperation, Zeggai broke a coffee mug on a table in one of the offices and tried to lacerate himself in the chest with the broken shards. His case is still pending review.
Rosita Quijada was granted political asylum in January after a 12-year wait. She currently works as a janitor in Daly City. She has had an extremely hard life, and her case is paradigmatic of the grim fact that an asylum grant is never an easy victory and carries with it terribly exacting costs. In her case, Quijada was separated from her sons and daughter whom she had to leave behind in El Salvador. She was married twice, and both times, her husbands were killed by leftist guerrillas in El Salvador because of their political beliefs. Quijada was herself held captive by guerrillas and forced to witness one of her husband's murders.
Quijada fled El Salvador because she feared for her life and did not want her children to become orphaned. Initially, she had no legal counsel and her INS interview was dismissed after a brief 15-minute interview, during which time it never came to light that she was tortured and raped in El Salvador. Thanks to the conscientious work of her new attorney, there was a motion filed in consideration of her hardships, and she was given a new asylum interview. Her case went before an immigration judge who finally granted her asylum.
Quijada's daughter now must wait in El Salvador for close to seven years before she can be sponsored by her mother and reunited with her family. However, on Mother's Day of this year, Quijada was reunited with her teenage sons.
Juan Carlos Merida is initiating his application for political asylum. He spent his first four years as an orphan, raised in the streets of Guatemala. He learned to read the Bible by age 15 and was an activist church worker organizing collective farms, living and working with the poorest peasants of Guatemala. During this time, he worked with and became a "sympathizer" with the guerilla movement. He became one of their top leaders and was seriously wounded–he still has bullets in his lung–and yet returned to fight daily battles with government soldiers and death squads.
His father, meanwhile, was living in extreme poverty and was seriously ill in Mexico. Merida decided to leave Guatemala to care for his father in Mexico. While in Mexico he claims that he was harassed by the government and Mexican police because they knew of his past and presumed he was there to help the Zapatistas. He and his wife, Irma, escaped to Las Vegas, and then traveled to Oakland, where they are preparing for their asylum case. For them, one of the most painful experiences is that Juan Carlos' three children are still in Mexico and are not allowed in the United States until he has finished the asylum process. The children are currently living with Juan Carlos' sick father in deplorable conditions.
Transcripts, interviews and a discussion of "No Turning Back" will be available on June 14 via KQED TV9's Web site at kqed.org/baywindow.
Bay Window is an eclectic series that complements national public television broadcasts with Bay Area perspectives. Formats range from live talk shows to documentaries and from cultural performances to two-minute shorts. Previous Bay Window programs have followed moving public television presentations, such as Africans in America, Not For Ourselves Alone, An American Love Story, P.O.V. and The American Experience.
Bay Window was created by Peter Calabrese. "No Turning Back" was produced by Christa Resing, and Jon Fromer was segment producer. Robin Epstein is series producer of Bay Window; Sue Ellen McCann is executive producer.
KQED, Inc., operates KQED TV9, the nation’s most-watched public television station; KQED 88.5 FM, one of the most listened-to public radio stations in the nation; and the KQED Education Network, which brings the impact of KQED to thousands of teachers, students, parents and media professionals through workshops, seminars and the Internet.