EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Standing on the Mexican bank of the Rio Grande, Brooklyn native Joshua Rubin listens to Jefferson make his case for asylum in the United States.
“There are good and bad people, but the good people are the most. We just want to work, help our family, our parents,” says Jefferson, from Caracas, Venezuela. “It’s not about getting rich, it’s about buying food, buying clothes, taking your mom out for chicken, for pizza. You get me, boss? Those are things we want we cannot get in our countries.”
Behind the two men, a steady stream of Central- and South Americans joins a line on the U.S. side of the river. They surrender to U.S. Border Patrol agents in hopes of getting political asylum. Many, like Rafael, another Venezuelan, will be sent back to Mexico.
“They kept me three days in detention and put me on a plane. Next thing, I’m in (Eagle Pass, Texas) and in Piedras Negras the Mexicans put me on a bus going south,” said the frustrated asylum-seeker fleeing a failed economy and political favoritism in his homeland. “They (U.S. authorities) never gave me a chance to speak.”
Rafael and Jefferson also share stories about scraping out a living in Juarez, Mexico, where they hope the U.S. will again open its borders to Venezuelan asylum seekers if Title 42 expulsions end on Dec. 21.
Jefferson tells Rubin how he’s down to two meals a day and sharing a room with three other people. In a stranger’s home in Juarez, $3 a night gets them a blanket on a concrete floor. Still, the Venezuelan in his early 20s harbors hopes he will be able to keep a promise he made to his grandmother of buying her a hearing aid once he is working in the United States.
Those are the stories humanitarians like Rubin, founder of the group Witness at the Border, came to hear. The group is part of a coalition of advocates traveling from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California, as part of the “Journey for Justice” caravan.
“We are here to look at the border – the full border – because the border not only stops people from coming in, it also keeps us from seeing what this border is doing to people on the other side of the river,” he said.
That narrative often gets lost in the heat of partisan politics. With conservatives characterizing the historically high migration at the southern border as an “invasion” and blaming Democrats for what they see as open borders, the struggles of individual migrants seldom come up in conversation and that is what the caravan members want to change.
The activists arrived in Tornillo, Texas, on Thursday and held a protest to remember how three years ago children separated from their parents were held in prolonged detention there.
On Friday, the humanitarians gathered supplies to distribute to released migrants at a Downtown El Paso bus station and planned an early evening vigil at a park near the Cassidy Gate entrance to Fort Bliss, where the Department of Health and Human Services runs an Emergency Intake Site for unaccompanied migrant minors.
The Journey for Justice plans to reach Columbus, New Mexico, on Sunday and meet up with Arizona advocates in Nogales, Douglas, Yuma and Sasabe next week before heading for California.
The activists’ goal is to witness what is going on at the U.S.-Mexico border, relay that information to others and bring about positive change.
“We talk about the subversive act of seeing. If we see these things and we talk about what we see and we encourage others to see for themselves, maybe they’re going to see something they did not expect,” Rubin said. “They’re going to see human beings struggling to live. They’re going to look into their eyes and they are going to see people and not this crazy invasion others are talking about. […] They’re going to see that and we hope it will reach their hearts and maybe things will change.”