Barb Cooley lived in Kalamazoo for her whole career as a high school teacher, and was active in People’s Church and ISAAC before she and her family moved out of state. Her brother’s letter below amplifies the message of the Anti-Racism Task Force at the ISAAC Public Meeting on October 25.
Family here and there,
Some of you referred to our border situation here in your Christmas/holiday greetings, so I am motivated to share some of our local observations with you who live far away from here.
Of course there is no “invasion” of evil brown-skinned people who crawl over our walls and into our communities intending harm to us. But the some of the visuals in the “main stream” media may leave some folks you know a bit confused. After all a small number of Central Americans have scaled the wall or fences in some places and landed in U.S. territory, so what gives?
First, these thousands of refugees from Central America are trying to get status as asylum-seekers, not invaders. Their aim in crossing the border in isolated places is to turn themselves in to the Border Patrol, not to evade them.
Second, as a whole they have little understanding of how folks like themselves actually get into the U.S. and most are very surprised about how hard the process is to even apply for whatever status they might qualify for. Now they are confronted with the realities of the difficulties and are weighing their options to stay and settle down in Tijuana for some time or to return home with assistance from the Mexican government in many cases. The new, leftist government there (AMLO shares many politics with Bernie Sanders) is trying to make the best of it in a humanitarian way. AMLO is fighting corruption and bad politics in Mexico and it is still a poor country, so don’t expect miracles from them right away.
Third, unlike an earlier caravan organized by Pueblo Sin Fronteras, an international service organization who deals with the realities of the border despite their name (think “Doctors Without Borders”), this caravan was not led by any substantial organization. According to credible reports in the LA Times, Central Americans observed the success of that first caravan in making the long journey through Mexico much more safely than those treks made by individuals or led by “coyotes” (for hire). So they copied that earlier effort and here they are!
Some here are suspicious that the timing was terrible for our U.S. mid-term elections, but these folks don’t care about that–they have bigger crises in their lives at home and are looking for any relief that seems remotely hopeful.
When you hear or read of their stories you realize that they, like so many refugees of dire circumstances before them all over the world, are the brave ones who would dare to leave their homes and venture so far into the unknown.
These are those immigrants we should want most–who have the inner strength to make such journeys with only the future in mind. The real hardships are occurring in Tijuana where maybe 6,000 + refugees have ended this phase of their journeys to consider their options. Tijuana is a very working class city for the most part, without lots of public facilities to cope with this influx of needy people. Some residents are resentful because they already struggle to make their modest ends meet. Many thousands cross the US border every day to work here, making this border the busiest daily crossing in the world, I believe.
I think the new Mexican national government will bring resources and fresh thinking to this problem, and it can not come too soon. Tijuana is already burdened with the daily deportations by ICE of Mexicans caught in the increased ICE enforcement and dropped off at the border in bus loads. I have met them at one of the deportee service centers run by locals in Tijuana.
Now these deportees and new caravan refugees must figure out if they want to try and settle down in Tijuana or go somewhere else. Luckily for them there are lots of job openings in the local economy. The government is offering them legal immigration status with the right to work and some job-seeking assistance. But the decision to settle in Tijuana is not where these folks started from, so there is counseling needed, too, to help them think this all through. Over 2,000 new arrivals have applied for legal status in Mexico so that they can settle in and get to work there. Haitian deportees have done the same and are making work for them as an example.
People on our US side of the border have organized several forms of assistance to all these folks, deportees and caravan refugees. Our Employee Rights Center is part of the San Diego Rapid Response Network which was organized this year to help families here cope with ICE arrests and deportations that are splitting families apart and creating more fear among so many immigrants settled here with families, jobs, homes, etc., and now the caravan on top of it all.
The voices urging compassion are much louder here than the voices urging revenge or whatever against all these families being torn apart or mired in desperate conditions on the streets of Tijuana. And the nights are chilly with moist marine air–not the cold of winter up north but not at all comfortable either.
I hope that the stories being told of these people’s plight are getting more play nationally than the fearful hype in some of our media. We have so much available space across the US to accommodate all of them and the local resources to make their transition possible and the least traumatic. It must be local and state efforts reaching out that will make the difference.
Some criticize California for being so pro-immigrant (at this point) and point to our relative poverty to discredit that stance. But California has the world’s 5th or 6th largest economy and continues to grow. We have poverty because we have so many low-paying jobs in agriculture, retail, hospitality, etc. Poverty will lessen as CA continues to increase its state minimum wage to $15 per hour in the next couple of years. Even now employers are paying more than that just to attract workers to the jobs we have. CA has the demographics of the future and makes it work better than many would think.
If hope this is informative. Thanks for offering your words of support and understanding.
– Peter [brother of ISAAC supporter Barb Cooley]