- Jennifer Harburyhuman rights lawyer who has lived here in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas for over 40 years and has been active in the response to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Her books include Truth, Torture, and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture.
Extended conversation with Jennifer Harbury, a human rights lawyer who has lived here in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas for over 40 years and has been active in the response to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Her husband, Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, was a Mayan comandante and guerrilla who was disappeared after he was captured by the Guatemalan army in the 1980s. After a long campaign, she found there was U.S. involvement in the cover-up of her husband’s murder and torture. Jennifer Harbury is also the author of “Truth, Torture, and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Brownsville, Texas, on the Texas-Mexico border, ahead of a mass protest later today at the federal courthouse that’s just behind us, that’s calling on the Trump administration to end the “zero tolerance” policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents, many of them of what they call tender age, below 12, 10 years old, infants, 5-year-old, 4-year-old, 3-year-old kids.
We’re continuing our conversation with Jennifer Harbury, longtime human rights lawyer and activist, has lived in the Rio Grande Valley for over 40 years, well known here in Brownsville, has spent a lot of time in that courthouse behind us.
Her husband, Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, was a Mayan comandante in Guatemala who was disappeared, captured by the U.S.-trained, U.S.-supported Guatemalan army in the 1980s. After a long campaign that she was leading, she learned about the U.S. involvement and cover-up of her husband’s torture and murder. We’ll talk about that, as well. Jennifer Harbury is also author of Truth, Torture, and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture.
Jennifer, it’s great to continue Part 2 of this conversation with you. I want to go, though, to these bridges. Describe them for us. You represent people who apply for political asylum. Explain what happens when they do what the U.S. government says they should do: not go in between the ports of entry and go over the border, but come to the port of entry and do something that they say is legal.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Exactly. We’re part of various treaties on refugees, and we executed those into our own domestic laws. It’s in there. And it says the person, under 8 U.S.C. 1225, goes up to the port of entry, knocks on the door and literally says, “I’m in danger. I need to apply for asylum.” And as I said earlier, they then go to a credible fear interview and then to a detention center, initially, and they’ll be put in proceedings before an immigration judge. The way—the norm that has always been in place for either group of people, whether they went by the river or went across the bridge, is that if they’ve got perfectly good identification, they’ve never committed a crime, they’re not a threat to anyone, they’re just on the run from the cartels, and they have legal status relatives, citizen or LPR, who will take them in and sponsor them and pay all their expenses—
AMY GOODMAN: What does LPR mean?
JENNIFER HARBURY: Legal permanent resident. If they have all of that, then they have always been released. Now, since Trump came in—it had started declining even before Trump, but then it just took a bellyflop. And it’s part of the campaign of punishment, not of cartel people, but of the victims of the cartels. So if you go in and ask for asylum, pass your credible fear test, you’re detained. And the conditions are horrific. We had one woman who had had surgery to repair her pelvis, the one that was kidnapped. And they gave her such terribly—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, the one who was kidnapped?
JENNIFER HARBURY: I had—as I had stated in our other segment, she had gone north with her 8-year-old daughter, fleeing the cartels. And as they neared Reynosa on the border, their van was pursued. And it flipped over and crashed. Her daughter was crushed to death, 8 years old. She suffered, the mother, a terrible fracture of her pelvis, her femur, her arm, and a big gash around her throat, where she went through the windshield. It could have taken her head off. She was several months in the hospital in Reynosa, hobbled across the bridge on a walker and told, last year, “We don’t do that anymore. Go away.” She went back and was kidnapped at the foot of the bridge. All—anyone looking like a refugee is going to be kidnapped, because the cartels have figured out you’ve got someone up north that loves you and is going to go find the money. That’s what happened.
We then were able to bring her across. She applied for what’s called parole, similar to bond, and was eligible. She had eligibility for two categories: severe medical condition plus many legal relatives eager to take her, and no criminal background. Denied. She was in there for close to a year. And the surgical site began to reopen, given the terrible conditions in—
AMY GOODMAN: In her abdomen.
JENNIFER HARBURY: In her hip.
AMY GOODMAN: Pelvis area.
