When the Border Network for Human Rights started as a community organization, we were afraid of deportation, but more than that, we were eager to actually be recognized as full members of society.
Immigrant families are facing systems of oppression, not only the immigration system, but healthcare, labor rights, housing, and education. In an immigrant household, all of the worst parts of the system are embedded, because they are not only undocumented, but they have the worst healthcare or no healthcare at all. They don’t have money to pay to send their children to college. The jobs are for low pay and sometimes half-paid jobs. The housing and public services are the worst in some of these communities.
So for us, it was obvious that our agenda was not only for an immigration deal but actually more than that. That’s how we started framing our issues around human rights.
We want immigrants to be legally recognized, and we want immigrants to be integrated with rights into a better society that encompasses all of these points of struggle shared by communities that are not immigrants. We need to connect with other people with the same conditions to fight together. We are not an immigrant rights organization. We are human rights organization that is fighting for changing society for everybody.
A strategy of war was being implemented at the border from San Diego, California to Brownsville, Texas, from the border to 100 miles inside the interior of the country, along 3,000 miles of borders. After the de-escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and others came to the border because they saw that there was an enormous opportunity to sell weapons systems to border enforcement.
We have militarized communities that in any other scenario would not be accepted. It would not be accepted in Chicago or New York or Michigan. However, this level of militarization is accepted here in the name of national security, and also because its origin was a false narrative of danger that immigrants represent. They distorted the narrative by saying we’re fighting drugs and then that we’re fighting terrorism, but the consequences fall on families seeking a better life.
The great contradiction is not letting people move across borders but letting merchandise move across the border.
The main engine of border economies is their relationship with Mexico. Products are made on the Mexican side or the U.S. side, with one common denominator, which is low wages. We believe this has to do with racism. The racist narrative that “we have to protect the border because this is an invasion of brown immigrants,” makes possible a situation of exploitation.
I believe immigrants and immigrant families will have to be a key component of the next social movement in the United States, because what is embedded in immigrant families is the fight against all of the systems. The challenge has always been how we connect those fights. How do we effectively connect with others based on systems of oppression that affect all of us? We also need to envision new systems that we want to create for a better society.
A most important fight is for the decriminalization of immigrants and other poor communities. The second one is the demilitarization of our communities. That means that military strategies don’t have a place in U.S. policies.
Now we have communities that are expendable. We want a true democracy in the United States where money doesn’t play an important role in making government. The fight for immigration reform is a fight for a better life. It’s a fight against poverty and racism in the United States. I think we’re ready.
Fernando García contributed this interview to The Souls of Poor Folk Audit of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
Interview by Aaron Noffke of the Institute for Policy Studies. Transcript by CUSLAR’s Adriana Guzmán.
Sources of graph on previous page: Office of Management and Budget; U.S. Department of Homeland Security.