Caravan Against Fear: Humanitarian Emergency in the USA

Caravan Against Fear: Humanitarian Emergency in the USA

Ernesto Ledesma Arronte

Director de Rompeviento TV

@eledesmaa

 

 

 

 

Caravan Against Fear:

Humanitarian Emergency in the USA

 

They are standing in the midst of something similar to the Roman Coliseum. Poverty, discrimination, and the search for the paradise of their dreams has brought them there. They do not know what kind of beasts will be released from the gated entrances in the northern part of the coliseum. Perhaps the Minotaur from the island of Crete, or some of Tolkien’s Orcs from The Lord of the Rings. They are not standing together, they are separated, each one will have to stand alone, in the middle of fear, and they must wait to know which beasts will burst out from the gates…

 

To breathe fear…

 

When facing a scenario that evokes extreme fear, one has the option to flee, to stand up, to circumvent it, or to confront it. In the Enneagram typology test, Agra Contra means to go against fear, to confront it: #AgainstFear. There are moments in life when there is nowhere to go, where there is nowhere to run, no place to hide. In moments like these, to stay standing, motionless, is to be immolated. In these moments, the only option is to go Agra Contra, to go #AgainstFear, against the Minotaur, against the Orcs. We must stand #AgainstFear… but not alone. 

 

The Caravan Against Fear(www.caravanagainstfear.orgtraveled through the states which share a border with Mexico. The trip was slightly over 8,800 kilometers (5,500 miles), and included a substantial part of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  

 

The Caravan Against Fear was a binational action put together by organizations from Mexico and the United States, strongly driven and coordinated by SEIU United Service Workes West- a union, by Global Exchange- a human rights organization based out of San Francisco, a consultation agency for the United Nations; coalitions and organizations  that work to protect and defend immigrant rights, human rights, and the right to access information, such as el Colectivo Migraciones para las Americas (Immigrant Collective for the Americas), Comunidad Ciudadana en Búsqueda de Desaparecidos en Tamaulipas (Community of Citizens in Search for the Disappeared from Tamulipas), Red Fronteriza por los Derechos Humanos (The Border Network for Human Rights), Korean Resource Center Los Angeles, National Day Laborers Network, and Southern Border Communities Coalition, among others.

 

One of SEIU’s greatest contributions was to have its union members participate in the caravan. As a result, the majority of caravan participants were in fact janitors, security officers and airport workers. 

 

The caravan was a medley of U.S. born individuals (mostly of African American and Latin American descent), Central Americans, Mexicans and Koreans. In one way or another, everyone had a history of abuse, assault, ill-treatment, exploitation, and discrimination. Among this group, it was the women who spoke up, they were the ones at the microphone, lifting their voices throughout the caravan.   This interchange of personal histories from California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico were particularly enlightening, acting as mirrors reflecting and amplifying one another.

 

The Caravan Against Fear was covered by diverse media platforms of communication in Mexico, the United States, and other countries. 

 

Mexican media such as Rompeviento TV, Aristegui Noticias, and Pie de Página (of the Network of Pedestrian Journalists), provided the during the entire trip. Some media outlets from the United States did the same, including Univisión, Telemundo, Fox News, and Radio Bilingüe, a national non-profit bilingual radio network. The Los Angeles Times reported on the caravan as it traveled through California. International media platforms such as Radio Cope, a Spanish national network, and Radio Programas, a Peruvian national network, also contributed to media coverage of the caravan.

 

The Caravan Against Fear centered seven focal points:

 

  1. To denounce the persecution, stigmatization, and criminalization of immigrants and refugees.
  2. To demand an immediate end to deportation and separation of families.
  3. To demand an immediate end to the criminalization of those seeking political asylum.
  4. To manifest an utter rejection of the proposed Wall between the United States and Mexico
  5. To reject the militarization of borders.
  6. To demand the protection of immigrants by the state and local governments of border States in the U.S.
  7. To stand in solidarity with the national protests and demonstrations on May 1, 2017 in the United States, particularly in defense of immigrants.

