Bringing our solidarity to the border

November 27, 2018

Alex Wells reports from San Diego on the solidarity caravan to the San Ysidro border crossing, with additional reporting by Dylan Larson and translations by Jeanine Santa Cruz Hernández, along with accounts of other actions around the U.S.

MORE THAN 1,000 people marched to the San Ysidro border crossing and occupied it on November 25 in solidarity with 5,000 Central American migrants stranded in Tijuana on the other side of Trump’s new 30-foot-tall steel wall.

The solidarity caravan was mirrored on the other side of the wall by a peaceful march of 500 migrants from the caravan — who were attacked by Border Patrol agents firing tear gas and Mexican police under their government’s orders to detain the migrants and reportedly deport them back to the Central American countries they fled.

The supposed attempt to “storm” the border fence became the pretext for the Trump administration to escalate its cruel policies by closing the San Ysidro crossing.

Marching to the border to show their solidarity with the caravan
Marching to the border to show their solidarity with the caravan (Jeanine Santa Cruz Hernández | SW)

But the 1,000-strong solidarity march — along with demonstrations and events held around the country in response to the San Diego organizers’ call to action — sent a very different message: The migrants are welcome here.

THE SAN Diego event, endorsed by more than 80 organizations from across California and the Western U.S., was held on the 25th to mark the anniversary of the theft of the 2017 election in Honduras, which most of the migrants are fleeing, by the U.S.-backed military dictator Juan Orlando Hernández.

Marchers turned out from organizations as diverse as Activist San Diego, Border Angels, Democratic Socialists of America, Indivisible, International Socialist Organization, Industrial Workers of the World, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Students for Justice in Palestine, Unión del Barrio, Veterans for Peace, and 43 San Diego.

All stood united with the caravanistas and against the U.S. empire that drove them from their homes and the militarized Customs and Border Protection (CBP, or Border Patrol) apparatus standing between them and their internationally recognized right to seek asylum.

Organizers referred to the caravan as an “exodus,” not only to reflect the mass scale on which ordinary Hondurans are fleeing chaos, violence and tyranny in their home country, but also to allude to the Biblical story of the Israelites’ flight from arbitrary persecution and grueling exploitation in Egypt.

San Ysidro, the single-busiest border crossing in the world, normally processes 70,000 northbound vehicles and 20,000 northbound pedestrians a day. Trump’s repeated threats to shut down the crossing could lead to mass chaos, stranding tens of thousands of family members and workers on one side of the border or the other, depending on the time of day.

This threat, along with many other blackmail methods that the U.S. government has used to keep Mexico's government in line over the years, has reportedly pressured President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador to concede the rights of future migrants to enter the U.S. to seek asylum, as is their right under international law. But the incoming Mexican government has denied that any deal has been struck with the Trump administration.

The demonstration began with a rally at Larsen Park, followed by a march through the Las Americas outlet mall — which inspired enthusiastic support of shoppers from both sides of the border — to the crossing itself. Demonstrators occupied the pedestrian entrance for over an hour while speakers addressed the crowd from the back of a pickup truck.

Pedro Ríos of the American Friends Service Committee reminded the crowd that the over 60,000 Border Patrol agents in communities across the country have been quietly joined by 2,000 National Guard troops in an endless one-sided arms race.

At one point, members of the exodus in Tijuana addressed the demonstration in San Ysidro by speakerphone, and the crowd chanted back: “No están solos!” (You are not alone!).

THE WALL itself is a recent addition to the border crossing. Starting in June, the federal government budgeted $147 million to replace the old (and ugly) 10-foot-high corrugated steel fence, installed during the Clinton administration, with a threatening wall, ranging from 18 to 30 feet high, that bears more than a passing resemblance to prison bars.

Some 5,000 active-duty U.S. troops — about one enlisted soldier for every member of the caravan that has arrived in Tijuana so far — have spent the last month carpeting sections of this new wall with razor wire. That includes, in a bitterly ironic twist, the binational Friendship Park on the San Diego-Tijuana coastline.

Although this frenzied “border security” charade is motivated by little more than election-year political theater, the pantomimes of both the U.S. and Mexican federal governments at making examples of starving, broke and homeless parents and children, thousands of miles from their hometowns, have dire real-world consequences.

Two days before the rally, Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum declared a state of “humanitarian crisis” and asked the United Nations to help in light of the federal government’s shameful unwillingness or inability to provide basic necessities like showers, toilets, shampoo and soap to 5,000 migrants camped out in a sports complex.

Of the 20 tons of cargo shipped to Tijuana by the Mexican federal government, Gastélum says, 75 percent comprised “materials to reinforce the border.”

One day before the solidarity rally, a 26-year-old Honduran mother of two children, aged 3 and 5, was impaled on pieces of rebar after trying to cross a section of the wall that is under construction. Her injuries weren’t life-threatening, but she and her children were taken into CBP custody.

Marchers at the Sunday rally also carried a cardboard representation of Claudia Patricia Gómez González, a 19-year-old Guatemalan woman murdered by the CBP in May while she was attempting to reunite with her longtime boyfriend in the U.S.

THE DEMONSTRATION on the U.S. side of the border was soon overshadowed by the international incident that began to unfold just across the unnatural divide.

