U.S. denies visas for Guatemalan Indigenous leaders 4-15-07

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Two Guatemalan indigenous leaders who planned a threeweek U.S. visit to speak about immigration and health promotion efforts have been denied visas because they can't show they have strong enough ties to Guatemala.

Mayan health adviser Pedro Bernal Raymundo, 46, and tribal council member Baltazar Solano Canay, 52, were to arrive in Tucson on Tuesday for visits with churches and community, university and business groups in Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff and Denver.

But the U.S. Consul General's office in Guatemala refused to issue the visas, noting the two leaders earn less than $130 a month, not enough to overcome a U.S. law that presumes visitors from Guatemala don't intend to return home.


``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,'' Deputy Consul General to Guatemala Kathryn Cabral wrote in an email to an Arizona legislator obtained by the Tucson Citizen newspaper.

The men were invited by St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Tucson as part of a 14year collaboration to support community health efforts in a region devastated by the Guatemalan civil war.

A University of Arizona women's studies professor also invited the pair to speak on immigration and health promotion after the civil war.

Professor Laura Briggs described Bernal as a highly skilled health promoter who has helped dramatically improve health care in the region since the 1980s.

``To suggest that he doesn't have substantial social and profession links with the community is outrageous,'' Briggs said. ``I can't think of anybody in any community that has deeper and more substantial ties.''

Rep. Raul Grijalva, DTucson, had written a letter in support of the men and said the denial discriminated against them because they were poor and indigenous.

``These people are not coming here to get a job at Swift Meat Packing,'' Grijalva said. ``They were here on an invitation because they had something to contribute. Their income or lack of income should not be a factor.''

He said the denials sprung from a wave of ``immigration paranoia that limits the ability to have the exchanges we need to have between countries, whether it's Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua or whoever.''