In late February, soon after the Holy Father’s visit to Mexico, KBI Director of Education and Advocacy Joanna Williams visited Washington, D.C. as part of a human rights delegation advocating for greater protection of migrant rights and accountability at the border.
Sometimes effective border work happens far from the border. On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Joanna Williams, the KBI’s Director of Education and Advocacy, joined colleagues from five other immigrant rights organizations as part of a Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) delegation. Their main objective was to promote the proposed Border Enforcement, Accountability, Oversight and Community Engagement Act (HR 3576), a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D–TX), who joined the delegation, and Congressman Steve Pearce (R–NM).
Breaking it down, HR 3576 calls for (1) better oversight in protecting the due process and human rights of those living in and passing through border communities and policies that help reduce migrant deaths, and (2) improved training, supervision and accountability of U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel to ensure greater safety for everyone. The BNHR delegation participants are in a unique position to provide vital data and border experience that members of Congress need as this bill is considered. The KBI, for example, collects both statistical and anecdotal information from the migrants who visit the comedor and stay at the shelter. This data was the basis for the KBI’s recent report published last fall with the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S., Our Values on the Line: Migrant Abuse and Family Separation at the Border (http://jesuits.org/Assets/Publications/File/REPORT_2015_Our_Values_on_the_Line.pdf). The report reveals distressing patterns of human and civil rights violations of migrants who are apprehended, detained and deported, which the bill, in part, sets out to address. Since the report’s release, the KBI has filed complaints with the Department of Homeland Security about specific cases of abuse, and while in D.C., Joanna spoke about the challenges encountered in the complaint process.
During the three-day visit, Joanna and her colleagues met individually with various congressional leaders from both the House and the Senate, to cover as much ground as possible. They shared their knowledge about the U.S.–Mexico border, offered constructive suggestions, and conveyed the urgency of the situation. Joanna herself visited eight Senate offices, met with several D.C.-based NGOs to coordinate advocacy efforts in the evenings, and made a stop at the Mexican embassy as well. The delegation as a whole staged a press conference about the reasons for their Washington visit, and met with the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, a network of D.C.–based immigration advocacy organizations.
This is the detailed and demanding behind-the-scenes work that helps to create more just laws and a more humane immigration policy, both now and in the future. As part of its mission, the KBI has devoted critical time and resources to these legislative advocacy efforts, and the work has yielded life-saving results, such as halting the practice of night-time deportations. You can help by lending your voice and responding to our Call to Action, below.
CALL TO ACTION: Let your congressional representatives know you want to see more humane immigration legislation and show your support for HR 3576, a bipartisan law that would secure the constitutional rights of border communities and require greater accountability of U.S. border officials: http://capwiz.com/fconl/issues/alert/?alertid=70479626.
NOTE: In addition to BNHR executive director Fernando García and Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Joanna’s delegation colleagues included: David Stout, County Commissioner of the El Paso County Commissioners Court; Eddie Canales, Founder of the South Texas Human Rights Center; Dylan Corbett, Executive Director of the Hope Border Institute; and Sister Rosemary Welsh, Executive Director of Casa de Misericordia, Mercy Ministries of Laredo. The Border Network for Human Rights is an El Paso-based organization advocating for human rights and immigration reform since 1998 with the support of over 7,000 members in West Texas and Southern New Mexico (http://bnhr.org/).