JENNIFER HARBURY: In her hip—began to open again. And that requires immediate IV antibiotics. But they gave her such low—inadequate pills for antibiotics that she became resistant to all of them. Then the infection went into her thigh bone, and she basically was going septic. After a year, they kind of threw her at me, as she was in a wheelchair in horrible pain. I was able to get her to her relatives. She’s undergone three surgeries, and they didn’t have to amputate her leg. That’s how we’re treating the victims of the cartels.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait. To understand something, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, said domestic violence and gang violence will no longer be accepted as grounds for political asylum. So, she would not be accepted under—
JENNIFER HARBURY: That’s correct. And a woman whose case I—whose children I represent in another case—this was back from '09, but it's a very typical case, actually, and it shows you what’s going to happen now. She had an extremely abusive partner, from Reynosa. They grew up almost next door to each other.
AMY GOODMAN: And this is just over the border in Mexico.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Just over the river. And he beat her so often and then tried to burn the trailer they were living in, with her and the kids inside it, that she went to the police, got protective orders, and he got deported back to Reynosa and immediately joined the cartels. And all her relatives said, “He’s talking about how he’s going to murder you. He’s going to burn you. He’s driving around with the cartels with these heavy weapons. Don’t ever come back.”
She was stopped by police after her waitressing shift, and they said, you know, faulty brake light or something—a very typical excuse—and was immediately turned over to Border Patrol, with all of her friends screaming, “Don’t send her back! She won’t survive the week.” She was begging and crying. Before the courts were even open and before she could contact any lawyer, just at dawn, she was forced back across the bridge into Reynosa. And five days later, they found her incinerated. And her children have to live with that. There was a child that was 10, that is suicidal, off and on. And that’s our fault.
AMY GOODMAN: In the case of the woman that you describe called Laura, who was forced back—
JENNIFER HARBURY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: We had Sarah Stillman on, who did a piece for The New Yorker about this.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: She told the Border Patrol agent, “You are sending me straight to the slaughterhouse.” And she said that her deportation—she said to him, “My death will be on your hands.” She turned to Agent Garza and said, “When I am found dead, it will be on your conscience.”
JENNIFER HARBURY: That’s exactly what she said. And that was confirmed by two people who were deported with her. They were picked up with her in her car. They all went across the bridge together. And they all said the same thing. She was weeping and crying, desperate. You know—
AMY GOODMAN: And where was she found?
JENNIFER HARBURY: In Reynosa, in an incinerated car, just down near the river. The first—the second day, he found out she was there, and managed to—he rammed her car, because she was trying to find a coyote—
AMY GOODMAN: Her husband.
JENNIFER HARBURY: —to rush her across. And it’s $1,500 to get a—to pay the cartels for permission to cross. So her family was rounding up nickels and dimes, dollars, anything they could find. She went down to make arrangements, and he rammed her car, dragged her out of the car in front of her small child and nearly—and bit her ear off, basically. And her cousin, who is a very feisty woman, hit him with a log, and they escaped. And a few days after that, she was found unidentifiable. At first they didn’t know if the cadaver was male or female. But they all—the family immediately recognized the mark of the car. She had been strangled partially and burned. The cause of death was strangulation and burns. And she was tied to the steering wheel.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what you’re doing, how you’re fighting back.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, on many different fronts, right? For one thing, I want to make sure people make it to the door of the port of entry to ask for asylum. First they were all turned away last year. Then the American Immigration Council filed a class action, and then they stopped turning people away, you know, at least if they were with somebody else. They started doing that again just about a month ago, almost unilaterally across the United States border, just about every crossing.
In Reynosa and Roma, very close to here, something almost worse was happening. The refugee moms with their babies, and men who were terrified, and dads with their kids, came to the bridges, and they were told, “We’re full. Sit on the bridge and wait your turn.” And it’s—of course they’re full, because people are illegally being denied parole and bond once they’re taken into the system. So, some of them are in there for two years, two-and-a-half years, year and a half. And so, of course, you know, the places are full. But Border Patrol made all of those families—30 to 50 people, I counted—sit on the bridge, some of them 10 days, in Roma 16 days. It was 100 degrees out back then, and the heat factor—heat index was 108. Border Patrol agents would not let them sit in the Progreso waiting room, which holds a hundred people, is air-conditioned and has bathrooms. The people sitting on the bridge were not allowed to use the bathrooms. They had to go to a duty-free store, as long as it was open, until nightfall, and then I guess they used coffee cans. Church people, civilians from both sides of the river, we started running to those bridges with water, with Pedialyte, with Pampers, with extra clothes, trying to help them. And then, suddenly, they were gone, after Senator Merkley’s experience down here, having the police called on him because he wanted to check on the welfare of the children that were separated.
