By KAY MATTHEWS
Nahalot Shalom in Albuquerque sponsored a public gathering called “Love Has No Borders: Supporting Refugees at Our Border” on January 26. A panel of activists who “resist and assist” shared their stories of working at the US/Mexico border with refugees fleeing violence and poverty in Central America who encounter the inhumane policies of the Trump administration once they reach the US.
The four panelists, Sayrah Namaste of the American Friends Service Committee, Hope Alvarado of the Red Nation, Nicolás Cruz of the Red Nation, and Eleanor Chavez, a labor organizer and volunteer at Annunciation House, discussed what the Trump administration and many Americans refuse to acknowledge, that this country is largely responsible for the conditions that cause many of these people to leave their homes. The list is long and crosses party lines: corporate and agribusiness exploitation of natural and human resources; the overthrow of legitimate and democratically elected governments (as we ready to enact a coup in Venezuela); and the deportation of gangs like MS13 to El Salvador, which formed in Los Angeles, and now functions like a paramilitary group, terrorizing the country.
Indigenous migrants face even more dire situations. The most marginalized communities in Latin America, they’ve been forced off their lands by not only corporate agribusinesses but by the impacts of climate change that bring them into the cities where they fall victim to the violence perpetrated by the gangs. Any resisters, like Berta Caceres of Honduras, are often murdered.
Sayrah Namaste volunteers with the Diocese of Las Cruces Project Oak Tree where refugees are brought by ICE from detention centers with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The shelter’s job is to ready them for their trip to wherever their families or sponsors live where they will wait until their court hearings for asylum are heard. This could take years. The rate of denial in amnesty cases is 95 percent. From what the refugees tell Sayrah, at the detention centers they are given one bottle of water a day and are kept in freezing temperatures. When they arrive at the shelter, the volunteers, who are almost all women, provide them with cots for sleeping, showers, a nutritious caldo (soup) meal, and toys for the children to play with. Once they have settled in, they go to the travel room where there are phones to call their families and sponsors to let them know where they are and that they’re OK. The shelter then works to get them tickets to their destinations, and after spending the night at the shelter, gets them to the buses or planes that will take them to their families and sponsors all over the country.
Eleanor Chavez volunteers at Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, which has 11 sites. This is where, last Christmas, unannounced, ICE released hundreds of refugees, leaving Annunciation House scrambling to find housing and shelter for families with children. Nicolás Cruz and Hope Alvarado were with a Red Nation action at the time at the detention center at Tornillo, Texas, demanding that it be shut down (the government claims that the children have now been sent to sponsors but activists suspect that many of them have been moved to other detention centers). Nicolás, who is part Mexican heritage and speaks Spanish, was recruited to go to El Paso to help the refugees released by ICE find housing or transportation out of El Paso to relatives or sponsors.
Back at Tornillo, he and Hope described conditions at the detention center that left no doubt that it’s a jail. Huge spotlights and a security detail are constants. A tall metal fence lined with black plastic shuts out any view of the fields where the children can be heard playing soccer. The activists outside the detention center tried to communicate by writing messages on the soccer balls that the kids had tossed over the fence: “No están solos.” There were people on stilts waving at the kids, but security guards hustled them inside. The activists claim that the government failed to run background checks on the employees who have been brought in to work in the detention camps and that there is rampant abuse. At Tornillo they tried to infiltrate the employees bused into the camp every day—it sits out in an isolated area—to encourage whistleblowing but were unsuccessful.
There will be a Tornillo action or Weekend of Revolutionary Love on February 14 to 18, along with a coordinated national mobilization at 70 detention centers that detain more than 11,000 children across the country. You can go to the Facebook page for more information.
I’ve made arrangements to go to the Diocese of Las Cruces Project Oak Tree in February and will file a report in La Jicarita when I get back.
Donations can be made to:
Diocese of Las Cruces Projct Oak Tree
1280 Med Park Drive
Las Cruces, NM 88005
To volunteer contact Sylvia Corona at firstname.lastname@example.org
1003 E. San Antonio Ave.
El Paso, TX 79901
To volunteer email: email@example.com