Transcription by Gisela Zuniga
Transcription by Gisela Zuniga
BEATRIX: Hi folks this is Kween Beatrix and welcome to our very first episode of Trucha en la Lucha. This whole series is about uplifting and showcasing all the amazing organizers and their work right here in the Rio Grande Valley. A lot of the times when we see conversations about what’s happening at the border or what’s not happening at the border it’s usually for people that are not from here and people who don’t look like us. So today we’re gonna have some amazing guests to have some even better conversations about immigration, asylum seeking, electoral politics and what we should expect during the next four years of this new administration.
I’m just so excited to have both of you on today do y’all want to introduce yourselves. Name pronouns and who you’re here with today or your role in the community?
CINDY: I’m Cindy Andrade Johnson, she I am a Deaconess Church, but I’m a humanitarian and an advocate for people in the margins and I follow their lead.
ROBERT: I’m Roberto Lopez, I’m a community outreach coordinator with the Texas Civil Rights Project, my pronouns are he him and the bulk of my work is on the border wall but broadly speaking I try to mobilize against border militarization here in South Texas.
BEATRIX: Also I’m super glad to have both of you here with us today. We know that the last four years have been a roller coaster when it comes to immigration and issues here on the border with asylum seekers. Tell me, you know whoever wants to start, tell me a little bit about your work. What it is, you’ve been doing the last four years and where are we today?
CINDY: Well myself, I have learned a lot from you about our community about not being misaligned and the other one is also the other one is where people colonize. So when I went and I went to work at the migrant camp in Matamoros, I went with a listening mind. To listen to see how I can be a support. I’ve been doing a lot of the medical, just buying medication and then just listening and being friends with my migrant siblings there. I’ve been involved with their migration for a long time with La Posada and that has been my primary role because not many people can go into Matamoros because of COVID. So there’s where most of the work and I don’t even call it work because I am learning and really getting some Incredible, incredible relationships with our migrant siblings that I didn’t have before.
BEATRIX: Oh my god thank you so much for your work. I’ve seen you on social media constantly posting about being in the migrant camps and I am personally grateful for your work in our community. Robert, tell us a little bit more about what you do.
ROBERTO: Yeah, thank you and I really like what she said (Cindy) too about relationships because it’s not like, I mean, they’re…they’re not… like we don’t want them to be portrayed as victims or anything like that. They are, we’re working alongside them for for justice in a sense, so, so I really appreciate that
For myself, for the last four years ago, I was teaching math in San Benito High School math and back in 2017 I went to volunteer with Texas civil rights project. Since then I’ve been doing a mixture of things and it’s been really helpful to work along all these different organizers and I’ve been welcomed into the community at this point and I’ve been learning so much.
At the start it was dealing with the DACA decision and doing renewals for individuals from like September 5th through October 5th of 2017. Like rapid response and then as time has gone on we’ve been, TCRP has been on the front lines with family separation. Our attorneys were going into court and so part of my role was to try and bring down national law firms to just represent these families as quickly as possible and make sure that they weren’t going to be deported without their children. Then as MPP was rolled out and brought down to South Texas, our attorneys were also going across. We were trying to tell the stories in particular, the LGBTQ migrants who had been affected by the program and many of whom still have not been allowed entry. So my role has been like a mix of things but front and center has been trying to make sure that people know what the heck is going on down here. So that has been what I’ve been doing and you know a lot of different stuff has been happening but right now also my focus is the same thing, trying to bring the border to the rest of the country and tell people about this really terrible border wall.
BEATRIX: I think that’s important because I think a lot of the times we see, is this certain picture that is painted in the media that very often time are not anywhere near the reality of what’s actually going on and you know? I’m just grateful, you know, there’s a lot of us, there are a lot of people here in this in this region that are dedicated to doing that kind of work and for me when I was thinking about having this conversation on immigration and asylum seekers asylum seeking, I thought about y’all, you know, because I have seen y’all in the trenches, so you did mention MPP Roberto. What is MPP and where are we now with MPP? We have a new president in office, we have a new White House who has an administration and a lot of things have been happening in the first couple of days. Maybe by the time this airs things will change again so yeah, talk to us a little about what MPP is and where we are with that now?
