On the Trail with the Border Angels
The Border Angels finished their historic 4500 mile "Marcha Migrante III" from San Diego to Canada and back on Sunday, February 17.
The group, a human rights organizations founded in 1986 by Enrique Morones to stop the unnecessary deaths of people traveling across the U.S./Mexico border areas of San Diego County and the Imperial Valley, chose to make the 4500 mile caravan, "Marcha Migrante III," to remember the 4500 immigrants that have died in the border region between U.S. and Mexico. The march went through 40 cities with the message of "Su Voto Es Su Voz," (Your Vote is Your Voice).
Immigration across the border of economic and political refugees from Mexico and Central America has increased dramatically in recent years, the result of decades of U.S.-engineered civil wars and genocide in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, combined with the economic devastation caused to indigenous communities in Mexico and Central caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
"The people of this country will elect a new president this November," said Morones at a press conference with supporters of the Border Angels at the state capitol in Sacramento on February 6. "We are not supporting any particular presidential candidate – we want to get the candidates to support immigration reform as a pathway for legalization. There are 12 million undocumented workers in this country."
The first Marcha Migrante, from February 2 to February 28, 2006, went from San Diego to Washington D.C. The theme of this march was to say "No to HR 4437," a odious piece of anti-immigrant legislation. "After 3-1/2 million people took to the streets in April and more protested in May, the bill was defeated in Congress," said Morones.
The second Marcha Migrante in 2007 traveled from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas to collect the stories of migrants to bring to Washington D.C.
Eric Guerra, staff person for State Senator Gil Cedillo, emphasized that immigrants are essential to the economy and culture of California, with 30 percent of the state’s people being immigrants from other countries. "Cedillo strongly supports your efforts to get out the vote," said Guerra.
Other speakers at the news conference included Cinthya Munoz from Sacramento City College Brown Issues and MECHA, Jose Sandoval of Voluntarios de La Communidad, Armando Gutierrez from the CSUS Mecha, and Daniel Morales, Treasurer of the GI Forum.
Munoz, who helped organized pro-immigrant rallies and marches in Sacramento in 2006, said it was good that the "Marcha Migrante" was bringing into the public eye again the issue of immigrant rights and deaths on the border. "People are dying on the border," she said. "The issue hasn’t gone away, even though millions aren’t turning out in the streets like they were in 2006."
After departing from the press conference in Sacramento, Morones and his supporters drove to Medford, Eugene, Woodburn, and Portland, Oregon. They traveled on to Seattle, Washington and the U.S./Canada border. An action with immigrant rights activist Elvira Arellano was planned on the Canadian side of the border, but the Canadian government refused to issue her a visa.
The group then traveled through Yakima, Washington, Boise, Idaho and Salt Lake Lake City, Utah to urge citizens in Latino communities to get out and vote. They finished their journey with an evening vigil in North Las Vegas on February 16, followed by their return to San Diego and a one-mile walk to the border at 1 p.m. on February 17.
During the spring and summer months, the Border Angels install 340 water stations in the Imperial Valley Desert and surrounding areas. With temperatures reaching as high as 127 degrees, water is critical for survival. Volunteers maintain stations each weekend throughout the spring and summer.
During the fall and winter, the group establishes critical life-saving stations throughout the San Diego Mountain areas. Winter clothing, food and water are placed in winter storage bins to help decrease negative health results from being exposed to the freezing temperature changes that exists in the San Diego County mountain areas this time of year.
The organization also educates citizens and government officials on the status of weather related deaths and racial-discrimination crime deaths. "The Border Angels are proud supporters of equal rights," according to Morones.
The organization has opposed the racist scapegoating of immigrants by the Minutemen and other anti-immigrant organizations. When the Minutemen descended on San Diego in the spring and summer of 2005, Morones and other activists responded by forming the Gente Unida – "United People"–coalition – and employed creative ways to disrupt the Minutemen’s activities.
More recently, the Border Angels were successful in pressuring CalTrans to remove "Adopt-A-Highway" signs emblazoned with the "Minutemen" name on a two-mile northbound stretch of Interstate 5, north of San Diego, near where Border Patrol agents stop motorists and search for undocumented workers.
Enrique Morones and the Border Angels are true modern day heroes whose goal is to save the lives of people, forced by the impact of U.S. economic and foreign policy in Latin America and oppression by the reactionary regime of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, to migrate across the border in dangerous conditions to seek work.
For more information, call Enrique Morones at (619) 977-9467.
DAN BACHER can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org