EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — On Wednesday, the Border Network for Human Rights convened local thought leaders and advocates to discuss the potential effects on border communities and immigration policies pursuant to the elections and ongoing public health crisis.
“This is a defining moment,” says Fernando Garcia, executive director at the Border Network for Human Rights.
“Whatever the result, politics is not going to be the same. It is not only the soul of a nation but what an American is supposed to be,” he continued. “In the last four years, we’ve seen unprecedented situations at the border: children in cages, people rejected, walls erected in our neighborhoods.”
Garcia spoke on issues that he says are indicative of the federal government’s desire to militarize the border and criminalize migrants and refugees.
“We’d like to think that’s not the character of our country,” said Garcia, “that immigrants are not criminals, but assets.”
“Whatever the results, it is our duty and the American way to pass comprehensive immigration reform to allow immigrants to live in this country with dignity,” Garcia continued.
Diocese of El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz addressed the pervasive senses of anxiety, frustration and desperation that many are feeling while states work to tally the votes.
“We’re choosing a President — not a Savior,” said Seitz, reminding the community of its duty to protect the vulnerable and those in need.
Seitz underscored the many challenges migrants and refugees have faced prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the “zero tolerance” policy established in March designed to halt immigration into the U.S. from the Mexican border.
There are no practical methods for people who need to cross the border to gain legal access into the U.S., argued Seitz.
“The welcome mat has been removed and replaced by a wall,” he said.
Issues of racism — domestic and foreign — were buttressed by efforts to examine and change these systems in El Paso.
Pastor Michael Grady, who serves on the El Paso Accountability Task Force, says it’s the task force’s mission to uncover systemic racism in the Borderland, speak truth to power and demand accountability to meet the needs of those served by the El Paso Police Department.
“We must have law enforcement who is not prejudiced, but rather are dedicated to serving those who have been left out, the disenfranchised,” said Grady. “The thing to bring us together is not the law — it’s empathy.”
Despite an overwhelming sense of confusion and bleakness, community leaders urge El Pasoans to be proud of the organization and mobilization of voters.
“You went out there to vote during the middle of a pandemic, despite the dangers and the hurdles,” said Cemelli de Aztlan, a network weaver at the El Paso Equal Voice Network.
“I read a thousand El Pasoans are going to die by December from COVID-19 and the election doesn’t change that,” she said. “But you went out there with your sanitizers and your masks — and you voted.”