ROBERTO: Yes so MPP the Migrant Protection Protocols which is really terrible name because it doesn’t it doesn’t it’s not meant to protect migrants, it’s meant to deter them, but it was, it is a program that was a program that was built to keep people waiting out their asylum claims in northern Mexico. It started off in Tijuana and then sort of rolled its way down the border throughout 2019 and essentially, you know, people would would cross the apprehended and our commitments to the international community state that as someone comes across and is trying to seek asylum, we need to give them, you know to have a credible fear we need to give them an interview we need to assess that. If they do have that credible fear then we need to allow entry to the country so that they can await their immigration proceedings in safety. The remaining Mexico program said that well they can actually wait in Northern Mexico. That hit the Rio Grande Valley here in Matamoros around late July of 2019. So you know in Matamoros in particular it was very like very visceral you could see it, it was individuals living in tent camps in a rather large tent encampment for a very long time and that sort of the picture that we’ve seen. What we know now with the new administration is that the people are no longer being placed in Remain in Mexico, but there are a ton of questions as to what that really means, so what happens if someone is still coming across and Trying to enter? The new immigration legislation that is being proposed will not protect anyone. If someone has come across recently and then the administration is still implementing something new that’s kind of the crazy expulsions, Title 42. You know the so-called “process” which is where someone is picked up and then just without any sort of you know due process put on a plane and sent back to their home country. So we don’t know, while Remain Mexico appears to be dead in a sense there are a lot of different traps and anti-immigrant policies that the last administration had an effect on. Which frankly I think the current administration probably likes because they don’t have to deal with immigrants, they don’t have to deal with the Right calling out calling them out which we know they’re going to do anyways. The status right now is that yeah, I mean Remain in Mexico is somewhat dead but there are all these other Hydra of things against the most vulnerable people.
BEATRIX: Definitely so they’re still plenty of mystery. Things are still up in the air. Cindy you’re in the camps, what is that like right now and then backtrack after that, you know, what have the camps been like? What have those been like in the last four years?
CINDY: Those camps are inhumane. We gotta just say it. There should be a commission to check how people were treated. There has been no electricity, no running water. No really great support from anyone, just groups like we have in the Valley and throughout the US that help. You can paint that picture anyway you want but it is very, very inhumane. They’re living with rats, with snakes, during hurricane season. So when they are saying they have to wait, just like Robert was saying, they can’t go because they will be expelled. They can’t move right now, in essence MPP is still in place. They cannot come into the US and everyday people are still in danger. Not only physical danger and everything, there’s also their rights are not being delivered. Attorneys always tell me, “ I emphasize on the physical danger.” Just being a teacher I know they’re not getting good food, there are psychological aspects, there are LGBTQ people in danger, everyone is in danger. So every single day counts, so when someone says all they can wait, another six month’s it is a false narrative. They might be forced to wait six months, but in danger and inhumane conditions. I just wanted to emphasize and I like how Robert explains it, that we got a long way to go.
What we see there, people having babies. I’ve seen babies born and now they’re close to two years old, so imagine that miles that they are missing in their growing. So when I think about it, I love the relationships we have but I’d rather have them anywhere else because it is so horrible there.
BEATRIX: It’s one of the things where you have to, you have to, like-you may see it on camera in the news, but unless you’re physically there it’s a whole different space. I’m definitely you know, for sure Covid 19 has probably made things a lot more difficult. What kind of challenges have you seen Cindy with the pandemic and camps in Matamoros?
CINDY: Well, we do have some medical teams there but Covid has limited people coming. Yeah, I don’t know if it is an excuse or a reality because you don’t want anyone exposed. It is isolated and it has been used as a way to stop people from going to court and stopping the process. So that has been horrible. But no matter what you give, if you don’t have choices and are told to go to a certain doctor, certain anything.
No matter what you give, you don’t have choices. You are in prison or a place that is inhumane. Sometimes they’ll put you know, now they have a swing set there. Beautiful but that doesn’t make it where I want to be. There are still all the things that, just where you don’t have any rights and whatever you can do, it’s just wrong. Like you said, all the groups have done a beautiful job and sometimes I feel like we’re slamming ourselves, but we are just a little patchwork for something that’s really wrong
BEATRIX: Yeah I just want to center something you said, there’s no choice there. You know, these are people who are already vulnerable, who are already fleeing very dangerous conditions in their home. You know, back home where they’re at, wherever it is, they’re coming from and then coming back here, that’s the thing. What always upsets me is that they come to places like Matamoros with that hope and that dream to be able to come over to the US and then are forced to live in these conditions for God knows how long you know. I’ve heard stories or folks who are there just a couple of days or a couple weeks and then some folks have been there like you said years at this point. So we have again, I want to come back to this, a new administration- we can start with Roberto. What are we hoping for when it comes to immigration? In terms of the new administration, what would we want to see? How do we get there ?
