Fernando Garcia is the executive director of Border Network for Human Rights, an organization of activists working to promote civil and human rights of undocumented immigrants and their families.
We’re going to a very critical moment in time where our communities, not only at the border but also in the nation, our immigrant communities are being persecuted, criminalized, our communities are being militarized by this aggressive anti-immigrant, racist agenda being put together by the current administration led by Mr. Trump.
I think there is a misconception that immigrants, or the immigration movement, it is only about getting a green card. The right to identity, to bring immigrants out of the shadows, to integrate them, it is our fight. We have 11 million people, immigrant families, that don’t have social security, they don’t have any kind of legal documents, they live in the shadows. There is a falsehood about what we want as immigrants, and what is false is that we don’t just want to be integrated without access to better healthcare or housing or access to guaranteed labor rights and good salaries.
Our fight, it is not only for some kind of legal status, but our fight is to integrate in this society with rights, to integrate into a better society. Our struggle for immigration reform, at the end, is a struggle for human rights.
It is about having a life with dignity, where immigrants are respected, and move forward together with a common agenda. We’re not only immigrants without documents. We don’t have access to healthcare. We don’t have clinics in our communities. Our kids cannot go to school. We have the lowest wages but also the highest unemployment rates within our immigrant communities. So that’s where you find the heart of our resistance. Immigrants can be an important piece of a larger movement that is going to change this society.
What is unique about our immigrant families is that we have been exposed to deportation and separation as a part of the official policies of this country. Children have been separated from their parents. Spouses have been separated. The United States is basing their society on family values, and at the same time families are being separated.
We took over the border for several hours, at the river between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, and we brought families together, families that had been separated for many, many years. So the same family unit, but separated in both sides of the river. We worked very hard to secure the permits, we talked to border patrol, to the international water commissions, to the railroad companies, everybody. We brought families to embrace at the middle of that river, that river that represents the border, that represents hope, but also abuse and mistreatment. And at that moment, I think we transformed the border in an act of love, but also an act of protest.
We wanted to showcase the injustice of this society. This society that’s supposed to embrace freedom and liberty, that is supposed to be the beacon of hope and happiness, having thousands and thousands of families being separated. So for us, it was a painful event. We have done it three times already. We have been able to bring together close to one thousand families at the middle of the Rio Grande river. It is powerful, but also it’s a reminder of how immigration policies are attacking immigrant communities, are deporting families, children left behind. So this is a call, a desperate call, to change the perception of immigrants, but also to change the policies that criminalize immigrants, that militarize our borders.
The only way that we’re going to be successful, to integrate immigrants, to accomplish this life with dignity, is going to be connecting our immigrant community’s struggle with other communities.
What is happening in El Paso, when they are criminalizing our immigrant families, when they are detaining our children in so-called daycare centers which, they are detention centers, that is not much different than what is happening in Chicago, where young African Americans are being targeted, are being criminalized. It is not different to what is happening in poor communities in the Appalachians. We can see more clearly that we are part of a system that is affecting every community. We cannot fight that system in a separated way.
The intention of this Campaign is bringing together the resistances that already exist within the United States and within the different communities. As the Border Network, we have twenty years working hard on organizing communities, educating leaders, challenging bad legislation, creating coalitions, making government accountable. I think as we have done that, many other communities have done the same in the last twenty, thirty years. So what this Campaign is about is bringing together the experiences of those communities, of those organizations working on the ground, and build a national strategy.
This idea that human rights and moral values can connect our communities, it is more relevant than ever before in history. So for us, Chicago, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and El Paso have become the initial stages of what, in the future, I can see will be one of the most powerful movements in the nation, with the aims of changing society.
Fernando Garcia, 2018.