LUPE’s Biannual Colonia Convention steers immigrant rights organizing toward accountable border enforcement

LUPE’s Biannual Colonia Convention steers immigrant rights organizing toward accountable border enforcement

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Martha Sanchez (right) asks for amendment to resolution supporting immigration reform to include accountability for border enforcement.

Over one hundred colonia residents and LUPE staff resolved to defend border communities against unaccountable border enforcement Saturday at LUPE’s biannual Cumbre de Colonias.

The convention of colonia and low-income neighborhood residents formalized the direction of LUPE organizing for the next two years around priorities that dozens of colonia committees expressed in meetings and one-two-ones over the previous two weeks and that were adopted as formal resolutions Saturday.

One resolution, focusing on immigration reform, was amended at the convention to include a focus on border militarization and enforcement.

“We don’t know what will happen with immigration reform in the next four months,” said Martha Sanchez, Coordinator of Community Organizers. “But we do know that every time they have tried to pass immigration reform, our border communities get more militarization.”

Martha emphasized that the organization has not let Republican House leadership off the hook for inaction on legalization and a pathway to citizenship.

The addition reads: “Therefore let it be resolved: La Union del Pueblo Entero and its membership base will work to defend the rights of border communities and work for accountability to the community by border agencies.”

The addition was prompted after the organization received a briefing on a bi-partisan piece of legislation in the House of Representatives addressing rampant abuses and inefficiencies by Border Patrol and Customs officers. The legislation, introduced by Congressmen Steve Pearce (NM-2 R) and Beto O'Rourke (TX-16 D) in late March, has encouraged border organizations who have been dealing with the fall out of abuses by border agents.

At the end of February, a report commissioned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to review its use of force policy and practices was leaked to the press. The report, written by the Police Executive Research Forum, concluded that CBP agents regularly provoke incidents that result in the use of deadly force. It also noted there is a “lack of diligence” in the investigations after use-of-force incidents occur.

The organization leading the charge for border enforcement accountability is El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights. Executive Director Fernando Garcia visited the Rio Grande Valley to brief LUPE on the bill.

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LUPE leaders hold up home-made signs representing their colonias and cities.

"If these were isolated incidents, then we would not have seen the announcement of this proposed bill today," Garcia told the El Paso Times in March. "This is systemic. We need to remember we (the El Paso region) have the largest enforcement operation in the nation with more than 20,000 border patrol agents, helicopter, weapons and the border fence. We spend almost $18 billion a year, and there is not sufficient oversight or accountability measures."

The Rio Grande Valley sector of Customs and Border Protection has experienced similar rapid growth over the last year and is now the most active in the country, according to reports at the end of March. The sector recently received over 100 additional agents.

To border rights advocates, this mini-border surge brings enforcement without accountability.

"Over the next few months, we will have consultas with our members to talk about what border militarization means for the community," Martha continued. "To talk about what happens when there are more Border Patrol in our community, more helicopters and surveillance balloons. What would be the impact on the people having more enforcement without accountability."

“We have four months to push for immigration reform. But whatever happens with reform, we won’t let our communities be turned into war zones.”

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