ROBERTO: Yeah, um, I mean it’s tricky because sometimes it makes me feel crazy when I see others, you know, individuals celebrating on Twitter certain, you know types of things. That I feel like, I think maybe want something- to give an example for is like: a push to protect five to six million immigrants for the sake because they’re undocumented workers because they’re essential and it kind of starts to, I don’t understand why we can’t just try to help tell the full 11 million, 12 million. Like why do we have to divide it into two different groups and call some people essential and others not essential? So what I want from the Biden administration, you know, complete protection for all the undocumented here and who are building this country and supporting it and who are its future. I don’t understand, these are the things that I think about, we have-we went to the moon with less technology than is freaking in our smartphones. Why can’t we? Like we’re smart people, we’re a very capable country. We have a lot of money, a lot of power and a lot of resources. Why can we not get individuals across the river and processed fairly humanely without forcing them to stay in detention centers for no more than 24 hours? Why can’t we just do it?
So, what I think, you know, what I hope from the Biden administration, I don’t think is gonna happen but I really do think we need to stop these extra judicial processes like the expulsions. There’s also Pacer Harper aka like these cooperation agreements between ourselves and Guatemala and other countries that we’ve kind of forced into these agreements frankly. There’s this whole web of you know, that the Trump administration has created. There are things that we don’t really even think about or talk about such as asylum regulations, rules that have made it exceptionally difficult if you are in the country, even if you are able to apply for asylum.
There are these little traps kind of placed within current immigration regulations which would sort of like throw away your whole case if one bit of evidence was falsified that you may not have ever known about. So, you know, I think that we need to roll back all of this. Everything that Trump has done but I think that we should also be much more ambitious about who we try to support and welcome to our country. I think that it’s just unfair to not to not recognize the impact and the power that immigrants have for our country and I wish we would do more.
BEATRIX: Cindy from your perspective, Dr. Jill Biden was down here at the border, correct? She did make a visit to the migrant camps. What was that experience like and do you think that will potentially influence another or other things that the migrants were doing? I think there were some postcards or letters that were being written from the migrants themselves. Talk to me about that and then also do you think that will influence or have any weight with what’s gonna happen with this new administration in terms of immigration and asylum seeking?
CINDY: Well, I think people are getting smarter. What Robert said is so true that we have to go beyond these little basic things, of stopping harm to helping. We are very smart people and we can figure it out. We need to listen to the migrants because we talk among ourselves a lot. And that’s where we organize there with the migrants and they did the postcards.
We got a reaction because of the postcards.Which was really great and now there’s other groups doing the postcard but the migrants themselves wrote the postcard. We did a second round to congratulate him and don’t forget us because of the time frame because a lot of people are pushing “let’s wait let’s wait.” Well someone can die and someone will if we don’t do something fast enough.
I hope the Biden Administration listens to the migrants and to the people that have hands-on experience doing the work. Also there’s a lot of little stings there to trip someone up so that they do not have their, what is it called?
ROBERTO: The credible fear.
CINDY: Credible fear interview because they’ll ask them first “Are you coming to work?”.and they say yes no one wants to be a freeloader and they’ll use thato say, “you came to work not because you were really tortured in your home.” But they didn’t ask that question. So those things we needed to talk to people and see why people that are traumatized how they answer and we haven’t talked about trauma. We and how to work with people that are in trauma states. All these things that need to be looked at. I think there could be positive things coming out. I know there’s positive things but even the process. We are smart enough to figure it out, sorry if I talk too much about that one.
BEATRIX: The borderlands are some of the safest communities in the country and what we see is this rhetoric and hopefully things do change with this new administration. I think there’s a lot of room for growth. I’m trying to do the positive feedback thing right. If I was Biden’s manager, I’d be like, “there’s always room for growth” right but it’s one of those things where we have to keep doing what we’re doing. We have to keep speaking out and what .
So is there anything else that I’m missing? Is there something that we’re missing in this conversation? I know obviously we should be talking to the migrants themselves and getting them into these conversations, but right now as people here today, what are we you know, what else are we missing?
CINDY: I’m looking forward to seeing and keeping an eye on those that keep the basic promises that were given. We heard day one MPP would end but that means not saying “you’re staying there.” So we got to hold accountable the administration of the promises. Iof the promises that did happen move forward further and this is a time to do it. I think that Latinos and all people, not just Latinos because of what we have seen. I think we’re all very organized and want to move more. Thinking of positive and the wonderful things that have been happening around Brownsville, in the Valley, everywhere. We’re moving forward for more justice in all areas.
Injustice in one area is injustice everywhere and I just want to keep us moving on because this is in it for the long haul. It’s not going to be done in a few years but we gotta keep going still.
Now let’s get really engaged in these policies of basic policies that they promised us and then move on from there to make life better for all of us.
