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Voices from Brownsville Protest: We Have a Moral Responsibility to Help Asylum Seekers

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Protesters in Brownsville are calling on the Trump administration to uphold its obligations to protect asylum seekers under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Rev. Dr. Helen Boursier cited the cases of Central Americans fleeing extreme gang violence being turned away at the U.S. border. She says vulnerable people are being denied their legal right to seek asylum and the legal right to flee when they face great risk.

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

REV. HELEN BOURSIER: Reverend Dr. Helen Boursier. I’m a volunteer chaplain working with refugees seeking asylum, and I have been since the fall of 2014. In the course of that time, I have collected the stories, written them down, of the testimonies of the mothers. So what I would like to share is the witness of the mothers and why they are here seeking asylum. They are not here as economic migrants. They are here because they have a direct threat to life for themselves and for their children. They are here seeking a legal asylum, which is something that isn’t talked about quite enough. And we, as the United States, are a signatory nation, where we signed on that international document that says, yes, you do have the legal right to seek asylum, you have the legal right to flee, when your life is at great risk. And we have a moral responsibility for honorable response. Honorable response.

AMY GOODMAN: I see you’re holding a little notebook, where it looks like you’ve taken notes about people. Can you share anything that’s in there?

REV. HELEN BOURSIER: If you—I can read this one from a mother. This would have been written a year ago, says, “I’m a mother who wants to protect her son. The gangs threatened me to death. First they molested my son. Then they robbed him two times. Then they demanded extortion money. They demanded that he leave school, get a tattoo, join the street gang—my son. They threatened to kill me. They told my son they would kill me, his mother. I am a single mother. My husband beat me. I left him. Already he has made his life with another person. We have no support. The gangs know this. They threatened us, the twins, shala. We made the decision to seek shelter in the United States. A friend of mine will receive us, to save my son, to save me. We left our country in emergency. We cannot return. We have much fear.”

AMY GOODMAN: And that woman was from?

REV. HELEN BOURSIER: She’s from El Salvador.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you.

REV. HELEN BOURSIER: That’s the other thing. You know, the vast majority of the women and children that we’re speaking about here are from the Northern Triangle, the region of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. They’re coming seeking asylum. And the other thing that we don’t talk about is our systemic culpability and how the United States has a moral responsibility and a connection on three key points, one being that we are the number one importer of drugs. And the issues down there are happening because of drugs. We export the gangs, because we don’t want the bad boys, so we send them down there, the very gangs that have become an army to prey upon the children. Oh, I forgot one: We pay for the drugs with stolen guns, that are licensed, registered in the United States. So we are contributing to their problem. And if you want to do any kind of research, you can go through the Immigrations Customs Enforcement. All of the documentation is all buried deeply. You just have to read it. But we are connected. We are part of their problem. And we need to be part of a humanitarian solution.

TANIA CHÁVEZ: My name is Tania Chávez, and I’m with La Unión del Pueblo Entero. I am an undocumented immigrant living in the border area. I grew up in McAllen, Texas. And living in McAllen, it’s interesting, because it’s a particular area where you are surrounded by checkpoints and the border wall. And that really means that, from within 200 miles, you can’t get out, and you are caged within the confinements of the border wall and the checkpoints. And so, whenever you look at educational opportunities, employment, you can’t get past that checkpoint. That also means driving around with Border Patrol and driving around with DPS. We know that DPS and Border Patrol are working in conjunction. And that leads to family separations, because people get pulled over and then later processed for deportation for driving without a driver’s license.

AMY GOODMAN: But I think it’s really important for people to understand what you’re talking about. You’re not talking about the border checkpoints. You’re talking about—it could be a hundred miles from the border, where you have to go through a checkpoint.

TANIA CHÁVEZ: That’s right. So, as you’re coming into the United States, you have the port of entries, and those are the international bridges. A hundred miles north of that, you have security checkpoints, and you have Border Patrol stationed there. And so, every time someone has to go up north to San Antonio and to Austin, to any other area, you have to go through the security checkpoints. And they ask you whether or not you’re a U.S. citizen. And if you’re not a U.S. citizen, they ask you to verify your legal status in this nation. And so, that really limits access to healthcare, to education, to employment opportunities, for many people that are living in the border community. Just a few weeks ago, we had a case of a little girl who needed surgery, and she was taken across the checkpoint, but the parent was detained as she was trying to take her little girl across the checkpoint for medical care.

AMY GOODMAN: So she’s in Texas, and as she’s trying to go across the checkpoint, the mother, the parent, was detained.

TANIA CHÁVEZ: The mother was detained, and she was taken into custody by Border Patrol. She was handcuffed, and she had to stay by the bed of her child handcuffed, until they were returned back to the valley and then later processed at a processing center. And so, that is the life. And that was what it means living in the United States as an undocumented immigrant, especially in the border community, where we’re caged within the confinements of the checkpoints.

AMY GOODMAN: And let me just clarify. You’ve got the checkpoints then that are not on the border, the ports of entry, that you could be stopped. But then, within that hundred-mile radius anywhere along the border, can you just be stopped anywhere? Could they look at your car? Can they tell you to get out for just being there, living in the area?

TANIA CHÁVEZ: Is it constitutional that they just pull you over? No. Does it happen? Yes. We must remember that the state of Texas, as of September of last year, SB 4 came into effect. And the full effect of SB 4 came into effect in March of this year. So that means that people are being racially profiled, just by the simple fact of being brown. We have also gotten calls to our office that they have just been pulled over. By not committing any traffic violation, they just get pulled over, and they are given a date to appear before a judge at a later time. And so, that is what it means to live in a border community, to be often persecuted by law enforcement, by ICE, by Border Patrol, by DPS. So, when people say that the border is not secure, we’re extremely secure. We don’t need this extra militarization in the border community, because we are just hard-working people who are trying to make a living here. And so, we don’t need additional boots on the ground. What we need is for families, of mixed-status families, to be let free and to allow them to integrate into this nation.

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