SAN JUAN, RGV – One of the organizers of the Together Juntos caravan says the tour has been well-received up and down the border region, with local law enforcement leaders sympathetic to their cause.
The cause, said Fernando Garcia, executive director of El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights, is to denounce Senate Bill 4, educate immigrant families of their constitutional rights, and build resistance to any anti-Hispanic rhetoric or action coming out of the White House.
“We have been traveling many, many, miles as part of the Together Juntos caravan, more than 700 miles already and we are excited to be here,” said Garcia, at the end of La Unión del Pueblo Unido’s annual César Chávez rally.
“Our clear message is denunciation of SB 4, which is one of the most racist laws we have seen for many years. It is allowing local police officers to ask for immigration papers. We are holding ‘Know Your Rights’ workshops, particularly constitutional rights, in every city we stop in, in case people are confronted by this heavy reality of enforcement in our communities.”
Senate Bill 4 was a legislative priority for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. It allows local law enforcement officials to get involved in federal immigration laws. The legislation was passed by the Legislature last year but has been appealed in court. Garcia said he does not expect the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to find fault with the legislation. However, he is hopeful it will be overturned when it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It is going all the way to the Supreme Court. The only way SB 4 can be enforced is through racial profiling and racism and the violation of rights. It cannot be sustained in the courts in the long run,” Garcia predicted.
Sadly, Garcia said, some police officers were “eager to do the work of immigration officials” before SB 4 even became law. Most notably, he said, the Texas Department of Public Safety. He pointed to an example where a “Dreamer” in El Paso was stopped up by the state police for a minor traffic violation but handed over to Border Patrol. The student is now facing deportation.
“People are telling us, I am a U.S. citizen, but they are stopping me and asking my legal status because I look Latino. People are afraid. There is a lot of uncertainty. There is deep fear,” Garcia said.
A negative consequence of SB 4, Garcia predicted, will be a breakdown in the trust border communities have for local law enforcement. When this happens the border region’s enviable records as a safe place to live, work and play will be in jeopardy, the human rights activist claimed.
“I fear SB 4 might blow community policing apart. You will lose community policing. We will no longer be the safe cities we are.”
Asked to explain, Garcia said: “People are not going to trust local police departments. El Paso, San Juan, McAllen, they are safe cities. That safety is based on close collaboration with local police departments. If people have the perception that the local police are going to ask for a person’s papers they are not going to report crimes. They are not going to report cases of domestic violence. There are larger consequences for public safety if we allow this law to be fully implemented.”
Asked about the “Know Your Rights” workshops the Border Network group is hosting during the caravan tour, Garcia said: “We are telling residents, you have the right to remain silent, you do not have to answer a question about your status to a local police officer, you do not have to open your door if they do not have a search warrant. All of these are constitutional rights.”
Asked what the reaction has been to the Together Juntos border tour, Garcia said:
“Very good. We have met with mayors and police chiefs and sheriffs along the way. Yesterday we met with Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra. He welcomed us. Local law enforcement is telling us they do not want to enforce immigration laws. They say it is very unfortunate SB 4 is the law now. We have met with mayors. We have been welcomed in every city, including by local law enforcement. In Del Rio, Eagle Pass, the Valley, local law enforcement believes it is a bad law. Police chiefs are concerned about racial profiling.”
Asked about the unified message, the Border Network for Human Rights is trying to build, Garcia said:
“We are finding points of connections with multiple sectors. Our goal is to unify border communities against SB 4 and the anti-immigrant agenda of this country – the deployment of the National Guard, the border wall, deportation, raids, it is all part of one aggregation against our Hispanic communities.”
The Together Juntos caravan’s arrival in the Valley has coincided with President Trump’s decision to deploy the National Guard along the U.S.-Mexico border. Some political analysts say that decision was made in response to a caravan of Central Americans traveling north through Mexico in a caravan. Garcia said the two caravans are not connected.
“There is no coordination, the caravan from Central America comes up every year. President Trump is using it for politics. He is trying to leverage his racist agenda, claiming the nation is in danger because immigrants are coming through. It is not true,” Garcia said.
As for the National Guard, Garcia said: “At first, we thought the news about the National Guard being deployed was just a stupid tweet, a stupid joke. But, it became clear that it is a very dangerous announcement. It is going to have consequences. We cannot take this lightly. When we allow the militarization of a certain portion of our nation, we are allowing it anywhere in the United States. The National Guard is not trained to enforce immigration law. They are trained to go to war, they are ready for war. They are only supposed to provide logistical back-up, but the president has different ideas. It is like in the 1980s with ‘the Russians are coming.’ It is designed to cause fear. To say there is a war against families is very bad for America.”
Garcia ended his interview by stressing the Together Juntos caravan is just the first step in a campaign to rally border communities. He said the aim is to go further than a similar caravan the Border Network hosted four years ago.
“This caravan is the first step. Informing the people of their rights is not the only thing we want to achieve. We must organize the resistance. We aim to build a strong border voice, a strong border coalition. To present a different narrative of the border to the nation. All this nonsense about the border being at war – El Paso is the safest city in the United States, safer than Chicago or Washington, D.C., but they are telling us we need a wall and more soldiers. If it was about safety they would put the soldiers in Chicago or Washington, D.C.”