ON LOCATION REPORTING by the Rev. Karen Ann Campbell
WITNESS ALONG THE TEXAS BORDER at Brownsville/Matamoros
JANUARY 12, 2020
We were a group of 150-200 from 30 states including Alaska and Wisconsin. I met several people from Washington State. All very compassionate. Some veterans of many causes and some here for the first time.
This morning we are going to the courts to sit and to witness.
We were briefed yesterday about the process.
There is a huge need for pro-bono Spanish-speaking lawyers who can stay at the border to see the trials through.
Several lawyers briefed us on the protocol. Most of it is arbitrary. Two attorneys from our household were turned away because they were wearing open-toed sandals. The interpreters speak Spanish.
In Guatemala there are 23 native languages. The courts speak none of them.
In some countries the people speak Mayan and the court only speaks English or Spanish.
The judges appear via a television screen. In the briefing lawyers said that the judge through an interpreter, asks if the Asylum Seeker understands what is happening. If they say no the judge repeats the same information in the same words—usually by the third time the seeker cries “uncle" and agrees. This gets them into the system. They cannot ever say they did not understand because in the record they have stated that they do.
In our briefing, the presenters said that this formula to get people into the system is modeled on the system that incarcerates black men. Gets them to admit they understand, gets them for one minor violation and the next time puts them in jail.
I have never felt so hopeless about our government and the evil that permeates all of this suffering. After we crossed back into the United States, I thought I could have offered communion, but I was stymied, these people needed real bread before sacramental bread.
JoAnna, whose 2-year-old little girl is named Italia told us as we were leaving, “I have hope for all of us.” It was like living in a novel when the characters speak about how they are going to overcome the circumstances but the reader has read ahead and knows this will not end well. I pray fervently that God will intervene to save these people.
The further evil move is that those turned away will be relocated to countries not their home country or to the jungle of a foreign land.
Evil has permeated every layer of this death-dealing system created by one man for one purpose -- to make his White Supremist friends and supporters happy.
Here is the encampment. These pup tents are cheek to jowl. The population is estimated at 4500.
They have set up small fires to cook. The Brownsville Team of volunteers is feeding 2200 people twice a day, breakfast and dinner. Some women complained that the food was too rich or too different from their normal diet and they vomit it back up. Others said that they were hungry. Obviously, the stats do not work. It means only 1/2 population is fed.
Yesterday, we breezed across the border (our White privilege). The tents came into view as soon as we left the bridge structure.
We walked along what appears to have been a beautiful park with tile steps and fountains and flowers. We did not notice any toilet facilities.
We walked along the pathways of the park saying “Hola” as we saw people and they greeted us.
Eventually, a group of women engaged us. They were desperate. I asked what their home country was, when did they leave, how long was the journey and how long have they been at the border and when is their court date. Most left in July and arrived in September or November. From the answers most people had a two month walk to the border.
Almost half of the Asylum Seekers are from Guatemala. Most of them have court dates in February or March.
The heartbreaking statistic from November is 10,000 people applied for asylum and only 11 were granted asylum.