Shortly after 11 a.m., while the protest on the northern side was still going on, about 500 members of the Central American exodus pushed past a blockade of Mexican federal police and moved toward the border. Making good on one of Trump’s favorite threats, the CBP closed the San Ysidro border to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic in both directions.

Undaunted, the migrants attempted to enter the U.S. through the only remaining entrance, normally reserved for railroad cargo. They were beaten back by more federales in riot gear.

CBP agents took the opportunity to fire tear gas at the families standing on the Mexican side. Ana Zúñiga, a 23-year-old traveling from Honduras with her 3-year-old daughter Valery, told a reporter that she saw migrants opening a small hole in the barbed wire surrounding the border wall — which Border Patrol used as an excuse to unleash chemical weapons on unarmed migrants.

A CNN reporter described the scene in a frightening tweet: “Border Patrol fired off shots at a group trying to go through the fence. We ran and hid under train. They sent in CS gas. Babies are scared and crying.”

In a statement, Angelica Salas, executive director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, said: “It is a despicable act on the part of the Trump Administration and CBP officials to attack defenseless women and children firing tear gas, a chemical agent, at them. These are human beings who are reaching a point of desperation because their asylum claims are being processed at a snail’s pace or not at all.”

After the CBP shut down the border, which remained closed for six hours, the Las Americas mall also closed down, and the California Department of Transportation blocked off 10 nearby sections of freeway.

And to add insult to injury, the Mexican government reportedly plans to deport 500 of the migrants who attempted to cross back to Central America. For the countless migrants fleeing not only general poverty and violence, but specific threats by gangs in their home countries, these deportations could be death sentences.

ACROSS THE border, the mood at the solidarity march was lively and passionate. Many activists mentioned that they’d never seen so many different organizations working together on border solidarity work.

Veterans for Peace members handed out stacks of brochures featuring an appeal, first published at SW, by antiwar veterans Rory Fanning and Spenser Rapone urging soldiers at the border to disobey their orders.

Francisco, a member of People over Profits, said in an interview: “We’re putting up borders where borders never really existed. These migrations have gone on for thousands of years, and all of a sudden, these immigrants are illegal.”

As he spoke, two CBP helicopters flew low overhead in a clear attempt to remind protesters — as if anyone had forgetten — of the Feds’ military capacity.

“I grew up in this town,” Francisco continued, and this kind of rampant border militarization has never happened before. We’ve been split, divided and conquered, again and again, and we’re not going to put a stop to it until people like this get together and bring unity back to humanity.”

Another demonstrator echoed these sentiments:

I’m a migrant and a human being and an internationalist, and I think we should have the freedom to move about the planet as we wish.

I’m from the border — from Tijuana — and when I was a teenager in the mid-70s, right around the time the federal government was beginning to militarize the border, the KKK crossed the border to threaten us. When my son was five, he was almost kidnapped by a skinhead during a Klan event in Mexico. The cops were defending the skinheads, because they’re the ones who called the demonstration, but when we call a demonstration, they don’t protect us from the fucking fascists.

Matt, a professor of Latin American history at UC San Diego, talked about the role of American institutions in perpetuating this crisis:

Mainstream media, when it’s not directly criminalizing and denigrating the migrants, tends to uncritically repeat what Trump administration officials are saying.

So we have a set of demands, including the right to asylum, and we also want to draw attention to the history of crisis in Central America driven by U.S. foreign policy and economic arrangements. We’re also seeing environmental crises throughout the Global South manifest in Honduras and Guatemala, where people’s crops are failing, and that’s another reason why so many people are coming up here.

A supporter of DSA pointed out how the left had come together: “I think it’s exciting to see all these socialist groups gaining membership and out in force supporting all these other communities. I have a lot more friends who have joined socialist groups since the election.”

Luis Villanueva, an activist with 43 San Diego, underlined this point in emphasizing that demonstrations like this are:

critical because they help persuade public opinion on the issue. So far, in this case, the mayor of Tijuana and obviously the U.S. government have been able to run the narrative about immigrants.

So many people are intimidated by the militarization of the border and the administration’s violent threats against migrants, but when they see us coming out, they’ll have the confidence to come out and protest. I’ve lived in San Diego for almost 40 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen so many organizations and collectives coming together on an issue. That is a really, really critical and positive sign, and I hope it continues.

THERE WERE solidarity protests and actions around the country in response to the call by the organizers of the march in San Diego.

In New York City, some 80 people gathered at the Guatemalan consulate and proceeded on a symbolic march to the Mexican consulate in solidarity with the migrants in the caravans. In Dallas, about 80 people rallied at City Hall in conjunction with the day of action, in a rally was built by a range of immigrant rights and left groups. There were a range of other actions around the country.

In Dallas, Olinka Green of the Poor People’s Campaign spoke about meeting with women released from ICE custody in Brownsville earlier that week, The women she met were all wearing the same shoes — issued by ICE. Green explained:

All I saw was women who were fleeing, who just wanted a better life. I saw myself, because when I got out of prison, there was no one there to greet me. But I knew what it felt like when I got on that bus and I was able to go someplace better, and I cried like a baby. Because I know what those shoes look like.

Maddie Fenn, Khury Petersen-Smith and Lea Ramirez contributed to this article.

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