Organizers in Texas are launching an intensive effort to educate and unite communities along the state’s border with Mexico, amid an onslaught of legislation targeting immigrants at the national and state-wide level. It’s the latest indication that progressive activists are prepared to fight back against hardline government crackdowns.
Texas immigration advocates and lawmakers announced Wednesday that the TogetherJuntos Caravan will travel from El Paso to Houston over the course of two weeks, making stops in border communities along the way. The effort will serve predominately to educate Latinx communities about SB4, a law cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities, in addition to unifying border towns and providing basic know-your-rights training sessions.
The caravan “was born out of the need to respond to the attack against Latino, immigrant and communities of color created by [the] passage and implementation of [SB4],” said Fernando Garcia, Executive Director of Border Network for Human Rights. “The aim of the Caravan is to connect different communities to create a joint effort to resist the anti-immigrant attack[s] in Texas.”
On a call Wednesday afternoon, Garcia and other organizers emphasized that the caravan — which will pass through Marfa, Presidio, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Laredo, El Cenizo, San Benito, McAllen, San Juan, Brownsville, and Corpus Christi before reaching Houston on April 12 — has become a necessity.
“This caravan is very important for border residents. We must inform our communities of the negative effects of SB4 and train individuals on how to protect themselves,” said Juanita Valdez-Cox, who works with La Union del Pueblo Entero.
Fear has been welling for months along the U.S.-Mexico border. When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) introduced SB4 last year, it forced residents and lawmakers to face a stark choice: comply with federal immigration policies or face prison time and potential removal from public office. Numerous legal challenges kept the law from taking effect for months, with opponents arguing the legislation was tantamount to a “show me your papers”-style constitutional violation. But earlier in March, a three-judge panel declared the law could go forward, leaving the state’s large immigrant population — many of whom are undocumented — terrified.
The fallout from SB4 has already been severe. Officials in a number of cities expressed concern after the law’s introduction that the legislation would drive a wedge between communities of color and police. That prediction is already coming to fruition: between the time SB4 was introduced and May 2017, the number of Latinx Texans reporting sexual assault in Houston dropped a dramatic 43 percent. Robberies and aggravated assaults reported by Latinx residents also dropped 12 percent.
With SB4 now the law of the land, officials and activists are worried about the negative implications for the state’s nearly 11 million Latinx residents. By educating Texans about SB4, the TogetherJuntos Caravan organizers hope to mitigate any continued fallout that could hurt the community further.
“We need to remember that the Constitution itself is not suspended. It has to be complied with. It doesn’t mean that law enforcement can act as immigration officer. They cannot stop and arrest people without probable cause because of their immigration status,” said Texas State Sen. Jose Rodriquez, who represents District 29. Rodriquez emphasized on Wednesday that “immigrants should be made aware of their Constitutional right to stay silent from law enforcement inquiring about immigration status.”
Eduardo Canales, the founder and executive director of the South Texas Human Rights Center, added that spreading information is especially critical for border communities.
“Texas has been the brunt of militarization with troops at the border and the Texas government looking to deploy more troops. The officers in the street are the deciding factor if families are going to be torn apart,” Canales said. “We’re all about connecting them. The application of the law, as well as racial profiling and discrimination, needs to be documented. There needs to be accountability and these people need to know that there are organizations who are documenting these abuses. Trump is trying to purge the country of ethnic and Mexican communities. It is critical that we pay attention.”
SB4 may be the caravan’s leading focus, but it’s far from the only concern at hand. Under President Trump, national raids and deportations have accelerated. The White House ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last September, leaving hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants in limbo. On Monday night, the administration announced that a citizenship question will be included in the 2020 Census, marking the first time such a question has been asked in upwards of 70 years.
Actions like those are hanging over border communities, where many residents have indicated they will opt out of being counted rather than disclose their immigration status. (Under the Constitution, all U.S. residents, whether citizens or otherwise, are intended to be counted every decade.) Advocates can’t change that climate of fear, but La Union del Pueblo Entero’s Valdez-Cox emphasized that the caravan’s organizers intend to arm vulnerable communities with coping mechanisms, wherever possible.
“We will not quietly accept something that is hurting our families, disrupting community trust, and creating a fear amongst individuals who witness crimes and would like to report them,” she said.