 

The Caravan Against Fear was and is, as its name suggests, counter-phobic. It is a response to a publicly racist and inhumane aggression. The Caravan Against Fear was and is a reaction for life; that is, an organic and life-affirming reaction pitted against death.

 

Perhaps those of us who had the opportunity to provide the complete media coverage to the caravan, were able to foresee the damaging consequences of President Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House, but as it often occurs, reality proved to surpass fiction in levels beyond belief. It is unequivocally clear to me that all media platforms are failing to report the exact magnitude of the current humanitarian emergency being suffered by immigrants in the United States of America.

 

“It is not difficult, it is not sad, it is a tragedy,” were the exact words of Rosemary Welsh, one of the principal leaders of the Mercy Ministries of Laredo, Texas. If anyone is able to have an accurate means of assessing the situation immigrants are confronted with, it is those who work in housing organizations and religious ministries, those who 365 days a year provide shelter and safety, day in and day out, to thousands of immigrants who work in and live in the United States. They embrace the immigrants who cross the border dreaming of a better life in the country of the stars and stripes, only to arrive with their bodies and souls riddled with thorns after crossing the barren desert.

 

Fear may be invisible, but it has a particular odor, and odors affect other senses. How does one stand up to a government that deems one an enemy of the state by virtue of one’s status as an immigrant? How does one measure the impact of fear in a population confronting its own government?

 

The fear of calling the police to seek help. The fear of going to a clinic for medical attention and be asked to show “papers.” The fear in children to go to school. The fear in children of coming home to find their parents  gone because they were deported. The fear of going to work and being picked up there by “la migra,” or ICE. The fear of signing up for dance class, art class, of playing on a public sports team, because what happens if “la migra” rounds you up and deports you? There is  fear of registering at a college or university campus. Fear of walking in your own neighborhood, fearing the risk of being detained by the authorities and being asked to show papers disclosing immigration status. Fear of going to the doctor, because again, they migh ask you for your “papers”… fear to even ask for political asylum after fleeing violence in your home land. There is a fear of reporting violent and sexual assault in the workforce because  your employer may call immigration on you in retaliation. There is a fear of having been abandoned by God!

 

The legal permission to stay in the United States is expressed in the colloquial phrase: “papers.” Always and forever: “los malditos papeles,” the “damn papers.”

 

President Donald Trump’s first act upon arrival at the White House was to turn the entire territory of the United States into Isengard from The Lord of the Rings, that place where orcs were fabricated and the place that witnessed bloody battles. Trump turned the immigration regulatory institutions, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and policing units, into all sorts of primitive caverns. He directed orders and unleashed the orcs into the homes of immigrants. The levels of barbarism are so extreme that President Trump, and a long list of governors and congressional representatives, pretend to make it mandatory for universities, schools, hospitals and health centers, county sheriffs, and the entire universe, to turn immigrants over to the orcs.   

 

The impact of the Trump Era is scattered all over the landscape. We leave here, sings of this impact; pieces that we collected throughout the journey of the Caravan Against Fear.

 

 

Anti-immigrant Laws

 

Trump’s arrival has spurred an infinite amount of consequences that are expressed by indicators not yet fully assessable. The Caravan Against Fear worked as a big magnifying lense, a lense  that zoomed into the fear. The caravan became a lense that zoomed into what happens at the ground level. It was the best way to register the nightmare being lived daily by thousands of people. It was the best way to breathe in the fear that immigrants feel constantly. Trump is not alone in his responsibility for such conditions. He certainly epitomizes and represents the racist currents flowing across the United States, but Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s entire cabinet, many governors, congressional and senatorial representatives at federal and state levels, and their racist policies and ideologies—emboldened by the new government.