So, then what happened is Border Patrol stood at the middle of the bridge, three men across, big husky men usually, to make sure they had “papers,” quote-unquote, before they would be allowed onto the U.S. half of the bridge. And if they had entered illegally into Mexico, didn’t have transit visas, or their transit visas had been stolen, they would call Mexican immigration and make them come up the bridge, grab the people and drag them back into Mexico to either jail or deport them.
So word went out about that really fast, and everybody ran to the coyotes to get across the river. Well, kids drown all the time in the river. You know, not long ago, a woman with two small children and an infant was on one of those rafts going across, and the 3-year-old fell in, and she couldn’t save them with the baby in her arms. So she was begging the coyote to stop. He wouldn’t. The child drowned. So we’ve driven them into the arms of these ruthless traffickers. A lot of the coyotes are now in Reynosa at least, selling people to the cartels. That way they have no cost, pure profit, and they get another tip from the cartels themselves. So we force them into danger.
And if they manage to get over here, now we punish them again by taking their kids away. If they go legally across the bridge, they face long-term detention in hideous prison-like conditions. And the truth is, it’s intended to force them to give up their claims for asylum, to which they are legally entitled to hearing in front of a judge, and just say, “OK, I don’t want asylum, after all. I’m going home.” One kid that we had was 18. His eldest brother was badly murdered, axe-murdered by the local cartels. The second brother fled to the United States and was deported back and killed shortly thereafter. The 18-year-old was turned away with his parents at the bridge several times, finally got across, and, after a year in prison-like conditions, said, “I can’t take it. I’m just going to go home. I’ll just try to survive.” And he went home. Another man with a bullet hole in his stomach went home.
And that’s what this administration wants. We want to drive them home. We’ll take your kids. We’ll imprison you for years. We’ll make you sit on the bridge and die of heat stroke. Whatever we’ve got to do, we’re going to drive you home.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain to someone like the former Houston police officer that we flew on a plane with yesterday coming here to Brownsville, who was asking, “Why should these illegal immigrants be allowed into our country?”
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, I’ve said before, reason number one, we’re all human beings. We’re supposed to take care of each other. Jordan has something like 600,000 refugees in a population of 9 million. Now, that puts us to shame. Quite apart from the moral and ethical issues and our own heritage as Americans—my father arrived at Ellis Island when he was 11. I mean, this is who we are.
Quite aside from our national identity, our government helped to create the cartels. Most of the heads of the cartels are former military intelligence leaders who were trained in the United States, armed by the United States, worked carefully with the United States during the genocide era, as documented in the United Nations Truth Commission report. And as I said earlier, President Clinton ended up issuing an apology to the people of Guatemala. But we basically created this cadre of people and worked with them ’til the end of the genocide, which left 200,000 people murdered, not killed in the crossfire, and 660 Mayan villages wiped off the map. Those people, who are—
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re just talking about in Guatemala alone.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Guatemala alone. Those people, after the war ended, were looking around for something profitable. Most of them were already in the drug trade. Colonel Alpirez, Julio Roberto Alpirez, who was my husband—one of my husband’s torturers, was being paid for the information he gave about Everardo while he was torturing him. He got $44,000 from the CIA at a remote jungle base not long after a specific torture session. After the disclosures happened, he was flown to the United States, despite the fact that he was not eligible for any kind of visa, and lived with his entire family for 10 years not far from the CIA.
AMY GOODMAN: I want you to tell that story of Everardo, of Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, your husband, for especially young people who maybe weren’t even born at that time. But to understand the roots of the violence today, talk about what happened. Your campaigning for him was, you know, one of the remarkable moments of protest, in your protest and also what you found out.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, as you said earlier, he was a Mayan Indian campesino. He had grown up starving. He was involved in the—what I call the Mayan resistance movement, which was part of the URNG resistance forces during the massacre campaign, etc., etc. He was captured alive. He was one of their highest-ranking officials, and he was captured alive on March the 12th, 1992, by the military. And they realized who he was and how much valuable intelligence he had. So, instead of—instead of killing him outright, which is what they did with 99.9 percent of the prisoners of war, they kept him alive, with the help of physicians, while they tortured him long term, with the goal of breaking him for his information. And I’m pretty sure, from the evidence I have in the CIA files, that he survived two-and-a-half to three years of torture at the hands of the military intelligence people. That team of his torturers, including the former president of Guatemala, they were all intelligence paid officials for the military who were also working for the CIA.
And I set out to search for him as soon as he disappeared, because we weren’t convinced he’d been killed in combat. The army faked his death to better take advantage of his intelligence. They didn’t want Amnesty—Amnesty to be crying out, or the U.N. interfering, or the Inter-American Commission.
