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As Mexicans Protest US-Fueled Drug War, Sanctuary Movement Backs Church Refuge for the Undocumented

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People from around the world joined a day of action on Thursday to demand justice for the 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa teacher’s college who have been missing since September following a police attack. Earlier this month authorities said two suspects had confessed to killing the students and incinerating their bodies, leading investigators to badly burned remains, which are still being analyzed. Outrage erupted across Mexico Thursday, as caravans of the missing students’ families and classmates converged in Mexico City. Tens of thousands rallied in the main square, and a 30-foot effigy of President Enrique Peña Nieto was set on fire. We are joined by one of the organizers of the day’s events, Juan Carlos Ruiz, a priest and community activist who serves as immigration liaison with the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Ruiz is also one of the co-founders of the New Sanctuary Movement, which supports immigrants across the country who have taken refuge in churches to avoid deportation.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Thursday, people from around the world joined a day of action to demand justice for the 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa teacher’s college who have been missing since September following a police attack. Earlier this month, authorities said two suspects had confessed to killing the students and incinerating their bodies, leading investigators to badly burned remains, which are still being analyzed. Outrage erupted across Mexico Thursday as caravans of the missing students’ families and classmates converged in Mexico City. Tens of thousands rallied in the main square, and a 30-foot effigy of President Enrique Peña Nieto was set on fire. Here in New York, protesters gathered in front of the Mexican Consulate. These are some of their voices, beginning with Israel Galindo. It took him about two minutes to read the list of cities and countries participating in the day of action.

ISRAEL GALINDO: Denver, Colorado; Bakerfield, California; El Paso; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Phoenix; Illinois; San Marcos; etc.

PROTESTERS: The people, united, will never be defeated! The people, united, will never be defeated!

ERIKA VELAZQUEZ: [translated] I am from the community that is now bleeding. I am outraged. I came to this country looking for the American dream, and I left my roots and I left my family behind. It’s difficult to live in this country, calling every night to see if we’re going to find our relatives alive. I am the daughter of a rural teacher, a teacher who taught some of the young people who are now disappeared. She prays every night that they find them, because she does not believe that those ashes belong to that which she sowed, to the people she taught since they were small, how to write, how to fight. Ayotzinapa is not the beginning of the violence in Mexico. It has to be the end.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Erika Velazquez, who’s from the Mexican state of Guerrero, speaking Thursday night here in New York City. The protesters marched from Grand Central Station, where some staged a die-in.

For more, we’re joined by one of the organizers of the day’s events, Juan Carlos Ruiz, a priest and community activist who serves as immigration liaison with the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. He’s also one of the co-founders of the New Sanctuary Movement, which is supporting immigrants across the country who have taken refuge in churches to avoid deportation.

So, very interesting timing—you have these mass protests in Mexico and the United States, not related to President Obama speaking last night, but in fact it all converges on the same day.

JUAN CARLOS RUIZ: It’s basically something that is related. I know it can not seem, but we—organizers here in New York City, we keep saying that if Mexico does not have a solution, we’ll have continuing waves of new immigrants coming to this—to our shores. There has been a dirty war being played on Mexico, sponsored by U.S. dollars. It’s $2.1 billion so far. And this is negatively impacting our communities, our people. The bullets that we may find in the students, that we find in our peasants, in our indigenous people, are labeled “U.S.-made.” So this is a murder made in U.S., and we need to denounce that. If there is no solution to Mexico, we will be accepting or being forced to accept new waves of immigrants coming from Mexico. I mean, these are our neighbors from the south.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and clearly, about two-thirds of all the undocumented in the country come from Mexico, so your point is well taken in terms of the enormous role that Mexico plays in terms of American society and in terms of the immigrant population, Latino immigrant population. But I wanted to ask you—there’s been some indication that the Obama administration has especially pressed forward on this, that the migration from Mexico has reduced, has tamped down in recent years. But that doesn’t mean necessarily that those who are coming are not fleeing, as you say, the political troubles and the repression that they’re facing.

JUAN CARLOS RUIZ: Yes, and you have to look at this. Mexico has waged—staged this image that Mexico has become a secure, peaceful country, and this is the image that is being projected to the exterior, while the Mexican people know that our institutions are falling apart. There is a grabbing of land by multinationals, by corporations, that is displacing massive amounts of people. You know, Mexico has the most NAFTA treaties signed. You know, with this new signed reform, energy reform, we are expecting more people being kind of abandoned by the institution, being forced out of their homes.

AMY GOODMAN: Among the marchers at Thursday’s rally here in New York, the march that you led, was Lucero Acosta, who came to the U.S. this year from Morelos, Mexico, seeking political asylum.

LUCERO ACOSTA: Eight months ago, I came asking for political asylum, because—I can’t talk too much about my case, but I couldn’t stay anymore in Mexico because of the violence and corruption. It’s a nightmare living in Mexico now. There is violence everywhere. People is dying everywhere. Like, Mexico is bleeding. We’re receiving like calls from people asking for money, and if we don’t give them money, you know, they tell us that we’re going to get killed. Some of the women have been raped. And we—the government doesn’t do anything about it. Like, if we go and tell the police, they will say, “Oh, if you don’t have any proof, we can’t help you.” So, it’s very difficult to live in a country where nobody—like, there is no justice, nobody can help us.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Lucero Acosta, who went on to say that she will not be able to apply under the new—she won’t benefit from Obama’s executive action, because she came to the United States too recently. But she fears for her life if she’s sent back to Mexico. Speaking of which, we turn now to the issue of the New Sanctuary Movement. In Philadelphia, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, who’s a mother of two U.S. citizens, entered a church this week to take sanctuary from her final deportation order.

ANGELA NAVARRO: [translated] My name is Angela Navarro, mother of two citizens and spouse of a citizen, leader of my parish, worker. And I am tired of living in the fear and darkness of being deported. I am taking sanctuary, which means I will live in a church without leaving, leaving behind my life, my home, my work, to fight so the government withdraws my deportation order. We demand that President Obama keep his promise and end all deportations.

AMY GOODMAN: Immigrants with U.S. citizen children, like Angela Navarro, will benefit from Obama’s executive order, but it remains unclear if those who have final deportation orders already issued against them will be spared. So far, for now, Navarro remains in the church. Juan Carlos Ruiz, can you talk about what’s happening? It’s in Denver, Philadelphia, people taking refuge in churches, like the old sanctuary movement.

JUAN CARLOS RUIZ: Yeah. Well, we basically see that most of our people, the majority of our people, are not going to find any relief. It is a hopeful sign, this executive order, but it’s fragile. We don’t know what’s going to happen after the new administration takes on. So, what we’ve been doing, in terms—around the nation is that our faith communities are organizing to really push the envelope, to really allow the people who are suffering from this unjust law to tell their story, to humanize. Right now, I think there is a climate, a culture bent on destruction, bent on separating our families, bent on enforcing a law that is still very much splitting up the people from our communities.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what’s been the response from the hierarchies of some of the major churches to the sanctuary movement of individual churches?

JUAN CARLOS RUIZ: Justice—the sense of justice and outrage is felt. But I am afraid that many times we, as churches, as religious institutions, we fall into the trap of—we have a great infrastructure of servicing, and we do not do enough in terms of seeking the justice that is needed. And I am afraid that that infrastructure is riddled with an enforcement, punitive aspect of our laws, that do not provide any relief, any human decency, any dignity for the people that we are serving.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan Carlos Ruiz, we want to thank you for being with us, priest and co-founder of the New Sanctuary Movement, immigration liaison with the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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