 

Texas is a sharp example of the aforementioned Trump allies. Border Networks for Human Rights, based out of El Paso, is correct in stating that Texas is the epicenter of anti-immigrant policy in the United States. As if one state was not enough, Arizona and New Mexico are competing for Texas’ current leadership in anti-immigrant policy. In one week, two pieces of legislation were approved: SB4, seeking to abolish sanctuary-city statuses, and SB 1018, a cruel directive which authorizes the certifiction of Immigrant  Detention Centers to act as childcare centers. Texas currently has a little under 40 anti-immigrant legislative proposals.

 

Donald Trump’s election to the White House generated a change in legislative strategy. If a piece of proposed anti-immigrant legislation fails to pass in a state, a brief change in the text is enacted, it is then reintroduced. This process occurs time and time again until it passes. 

 

Fear of Reporting Sexual Assault

 

Statistics released by Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo are another dramatic example of the direct consequeces of policy validated and inspired by Trump. Acevedo revealed that reports of sexual assault by Hispanic women victims have reduced by 42.8% in the first three months of 2017 in comparison to 2016. Los Angeles, California has also reported a decrease of 25% in sexual assault reports by Hispanic women victims in the first three months of 2017 in comparison to 2016. This is contrasted to an increase of 8.2% in sexual assault reports by non-Hispanic victims during the same time period. 

 

Without having the specific goal of documenting the totality of such instances, the Caravan Against Fear documented cases of women janitor members of SEIU who have suffered sexual assault and abuse by their very employers. After the occurrence of sexual abuse, these women’s employers and abusers would threaten to call “la migra,” or immigration authorities, if they went to the police to report the sexual assault and/or abuse. All these victims affirm that the threat and frequency of sexual abuse and assault have become more pressing with the arrival of Trump as a political figurehead. Employers feel that the protection granted to them from legal repercussion has precedence over the protection of their immigrant victim’s since the arrival of the Trump administration.

 

Increase in Immigrant Detainment

 

Since the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House to mid-March of 2016, ICE has detained 21,362 immigrants. This is equivalent to 237 immigrants per day. Out of these individuals, 5,441 have no criminal records. Important to remember that according to the United States government, a criminal record includes traffic violations and having arrived to the United States without proper documentation.

 

It was in this context that the Caravan Against Fear arrived in Texas on April 26, 2017, the same day that The Department of Homeland Security established the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or VOICE. The purpose of this program is to report immigrants and alleged crimes committed by immigrants.

 

The Great Business of Immigration Detention Centers 

 

Attorney at law Carlos Spector, the only  lawyer who has been successful securing 12 cases of political asylum to Mexican women and men, stated that only in El Paso, Texas and New Mexico there are five immigration detention centers, and four more are in the process of development. Trump’s arrival signalled a change in policy regarding detention in these centers. Now they require individuals seeking political asylum to live in detention while their cases are being reviewed. They are no longer granted freedom while they wait, and are instead forced to live in deplorable conditions.

 

Spector assums the existence of a bi-national `conspiracy between the United States and Mexican governments: “In Mexico, the State persecutes its people, and the government in the United State incarcerates them.” The Immigration Detention Centers have become in a lucrative and expansive business for companies like GEO Group and CoreCivic (formally known as CCA), the two corporations that construct and administer private prisons and migratory detention centers, and to whose advantage it is to incarcerate as many undocumented individuals as possible. Immigration policy driven by anti-immigrant sentiment has resulted in an increase in stocks of 87% for GEO Group and 125% for CoreCivic.

 

North and South of Mexico, and South of the U.S.A. 

 

Thousands of Mexican and Central American citizens continue to attempt entry into the United States, fleeing violence and extreme poverty in their countries of origin. The United States government under Donald Trump has deported more than 50 thousand Mexican immigrants during his first three months in office. Thousands and thousands of Mexican, Central American, and Caribbean immigrants are left stranded in Northern Mexico, vulnerable to coyotes, whose crossing rates have increased up to 300%, and vulnerable to Mexican authorities and customs enforcements agents in both Mexico and the United States. Thousands and thousands of migrants have been stranded in their condition as cheap labor, as disposable, and at the mercy of all types of cells of organized crime and drug trafficking cartels that traffic from Northern Mexiico to South-West United States.

