Magic Jack provides free phone service to the deported
The young man is standing in a small office. He is holding the phone with both hands, his body tense and fingers restless. He is listening to the sounds coming from the phone until he hears the familiar voice.
“Hey Irene? Yes. It’s me, yes, I’m fine, I got deported, Yes, I’m fine, I’m in Tijuana….”
The conversation between Eligio Ramírez and his wife comes with great relief for both of them. He had been missing for the past three days. His wife and 5 year old son expected him for dinner and he just didn’t come home after his day working in the kitchen of a sushi place up in LA.
“Talking to her was such a relief” he says, “because many times they don’t know where you are, they don’t know if you are going to be detained for months, they don’t know where are they going to deport you to or how to contact you…”
Ramírez is one of the first beneficiaries of a new program in immigrant shelters in Tijuana, using technology to help immigrants get in contact with their families in the US.
“We always see this need as a very basic one” says father Luiz Kendzierski, head of the immigrant shelter, Casa Migrante, “most of those who are deported don’t have a way to get in touch with their families. Some had a mobile phone but the takes them away, others have been mugged while they were walking around in the city. Whatever the reason, there is always an immediate need for communication, to say ‘I’m here’ allowing them to resolve issues with their loved ones”.
The pilot program used a USB device called Magic Jack, offering free internet pone calls to the US. The service costs only 40 dollars for annual service and only requires a computer and internet access to work.
The Magic Jack service has been donated by the city social services (DIF) to six immigrant shelters throughout Tijuana; casa YMCA for children and teens; Casa Migrante; Casa Madre Assunta for women and children; Casa Elvira; Salvation Army and the Chiapas Immigrant Association.
“We hope to improve on immigrant services using technology” said DIF director Carolina Garcia de Bustamente, “we want to ease the crisis of being deported, reducing the anxiety of deported immigrants and giving them the tools to keep in touch with their families and decide quickly what to do about their situation.”
Garcia explained this can be done better by using the shelter network already in place by local NGO’s , already offering shelter, food and other services to the deported population.
The program will be monitored for a year and it s expected to benefit over 18,000 immigrants.
Besides bringing tranquility to immigrants and their families, the program brings much needed savings to non-profits dedicated to their care.
Casa Migrante alone, father Kendzierski calculates a savings of $400 dollars a month in phone services, translating into $5000 a year.
“I just bought a thousand dollars worth of phone cards for immigrants” he explains, “now those will only be used to make calls to Mexico because the internet service does not include calls inside the country. With the majority of immigrants being deported and leaving families in the US, the free phone calls will translate into vital savings and money can be put to good use in other types of services for them.”