AMY GOODMAN: And didn’t you even go to a military base, where they said, “This is the coffin that Everardo was in”?
JENNIFER HARBURY: I went to a military base, where they said he might be buried under the base, along with between 500 to 2,000 other people. I’m pretty sure that’s not where he is. But they faked his death. They told us he was in an unmarked grave in Retalhuleu. And at the same time, about a week after he disappeared, they sent a memo to both the White House and the State Department saying, “Oh, the army just captured Bámaca alive. He’s a very, very important catch. They’re going to fake his death, so they can better take advantage of his information and so that they can torture him.” That was six days after he was picked up. I ended up on a long series of hunger strikes, three total, one of them for 32 days in front of the palace down there.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip of the documentary Dirty Secrets: Jennifer, Everardo & the CIA in Guatemala.
JENNIFER HARBURY: I want to save my husband’s life. I’m not going to allow him to be tortured for two-and-a-half years in a secret army prison and then shot to death or assassinated as if he was some kind of garbage. I’d rather die. I would literally rather die. And I’m prepared to do so if I have to.
I want people to understand what it means to have someone disappeared in their family. And I want people to understand what that whole system of terror against a civilian population is about.
When you’re looking for someone you care about, you know, you don’t sleep anymore. You just stop sleeping. You wonder every single minute, you know, “Am I fighting hard enough? Are they shooting him right now? You know, are they burning him right now? Are they pulling his fingernails out right now? You know, maybe I should be trying harder. Maybe I should be fighting harder.”
AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from Dirty Secrets: Jennifer, Everardo & the CIA in Guatemala. This is when you were on hunger strike in Guatemala City outside the U.S. Embassy there?
JENNIFER HARBURY: The very first hunger strike was in front of the Politécnica, close to the U.S. Embassy, but it’s their army intelligence building. And it looks like the Wicked Witch of the West castle, with cannons and machine gun turrets. That was seven days. The second one, that appears in this clip, was in front of the National Palace, the government seat, and that was 32 days, water only. And then the very last one was in Washington, because they weren’t assisting me. And that lasted 12 days, before the disclosures came out, with Congressman Torricelli, that my husband had indeed been killed by military intelligence officials, who were also working as paid informants of the CIA.
AMY GOODMAN: And link that to what we’re seeing today. So, that was the violence of the 1980s, the U.S.-backed death squads in Guatemala. You really helped to expose this through your own personal experience. How does that relate to people coming over the border in the United States?
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, let’s take the example of Julio Roberto Alpirez, the colonel, right? He was witnessed torturing my husband in person. He’s also known by the CIA to have helped murder Michael DeVine, a U.S. citizen innkeeper in Guatemala. There are also plenty of CIA files that say he excelled in his task of liquidating not only the guerrillas but all of their sympathizers—in other words, villagers—in the Highlands during the worst of the campaign, and that he was somewhat brutal and not well liked by his fellow military.
So, start with that person as an example. He received $44,000 shortly after he, in person, tortured my husband. He injected him with an unknown substance, out of a cylinder of gas, that made his body swell enormously, so badly that one arm and leg were bandaged because they had hemorrhaged, and he was bending over the torture table. Torricelli named him as one of those people. DEA records show that he’s also on the DEA corrupt officer list. He’s known to be a drug runner, a cartel leader. What did they do when the disclosures were made by Torricelli? The CIA protected him. He’s their asset. They sent him and his whole family to Washington, where he lived happily for 10 years in secret, not far from the CIA. When I found out, so that I would go file a Torture Victims Protection Act case on him, the CIA notified him and immediately sent him back to Guatemala so that he could avoid any consequences. And the DEA is not allowed to take him down, because he’s a CIA asset and partner for many, many years, and that’s forbidden.
So there are many high-level cartel people who engaged in genocide and daily acts of torture, who now are the heads of cartels. The terrifying Zeta gang, for example, was out of Guatemala and formed by military leaders. It’s also composed of many collaborators in the military still and by different police people. So these cartels are fantastically armed and trained to carry out village-by-village massacres, let alone bending people to their will. They’re terrifying. I mean, some women from the Río Negro massacre, back in 1980, were not long ago found in the city dump with their teeth pulled out and their breasts and hands amputated. And those kinds of mutilations, we remember. Those are those military people. These are not street gangs. These are not kids. These are not people we have no idea who they are. The head of the Salvatrucha gang was just discovered to be a military leader in Guatemala who had been working in the anti-gang unit hand in glove with U.S. military people. They really didn’t know?
