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Rev. William Barber: Tear-Gassing Central American Migrants Is Inhumane, Unconstitutional, Immoral

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U.S. Border Patrol officers fired tear gas into a crowd of desperate Central American asylum seekers Sunday in Tijuana, Mexico, as some tried to push their way through the heavily militarized border with the United States. Mothers and small children were left gagging and screaming as the tear gas spread. The migrants are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and are fleeing widespread violence, poverty and mass unemployment. We speak with Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with Reverend Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach. I want to ask you about what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border. In Tijuana, Mexico, U.S. Border Patrol officers tear-gassed a crowd of desperate Central American asylum seekers as they tried to push their way through the heavily militarized border with the United States. Among those attacked were mothers and small children who were left gagging and screaming as tear gas spread, the migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador fleeing widespread violence, poverty and mass unemployment. If you could talk to us, Reverend Barber, about what has just taken place? And then you have your own situation in Raleigh, where one man took refuge in a church, as sanctuary, and has just been arrested by ICE when he walked outside to go to ICE to be fingerprinted.

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, my co-chair, Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, we’ve actually been invited to go to the border in December to meet the caravan and to be there with other leaders, the American Friends and Quakers and other religious leaders.

This is beyond tragic. First of all, as you noted, these people are fleeing places that were destabilized, and much of the destabilization happened because of our own military policies in Guatemala during the Reagan years. And nobody wants to talk about that. We created a situation that destabilized people. We supported the wrong people in South America and upheld governments that were oppressive to the people, and now many of them are fleeing. And they’re fleeing much of what we helped create, and then we want to push them—or at least Trump and this administration wants to push them back.

The second thing is this is white nationalism. White nationalism says that the first proxy war they must win in the modern era is the one about immigrants. They are afraid of immigrants. They see changing demographics. They see the browning of America. Trump has said it himself over and over again: “What if these people vote?” It is the fact that the Congress and the senators are all, on the Republican side or the extremist side of this, being quiet about this and allowing this man to use the military for all the wrong reasons. But this is white nationalism being played out in public policy. This is racism being played out in public policy.

This is also inhumane. When we see the military turning itself on children and women, it is immoral. I say every day that I wake up, where are the so-called white evangelicals who claim that they follow an immigrant like Jesus, who claim that they follow someone who said the one thing you have to do to be a person of faith is to welcome the stranger? And it’s unconstitutional, because these people have a right to apply for asylum. Even the 14th Amendment says that when you come to the American soil, when you get here, if you’re a person—you don’t have to be a citizen—you have equal protection under the law. But the law says they have a right to apply for asylum, and we have a process. And if they don’t meet that process, then they could be turned back.

But to see it being done this way is nothing but Trump and his enablers—we can’t just blame him. The people who are quiet on his side are just as guilty as he is in this inhumane, unconstitutional, immoral action that we see happening against human beings—not migrants, human beings, members of the human family. It is ugly, it is sinful, it is unjust, and it is wrong. And I call on all religious leaders to stand up against it, especially. And political leaders that have any sense of decency should stand up against it.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what happened in North Carolina on Friday when ICE agents arrested a Mexican immigrant after he emerged from a Durham church where he had been living in sanctuary for nearly a year, 47-year-old Samuel Oliver-Bruno, who was going to the ICE office in Raleigh to have his fingerprints taken so he could apply to remain with his wife and son in the United States? It was after he was taken into custody and placed in an ICE van, his supporters, including church leaders and members of the family, surrounded the vehicle, singing and praying for two hours. Why did he step foot outside the church? What was the understanding among religious leaders? What happened?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: I’m actually headed to a press conference in just a minute to demand that that sheriff, if he still hasn’t, to not agree with ICE and to release this young man, been here some 22 years. He left sanctuary because ICE promised two congresspersons, Congressman Price and Congressman Butterfield, that they would allow him to come in and go through the process. They knew that mistakes had been made, and they would allow him to do all of the things necessary for him to stay here. They believed them. The congresspeople believed them. The pastor believed them. The family believed them. And as soon as he was there, they not only took him; they jumped him, wrestled him down to the ground and put him under arrest.

And religious leaders—his pastor and others—surrounded the car and said, “You take him, you have to take us.” The whole city of Durham, in many places—Durham and Raleigh—many advocates now are just appalled of this kind of trickery, this kind of ugliness, direct lying to United States congresspersons and using this system as a system of oppression against outstanding citizens, people in this country, a man who has contributed to this country in more ways than one.

But even if he had not had the 22 years and all of that, to do it this way and to tell these lies, again, shows that they are using ICE now to snatch up people. You know, I don’t want us to go too far with this, because I know the history of what happened when the Gestapo snatched people up in Germany and in other places. I know the history of when black people used to be snatched up, even when they were free, when Native Americans were snatched up. There’s some ugly history behind this, if we look down through the years. And this was just brutal and wrong and ugly.

But what I’m so proud of is all of the people, of every race, color, creed and sexuality, that are standing up, saying that we stand with this young man, and we’re going to fight for him to get his due and his justice in this land. And the congresspeople are still standing up.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to ask you, in the last minute we have, about President Trump’s nomination of Thomas Farr, the protégé of Senator Jesse Helms, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Can you lay out the story?

REV. WILLIAM BARBER II: Here’s the story, real quick. Thomas Farr is connected to white nationalism, connected to Jesse Helms. He has been at the forefront of every racist voter suppression law that’s been pushed in this state the last 25 years, and he has lost. The two senators from North Carolina blocked two black women—one a Supreme Court justice, the other one who worked for the Justice Department for Republicans and Democrats—blocked two black women, would not allow them to even get a hearing that they might hold this spot open for him. It’s the longest vacancy in the federal courts. They want to put him in eastern North Carolina that has the largest number of African Americans. They want to reward him for his racism.

He has pushed policies that were called surgical racism by the courts, the highest courts in this land. And the reward to this man is they want to put him on the Supreme Court. McConnell has scheduled a vote for him. We need all Democrats, we need Republicans of conscience, to stand against this appointment. It is a travesty how they got him there by stepping on the backs of women, how they got him there by overlooking his racist history, and how he is being promoted for pushing laws that violated our Constitution. And now they want to put him as a judge to interpret the Constitution. This is wrong in so many ways, and we must stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, thanks so much for joining us from Raleigh, just back from Mississippi, where President Trump is headed today to shore up the senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, in two campaign rallies. in Tupelo and Biloxi.

Coming up, the Trump administration attempts to bury an alarming report that directly contradicts the President’s denial of climate change. Stay with us.

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