Northern Mexico to South-West United States are gradually transitioning from an emergency situation to a humanitarian crisis. Are we approaching a humanitarian tragedy of unknown magnitude?

 

Tactics and Strategy

 

The tactic employed is to directly attack organizations, institutions, media communication platforms, and citizens who oppose the racist, xenophobic, and inhumane policies of the Donald Trump administration: auditing and trying to weaken NGOs and unions; cutting budgets to sheriff offices that refuse to coordinate with ICE; cutting or reducing public resources allocated to public radio and television stations critical of the government; enacting mass detention and deportation  of the young and/or immigrant beneficiaries of DACA to generate immobilization and fear. Such are examples of tactics currently being employed.

 

The Strategy: Lawyer Carlos Spector has said that “in Mexico, human rights are violated, by violating the law, while in the United States human rights are violated by acting in accordance to the law.” What will be more disturbing to civil society in the United States, its authorities violating human rights, or violating the law?  The orc’s strategy consists of creating more anti-immigrant laws that multiply human rights violations and aggravate the existing humanitarian emergency. The enemy is no longer external, it is now also internal, and its strategy is to beat into submission and eliminate humanitarian sanctuaries, in a generous sense of the word.

 

The Reaction

 

All actions yield a reaction. The Caravan Against Fear is only one example of organizing and resistance, which is added to the dozens of mobilizations that are generating far and wide throughout the United States. It is ideal for grassroots organizations and unions to form a common agenda. Never before has there been the need for such solidarity than now. It is also time for students, academics, and universities in the United States to meet and to dialogue.

It is both useful and desireable to organize other caravans within the country in order to expose and denounce first hand the horrors that continue to occur, without any distortion. 

 

There are no elves here, but there are immigrants, members of the LGBT+ community, African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims facing an openly declared war against their integrity, and that of their loved ones. In the times of Trump, unity is tactical; the strategy is collective action. 

 

The slogan voiced by the Caravan Against Fear all along its trail was, “When I say ‘Against,’ you say ‘Fear:’ Against-Fear, Against-Fear!

 

Men and women do stand in the midst of fear waiting for the eruption of Orcs, but they are no longer alone; they are no longer alone. It is only together that we can balance and win the battle. There is no other path.

 

In the time of orcs and other demons: #AgainstFear, or there will be no tomorrow.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Kawana Anderson

    Ernesto well written, and well said. I am a Caravaner that wants to thank you Ernesto and RompeViento for all the support, and knowledge. As we traveled in and out of cities, and states on a life changing journey resisting all against humanity, and everything around humanity. Thanks for allowing my son, my husband, and myself be apart of a life changing experience not only for ourselves but for others. Thanks for allowing us to tell our story as well as hear others stories. Thanks for allowing us to stand together and be voices for others. I believe we as Caravaners and those that support us Caravaners, those that welcomed us to their cities, states realize that no matter where you live or land because we do move around that all our stories are the same. No Ban No Wall… Sanctuary for All. I will always resist and Fight Against Fear morning, noon, and night. Be safe everyone

    Contestar
    1. Kawana Anderson

      Ernesto well written, and well said. I am a Caravaner that wants to thank you Ernesto and RompeViento for all the support, and knowledge. As we traveled in and out of cities, and states on a life changing journey resisting all against humanity, and everything around humanity. Thanks for allowing my son, my husband, and myself be apart of a life changing experience not only for ourselves but for others. Thanks for allowing us to tell our story as well as hear others stories. Thanks for allowing us to stand together and be voices for others. I believe we as Caravaners and those that support us Caravaners, those that welcomed us to their cities, states realize that no matter where you live or land because we do move around that all our stories are the same. No Ban No Wall… Sanctuary for All. I will always resist and Fight Against Fear morning, noon, and night. Be safe everyone

      Contestar

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