AMY GOODMAN: So, that takes us to MS-13, to another country—that’s El Salvador—who President Trump says he is protecting us from the gang, the MS-13 gangs in Salvador. How does that relate to what you’re talking about in Guatemala?
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, of course, the MS-13 had a lot of its roots in the United States, and then those people were deported back to Salvador. There’s a whole lot of history where actually that—that happened in the United States, just as these military intelligence people that went back down there. Those people are firmly entrenched. And then the U.S. is not so much going after them as they are the victims of those people, the people running up here—the woman with two small children on her back, barefoot; the 15-year-old who’s seven months pregnant from a gang rape; the man, the young man, 20 years old, with 17 bullets through his legs, that could show me the scars.
A 20-year-old who fled north after the second time the gangs told him they would kill him and the people close to him if he didn’t join, he’s cannon fodder at that age. And he said, “No,” again, took his wife and baby, and fled north, called his mom to say, “I’m coming back for the rest of you. I’m coming right now.” The day after he left, the gangs had bludgeoned his mother and younger brother to death and had gang-raped his 12-year-old sister, who was in a mental hospital, unable to speak. That young man has been sent back to Salvador.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the Zetas and their connection to Special Forces, to training. The Zetas—a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable that was published by WikiLeaks shows at least one Zeta, former infantry lieutenant named Rogelio Lopez, trained at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, many people, such as Julio Roberto Alpirez, who I keep mentioning because he’s such a template, right? Many of them were trained at the School of the Americas, in torture and kidnapping techniques, and they used them. And then, when the war was over, they kept using them in the same way. And if we would release the files on the human rights violations and massacres committed by all of those people, then the war crimes claims that are—that people are valiantly trying to bring in Central America, something could be done. Those people could be put in prison, and then maybe we would have a lessening of the terror that’s being used to drive people north in order to more easily run the drug cartels.
AMY GOODMAN: Where are the Zetas based?
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, they were up here for quite a while, near Reynosa. They came originally out of Guatemala and southern Mexico. They were up here and owned the riverfront here for quite a while. They were pushed out a few years ago by the Golfo cartel. But in Reynosa now, they captured the—the army had captured the highest-level person, and they’ve captured or killed several lower-level ones. So that’s fractured, and the Zetas are coming back. And they’re all fighting each other, and they’re fighting the Mexican Army and the Mexican marines. So there’s nonstop shootouts.
Anyone that’s deported to Reynosa, they’re lucky if they can get off the bridge without being immediately grabbed, because they know they’ll have someone up north. People struggling north, you know, with their babies and stuff, they’re lucky if they don’t get trafficked and grabbed. It’s completely unsafe in Reynosa.
And the Zetas are clearly trying to come back, because a group of people recently paid off the correct cartel, what’s left of the Golfo, got to mid-river and were shot to death, with no explanation. And that’s almost for sure the Zetas coming back, saying, “Oh, you paid the wrong guys.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Jennifer Harbury, the well-known human rights activist and attorney. And she is also well known now all over the country for having gotten the news organization ProPublica the tape of children, babies, infants, toddlers, children of tender age, crying out for their parents, saying, “Mama,” “Papi.” Let’s go to that clip.
CHILD: [crying] Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá! Papá!
AMY GOODMAN: So, Jennifer Harbury, you’re the person who got this audiotape out. Describe how this happened.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, the true hero, of course, is the whistleblower. And he was present in the building nearby to these children, who had just been separated from their parents recently and who were just crying desperately and in fear, the way you just heard. That whistleblower brought the tape to me, and we discussed the legal issues and stuff. And the whistleblower authorized me to get it through to the press, which is what we did.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know—can you tell us what detention center it’s from?
JENNIFER HARBURY: I’d best not.
AMY GOODMAN: And how old the children were?
JENNIFER HARBURY: The children that you hear weeping would have been possibly as young as 3, up to 6 or 7. And in the background, not weeping, are some older children that are still minors.
AMY GOODMAN: And one child who keeps on repeating the phone number of her aunt.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Remarkable.
AMY GOODMAN: Has she been reunited with her family?
JENNIFER HARBURY: I don’t think she has yet. I may be wrong on that, but I believe she’s still trying to get reunited with her family.
AMY GOODMAN: Even though her mother has called up and said that “This is my daughter,” and her aunt has confirmed that that is her number?