ROBERTO: I think something to add to and what you’re bringing up to Beatrix, is like the construction companies are making money. The private Geogroup and other groups like that, we don’t often talk about. I’m even blanking on their names, but there are several other types all across the country. I think like La Salle is another type and then you know, the virtual wall for instance. Which is sort of the alternative to what is probably gonna happen. Like having drones, having surveillance towers. All this stuff well, the people that make those are like Boeing Raytheon all you know, there’s a whole bunch of money to be made all over the world as we continue to scapegoat migrants. It’s not just here in this southern border, it’s in Pakistan it is in Greece and the Mediterranean, it’s huge. I mean as we sort of militarized the world people are making a lot of money out of it. So I guess you know, the thing that I have been thinking about is how do we flip- or end the premise, the prevailing assumption that kind of exists right now? The discussion is how do we stop people from coming in. It’s you know, Republicans want a wall. Democrats want a virtual wall and I don’t think, I don’t feel like anyone’s like stopping and asking like why do we need to stop people in the first place because you know something to celebrate is that it seems like the border wall for the most part with this most recent proclamation, Construction has largely stopped, it’s still moving forward still some here and there but the nightmares scenario that we all kind of expected. You know, like I expected Trump to win. it is not gonna happen but what’s sort of probably gonna happen now is all the money that was appropriated for the border wall is gonna be set back to DHS which, they’re going to be using for boots on the ground, for more tech. We saw predator drones up in Minnesota in the protests, the George Floyd protests earlier this year.
I just feel like we need to ask why we need all that and maybe scrutinize these companies that are making a lot of money and who are contributing to the wealth divide in our country and and those you know, I feel like those are the real people who are hurting us and I wish I wish it was easier to target them and not for black and brown immigrants who are just trying to to be safe..
BEATRIX: I think that’s most of the questions that we have, we do have questions on the border wall is that something y’all want to have a conversation on as well? About because for me I think the border wall is definitely a symptom of these policies, it’s not the first. I mean, we started seeing the border wall idea of a border wall in the Clinton Era. I believe when the first pieces of the law were being built from Clinton to Bush to Obama to this last administration. What do we think about the border wall now? There was obviously an executive order to stop construction on the wall.
CINDY: I think that it was a bad idea from the start and that’s why we gotta look at it as the historical thing. It’s really against us, it’s not really a republican democrat or anything it’s against all of us. I want to just touch base real quick. We need to make systems that normalize migration because we’re all gonna migrate. We’re a migrating world, just do that instead of systems to block migration. That one there we saw that the wall, they used it slowly that they needed for this and that we saw that it is a symbol straight out to say we are othering the other part of the world. We’re isolating ourselves as the United States and that isolation has cost us all over the world.
BEATRIX: I mean, I was in high school when Bush was putting up the wall. I remember, I went to film- I was in the media and tech stuff in high school so I was like filming stuff and I was like, “oh let me get this cool shot of the border.” I literally, it was my junior year of high school, I remember. I was using school equipment too. I was filming the river and I got stopped by a border patrol who took my camera and reviewed my footage. And like at the time I wasn’t as plugged into knowing my rights and stuff so I was scared out of my mind right, um, but that’s like that’s like a small example of the violations that come with the construction of the wall and environment to people. Land grabs people in this country whose property is being taken from them with no question and sacred sites from indigenous communities being bulldozed over with no respect for history and culture of indigenous peoples in our communities. Roberto, I’m sure you’ve done work around this what has that been like and yeah, where are we?
ROBERTO: Talking about where we are now, you know, it’s like, if we think back to what was one of the like most terrible moments- I remember 2018. Around the same time like the family separation crisis was happening there was the reveal of the Facebook group with images of sexual assaults of like AOC of Democratic leaders all of that stuff.
I mean the culture like with half of the force in that group half of I think CBP. The culture of these institutions is just off. There is Hernandez Vs. Mesa which is like a Supreme Court case based on an agent shooting and killing a small child across the border who is playing in a culvert with his friends. That I think sort of explains why even though there’s a present administration, which made it clear that they’re against the wall, we still see destruction happening on a wildlife reserve. At TCRP we have several clients here in South Texas who time and time again have just like a roadway cleared on their property. Without any sort of permission asked without any sort of like compensation to be expected for that. So we have to advocate, it’s like there’s this whole you know, take now asked like ask for forgiveness later sort of thing they assume that they have the right to everything here. I think that’s why we’re gonna continue to see like these- it’s not you know Joe Biden telling them you know, “hey, yeah, you know cut down that grass tear down those forest, tear on those trees.” There’s this whole leadership at the lower level which is continuing to push forward ravenously for itt, or it’s for its project. So I think we need to ask ourselves like why are we spending billions of dollars, why are we spending billions of dollars on these entities which continue to abuse people? Which continue to have like really racist sources?
You know, all the isms like culture and for me like, you know, I think right now I think we’re gonna continue to see some of these things. We’re gonna continue to see violations of human rights, of civil rights. All of this, what we’re seeing at the butter by the butterfly center is expected. I think.