MCALLEN, TX — At least 60 advocates braved sauna-like conditions near the Texas border on Saturday to rally across the street from the McAllen Border Patrol Station, showing their support for the influx of unaccompanied Latin American children being apprehended there.
About 57,000 children, mostly from Central America, have been detained this fiscal year by Border Patrol agents, many in Texas’s Rio Grand Valley towns, like McAllen. Studies show that — at least since 2009 — children have been leaving the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala in droves because of increasing violence and grinding poverty, taking dangerous journeys to the U.S. to seek refuge.
The rally, which was also an interfaith prayer vigil, was meant to counter hundreds of planned “anti-amnesty” protests across the country over the Obama administration’s handling of the surge. Only three people showed up nearby as part of the national anti-immigrant protests. They said they expected others to arrive, but also speculated they may have “gotten the wrong address.”
Attendees at the rally in support of the children brought messages of love, compassion, and sympathy for children for whom they feared a return to Latin America could mean certain death.
Here are the top ten signs that advocates brought to the rally:
1. Some alluded to the tragic maltreatment of minors crossing the border, such as incidents where Tea Party protestors have berated children as they are bused to processing centers.
2. America: A nation of immigrants.
3. A little Texas hospitality goes a long way, y’all.
4. “USA: Defined by how we treat immigrants.”
5. One of the core reasons for the recent surge of child immigrants is the sharp uptick in gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Sending children back to broken communities in these countries puts them at great risk of injury, rape, and even death.
6. Paddington Bear has something to say about immigration as well.
7. The vigil included representatives from several religious traditions, including Catholics, Unitarians, Presbyterians, and Muslims. Faith groups have been at the forefront of efforts to offer relief to the unaccompanied minors, and Pope Francis recently called for the international community to work together to address the crisis. A regional atheist group was also present at the rally to express support for the kids.
8. “Believe in the value and the dignity of each person = protect refugees.”
9. The Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act, recently introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), seeks to expedite the process of trying unaccompanied minors by making the federal government deport Central American children just as quickly as they already do with Mexican children. However, the act would deny many of these children the fair trial they deserve, and would probably only hurt those it claims to protect.
10. Some 2,000 people have died trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border over the past 10 years. That number could increase as more and more Central Americans flee horrific violence and poverty in their home countries.
Linda Yanez, a former state judge, told ThinkProgress that these children should be given the right to plead their cases in front of an immigration judge, and that any proposed legislation would actually harm their ability to do so. “I’m not against the Border Patrol, they’re just doing their jobs,” Yanez said. “It’s about our policy lawmakers and about what they tell our Border Patrol to do. I’m here to support due process.”
“The fact that gangs and drug lords have the biggest influence is something we can’t ignore,” Yanez added. “It’s a life and death situation… It’s Sophie’s choice. If these are my choices, I’m going to take the one that gives my child some chance at survival.”