JENNIFER HARBURY: Even with that. And—
AMY GOODMAN: So a judge in San Diego has just ruled that these children must be reunited with their parents—under 5 in 14 days, all children in 30 days. So, what’s going to happen? Is this possible?
JENNIFER HARBURY: It’s possible, if they really want to put the time and attention into it that they must. The problem, of course, is that so many people within ICE and Border Patrol feel that these refugees are just kind of trash and should not be coming to our country in the first place, that things can’t be that bad back home, even though you can read that they have the highest murder rates in the world. So, I’m not sure how much—how hard they’re going to try. There can be spelling mistakes in a name. And, of course, in most of Central America, instead of saying June the 10th, 1984, they’re going to say 10th June, 1984, so that can be transposed sometimes, making it harder to find the person. But if they want to find the parents, of course they can. And if they want to release them immediately, of course they can. They always used to.
AMY GOODMAN: So, as we sit here, a major protest about to take place right behind us at the federal courthouse, a courthouse you know well, right here in Brownsville.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What message do you have for people across the country?
JENNIFER HARBURY: I think first we have to wake up and understand the basic flaw in the administration’s argument that they’re protecting us from cartels and terrorists and so forth. The people we are punishing are moms, kids, fathers, young teenagers that don’t want to be trafficked, young men that are saying, “No, I won’t work with the cartels.” They’re running for their lives. If the cartels wanted to send people to cross the river, as I said earlier, they can—they can buy the airport. They have bought several police units in Texas already. They can buy real—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, a whole elite piece of our—of the police force here, not long ago, was found out to have been working with the cartels. That was very—
AMY GOODMAN: Here in Brownsville.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Not in Brownsville, up towards McAllen, in Hidalgo County. And it’s inevitable, with that kind of money. They have no need to send a desperate person who speaks no English, in raggedy clothing, to try to swim the river. They don’t need that. They just buy the passports. They buy the visas that are legitimate. And they can do whatever they want. So, we need to understand the difference.
Once we understand the difference, I think it becomes very clear what we have to do: protect the refugees. Protect them. Don’t leave them on the bridge to go into heat stroke. Don’t leave them to miscarry a child after you’ve been gang-raped. I mean, what are we thinking that we would declare war and bring down total abuse on people that have just run for their lives?
AMY GOODMAN: In the countries they’re mainly running from—Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala—
JENNIFER HARBURY: And much of Mexico.
AMY GOODMAN: And Mexico.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Much of Mexico, and also parts of Africa—not the cartels there, but genocide and anti-gay stuff.
AMY GOODMAN: In places like Honduras, where the U.S.—back to when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, the U.S. supported a coup in Honduras. And then, even the Organization of American States saying the last election was not legitimate, the U.S. continues to support that government. How does that link, what’s happening there, to the violence there?
JENNIFER HARBURY: We keep supporting our military allies. It was President Otto Pérez Molina in Guatemala, was one of the intelligence leaders responsible for my husband’s three years of torture. And they knew that when he was running for office, and the State Department still covered for him, saying he was a reformist, for example. But what we’re doing is we’re—through our intelligence agencies, we’re still giving massive support and protection to keep these military units in place and in total power over each of these countries, so that they’ll do what we want with their countries. And in return, we cast a blind eye. Well, they set up these hideous drug-running cartels that are chasing these people up here and which eventually are going to land right here. And there already are signs of that in Texas. And if we haven’t done our part to put those people in prison by releasing our files and halting military support for them, through elections and otherwise, then we’re going to get what we deserve.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, the election in Mexico, López Obrador on Sunday. We’ll see what difference that makes. And finally, does the U.S. government even know who the children are, how to link them with the parents?
JENNIFER HARBURY: They don’t care. I mean, of course, they have to know who the children are. They have to take down all the information and properly enter it into the computers and leave a clear trail. They don’t really care. So it’s going to take some work to—as you were hearing from our friends earlier. It’s going to take some work to find some of those children.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Harbury, human rights activist and lawyer, has lived here in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas for more than 40 years, representing people who are seeking political asylum in this country. Her husband, Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, also known as the Mayan Comandante Everardo, was disappeared in Guatemala in the 1980s after he was captured by the Guatemalan army. She launched a campaign to find out what happened to him. and exposed a U.S. cover-up in her husband’s murder and torture. Jennifer Harbury is author of a number of books, including The Search for Everardo and Truth, Torture, and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture.
To see Part 1 of our conversation. go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from the Texas-Mexico border in Brownsville, where Jennifer Harbury lives. Thanks so much for joining us.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Thank you, Amy.