Over the last three weeks, LUPE organizers have received more than 30 reports of Border Patrol activity in colonias from Pharr all the way to Mercedes. As reported previously, colonia residents fear for their families and livelihoods and many don’t want to leave their homes. Area businesses have been left deserted. Many have not even wanted to risk going to the area clinic or pharmacy.
In response to this general fear felt by LUPE members, we called for an emergency meeting between LUPE leaders and lawyer Celestino Gallegos of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid to come up with a plan of action.
In order to stress the importance of publicizing the heartbreaking stories and collecting information on potential abuses of power, the meeting started out with reports from members about incidents they’ve witnessed.One member recounted how she went with her daughter to the clinic at the corner of 1015 and mile 12 1/2 but didn’t want to go in because there were Border Patrol agents out side of the clinic and pharmacy. No one wanted to go to their appointments because of fear.
Over last weekend Border Patrol made arrests at the San Juan Pulga. One member said, “The Border Patrol raided the flea market last week–so I don’t know where to shop.” The day after the raid the flea market was empty.
Near the corner of 1015 and Mile 12 there are many businesses. One member reported going to get his hair cut with his son. There were various Border Patrol agents going around in that area picking up people. The agents were stopped outside of businesses waiting to pick people up as they exited. Pretty soon the area was empty, no one going in and out of businesses like usual. He said that in the past, the Border Patrol has been in the area but there haven’t been problems since residents know the agents are searching for the bad guys, the drug smugglers and human traffickers. They’ve eaten at the same table in restaurants and it’s been fine. But since about a month ago when they started picking up families and workers up until now they don’t have any confidence in them.
Member Jose reported that he receives calls almost daily about people getting picked up. In one story the Border Patrol came to the door of a family’s house. They were so scared of being separated that they hid in the closet. After the Border Patrol wouldn’t leave the front of the house they exited the back and hid in an empty trailer. The Border Patrol entered the house and when they didn’t see anyone in the house they left.The meeting continued with a presentation by TRLA’s Celestino Gallegos. The presentation focused on understanding the rights of all people when confronted by immigration agents. Celestino said that the two most important rights immigrants have are the right to remain silent and the right against unlawful searches. Someone being detained should not answer any question that can cause self-incrimination. They should stay calm and insist on remaining silent and that the officers give them the opportunity to call their lawyer. Celestino said that the law says that immigration agents have to have justification for stopping and questioning people, but they unfortunately start asking questions and then come up with the justification once they get someone.
When in the home and an agent of immigration comes to the door, it is important that the person not open the door. If the principal door of the home is not open, an agent must have a search warrant signed by a federal judge with the name of a person living at that residence to enter. Even then, the agents can only inquire about the person indicated on the search warrant. It is important to not open the door to the agents. An open door will be interpreted as consent to a search. If the agent has a search warrant, ask them to slip it under the door.
One of the biggest outrages was the Border Patrol’s presence around the homes of some of the poorest residents of the RGV. Colonia residents’ household income is often far below the poverty line. “People that live in the rich neighborhoods in Sharyland or the Cimarron come here with money and buy houses,” said Celestino. “And many of them don’t have papers either but they don’t have to suffer raids.” The Border Patrol are profiling based on class. Whether they think of it that way or not, this is an attack on working people and families.
The final and most urgent part of the meeting was a discussion of what steps we can take together to fight the round ups. A number of people at the meeting stressed the fact that there is strength in numbers. Indeed, without the protection of a sane immigration system or dignified federal immigration reform, the only defense we have is how strong, creatively and effectively we organize ourselves.Martha Sanchez, LUPE organizer, said that the most urgent actions we can take are knowing our rights when confronted by Border Patrol and writing down the testimonials of people affected by raids and family separation. If we document very clearly what is happening we will have stories to report abuses, change the minds of the public in support of reform, and support legal action against deportation in each individual case.
Together, members and organizers decided on a plan of action. Starting now, we will advance a major “Know Your Rights” educational campaign that will educate immigrants throughout the colonias on what to do when confronted by immigration officials. Additionally, we will educate each other on how best to document abuses using written testimonials and picture and video when possible. After having clear documentation we will visit the local heads of the Border Patrol and ICE with the documentation. Also with this documentation in hand, we will visit the Institute of Mexicans in the Exterior and talk to representatives of Hidalgo County. In the mean time, we will begin forming neighborhood watches in each colonia to alert the community of raids so that we can keep each other safe, document abuses, and those of us with documents can denounce the raids.
This plan of action will be presented to the all of the membership at tonight’s general membership meeting, where we will be able to get additional input and ideas.