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Human rights advocate to explain child refugee crisis along U.S.-Mexico border

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

LAWRENCE – Noted attorney, author and human rights advocate Jennifer Harbury will discuss the roots of U.S. foreign and immigration policies concerning the recent influx of children and families from Central America during a lecture set for Wednesday, Sept. 24.

Her lecture, “The Child Refugee Crisis, and its Roots in U.S. Policy,” will take place at 7 p.m.in the Auditorium at the newly remodeled Lawrence Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.

“Few Americans understand better than Jennifer Harbury the reality that Central American refugees are fleeing,” said Professor Jill Kuhnheim, director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kansas. “We are excited be able to bring this accomplished advocate to Lawrence to put the situation in perspective and increase understanding of the issues in the region that provoke this situation.”

Harbury’s involvement in legal aid to Central American asylum seekers began in Texas in the early 1980s when she went to work in a small legal aid bureau along the U.S.-Mexico border. After assisting numerous asylum seekers, she traveled to Guatemala to learn more about what the people she was working with were running from. While in Guatemala, she met and married Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, also known as “Comandante Everardo,” a leader of the indigenous resistance against the Guatemalan government.

Her husband was later captured, tortured and murdered by Guatemalan military personnel found to be on the CIA payroll. This led Harbury on a journey that included hunger strikes in Guatemala and Washington, D.C., and arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Her work led to major revelations about the CIA’s complicity in human rights abuses abroad that captured the nation’s attention.

Harbury continues to reside along the U.S.-Mexico border and is a staff attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Weslaco, Texas. She recently circulated a widely discussed proposal for the use of Temporary Protected Status to resolve the uncertain situation of the thousands of refugees, many of them unaccompanied children, who have recently been apprehended in southern Texas and other areas along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In addition to her work as an attorney, Harbury is also the author of "Bridge to Courage: Life Stories of Guatemalan Compañeros & Compañeras" (1995), "Searching for Everardo: A Story of Love, War, and the CIA in Guatemala" (1997), and "Truth, Torture, and the American Way" (2006).

The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Lawrence Public Library partnered to host the lecture with support from the U.S. Department of Education. The lecture responds to the university’s strategic theme Building Communities, Expanding Opportunities.

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