The Hope Border Institute works in the El Paso-Las Cruces-Ciudad Juárez region in what is one of the world's largest binational urban centers. Their work aims to develop leaders who can unite communities on both sides of the border through research, education, and leadership programs.
LPO spoke with Marisa Limón, Deputy Director of HBI, to better understand the impact that the tragic events of Saturday in a Walmart in El Paso had in this important community. So far, 22 people have lost their lives in what is now the most brutal terrorist attack against Mexican Americans and Mexican citizens in U.S. territory ever recorded.
Did things change in this community since Donald Trump became President?
Absolutely. One of the initial indicators that this President would be a little different was his way of creating Mexicans as the others and painting Latinos and immigrants as problems for this country. Specially in the border we've seen so many of the federal policy come out via tweet, and then become reality here. We've seen what it looks like to have people not being welcome here. This is a charitable community in contrast to what the president has designed, which would be a country with no immigrants or no immigrants of color.
How has the work changed for the Hope Border Institute?
Our work began four years ago at the end of the Obama administration and the beginning of the Trump administration. We had been following immigration related work for that entire time and a lot of what ultimately was taken to whole new levels of depth was the policies that Obama put into place. We noticed that those were already problematic because there were already so many deportations and so many challenges, as well as protections for DACA recipients and other paths that were more positive, but that had a very difficult and problematic history with policies and practices. Now, under the Trump administration, they have taken those same systems and use them to deter people from coming to the US. Just outright cruelty and punishment for even trying to seek asylum here.
Has your organization been doing any special work since the attack?
Absolutely. Hope is partners with the Interfaith Alliance of the Southwest. Together, with the partners of that coalition, we hosted a vigil on Sunday evening on a local park. It included six different religions, Protestant, Catholics, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, all these faith traditions came together to help, so people could mourn. That's one role. Another one would be to really be mindful and knowing the community and making sure that it got announced that, if people were undocumented our had anxiety about going to law enforcement or to a hospital, we would help them and that they would be safe.
How contentious are the relations between the Latino community and law enforcement?
Here in the border, if you see a large group of police presence, flashing lights and sirens, and if you're undocumented, living with the constant fear of prosecution, you wouldn't go towards those officers, you would walk away. It was important for us to articulate that they would be safe, since this was very much an attack against the Latino and Mexican community. And third, we are really trying to thing strategically about how to have this reckoning with what happened, and how to convene groups to think critically about what our path forward is. It wasn't an accident that our community was involved, it wasn't a freak accident, it wasn't a mistake. This was by design. What does that mean for us, and how should we move forward, and what does that include? In the coming weeks and months, we will be having those dialogues and encouraging people to use this as a fuel for that very important work.
How did local law enforcement agencies respond to the El Paso community since the attack?
I haven't been in direct contact with them. They released a statement informing that Customs and Border Protection and ICE would not be checking for documentation and status. They would not be deporting people that came forward after the attack. What's challenging about having to make that statement is how much that proves that the rest of the time that would be fair game. When the police announcement goes out is an all-hands-on-deck approach, and you have suddenly police, sheriff, fire fighters, emergency services, and you also have Border Patrol and ICE, as well as the National Guard. It is an incredible show of force, even if it is in response to a tragedy like this. I'm glad they made the statement, but that statement underscores the reality that we live in when there is no tragedy.
How close is the cooperation between local law enforcement and federal agencies such as ICE in a city as integrated and binational as El Paso?
It's challenging. Some of the money of the county comes from a premium that they have with ICE, to use the county jail, for detaining people. There's a partnership there. Since the Trump administration a lot of the lines of communication with community-based organizations and these local agencies has eroded. Previously, there was a lot more contact and understanding. Now there's been quite a disconnect between the local organizations and the law-enforcement agencies.
What did you think of the response of President Lopez Obrador and Secretary of the Exterior Marcelo Ebrard? Mexico labeled the tragedy as a terrorist attack on Mexican nationals on U.S. soil. There may be an extradition request.
I think it's powerful to hear from the Mexican government when it comes to this situation. Because we've had a complicated relationship as of late because of their immigration policy. The "remain in Mexico" program, where asylum seekers are being forced to stay in Mexico for the course of their U.S. asylum claim, obviously with the blessing of the Mexican government. They are supporting that policy. That is very problematic to the partnership of the U.S. but is also very personal for the work we do here. We see people in cages every day. We know that over ten thousand people have been returned. We know that some of the cases on the immigration courts will not appear before a judge until 2020. People are being forced to stay in Mexico where they have no access to shelter, limited access to work visas, and very limited access to any kind of U.S. immigration attorney.
What can the Mexican government do to support Mexican nationals living in the U.S., under this political climate?
I think they could help people by making sure, in the consular processes, to have people's paperwork in order. They play a critical role in making Mexicans living in the U.S. have a vibrant quality of life, even with the programs the consulates offer, so making sure those programs keep being funded. Because we have checkpoints throughout the borderland area, within that area there are some rules and regulations, so you have Border Patrol checkpoints anyway you try to exit the city limit and into the country. There are people that, even though the Mexican consulate in El Paso is part of their area, which includes places in New Mexico, because of those checkpoints Mexican nationals have a hard time to get to the consulate because they risk being apprehended. The Mexican government still needs to support those programs, regardless if there are people in the interior of the U.S. that need them. They can be beneficial.
How important is for Mexicans living in the U.S. and Mexican Americans the statements from President López Obrador and Marcelo Ebrard after the tragedy? Do they matter?
They are important. These were Mexicans that were targeted and killed. For the Mexican President to say that and to offer his support it makes the individuals, the people, to feel seen and recognized.
The attacker had an alleged manifesto targeting Latinos and Mexicans in particular. I want to say that, here in la frontera, we have our own manifest of love, and compassion, and justice, and welcoming of the neighbor. This attack goes completely against what we stand for, yet it underscores that these actions will only strengthen our resolve to be that community, and to show these countries what it means to be fronterizo, and what it means to be orgullosamente mexicano en los Estados Unidos.
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