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Border Activists Organize for the Long HaulKent Paterson for Salem-News.com
“We’re looking to build long-term capacity. The issues won’t go away.” - Emily Carey, ACLU
(LAS CRUCES, NM) - Comprehensive immigration reform might be off the legislative agenda this year. And it remains to be seen how the immigration issue will play out once the November elections are over.
But in different parts of the United States, pro-immigrant rights activists are quietly building networks and digging in for the long haul. An example of the trend is in southern New Mexico, where a grassroots gathering of immigrant advocates is coming together around a broad, common agenda.
Now more than two years old, the Task Force for Immigrant Advocacy and Services (TIAS), brings together the Colonias Development Council, American Civil Liberties Union, Catholic Charities and Avance, among other organizations and individuals, to tackle civil rights, human rights, citizenship, housing, literacy, parenting and other issues.
Growing out of forums initiated by the Southern New Mexico Community Foundation and the New Mexico Forum on Youth and Community in 2008, the overarching goal of TIAS is to promote dialogue in a time of divisive politics and create a “positive environment for migrants,” said TIAS Coordinator Alma Nava Maquitico.
Nava Maquitico, who operates a roving office throughout the southern New Mexico borderland, said TIAS is responding to an adverse political climate for immigrant communities. “Everybody is speaking about migration from the perspective of criminalization and militarization, and this really concerns us,” she added.
According to Nava Maquitico, TIAS unites its member groups around a set of seven core values. In terms of broader outreach, TIAS maintains communication with the regional Mexican Consulate and members of the New Mexico Congressional delegation, the border activist said.
Emily Carey, program coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights, seconded many of Nava Maquitico’s concerns.
In addition to assisting prisoners at an immigrant detention facility in Dona Ana County, the Las Cruces-based Regional Center for Border Rights, which is a TIAS member organization, monitors law enforcement and gives workshops on constitutional rights to task force affiliates and local communities. Border Patrol checkpoints, law enforcement stops and the relationship of local police with immigration law enforcement are high on the list of the major issues of the day, Carey said.
“People are afraid. People are coming from families with mixed (legal) status and people are coming from communities which are small and they don’t want to draw attention to themselves,” Carey said in an interview. “Issues don’t just affect undocumented people. Our communities regardless of immigration status are affected by the erosion of civil liberties.”
For Carey and other TIAS activists, southern New Mexico’s geography provides a daunting challenge. Immigrant communities are spread across a vast landscape from Hidalgo County in the west to Dona Ana County in the east.
Demographically diverse, communities range from the growing city of Sunland Park in the south, which for all intents and purposes is a suburb of El Paso, Texas, to the scattered mobile home-heavy settlements folded into the chile and onion fields of the agricultural Hatch Valley in north.
Rural communities are often isolated by bad roads, remote locations and even tricky communications. Border Patrol checkpoints straddle the highways.
Meeting community needs or organizing around a particular issue can prove difficult for small, cash-strapped groups to accomplish on their own, Carey said. TIAS serves to “pull together the strengths and resources of the many organizations in the area” in order to maximize community response capabilities, she added.
Earlier this year, TIAS mobilized its forces after a private company, Corplan Corrections, approached the Las Cruces City Council with a proposal related to the construction of an immigrant family detention center. TIAS questioned the project before the City Council. “Once the facts were presented, the reality of the situation came through,” Carey said. “I think (council representatives) listened to public input.”
Currently, TIAS is developing leadership, expanding its membership and preparing for the next stage of advocacy and service work. “Everybody is committed to making this project self-sustainable and making sure this project is a success,” Nava Maquitico said.
Added Carey: “We’re looking to build long-term capacity. The issues won’t go away.”
Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies
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