Beneath a gray and cloudy sky, a crowd gathered at Chihuahuita Park holding signs emblazoned with the words “End Title 42” and “Refugees are welcome here,” and the famous words etched on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”
Immigration activists, elected officials and faith leaders gathered near the U.S.-Mexico border Saturday morning for a march organized by the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) to call for robust immigration reform and an end to Title 42.
The march came one day ahead of a planned visit from U.S. President Joe Biden, who is set to visit El Paso to assess the impact of the recent flood of migrants entering the city from Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba.
Before departing from Chihuahuita and snaking through Downtown, past Sacred Heart Church and on to Armijo Park, a bevy of local leaders took to the microphone to detail the reason for the peaceful march.
BNHR Executive Director Fernando Garcia called for an end to Title 42 and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, which he called an “illegal” border policy resulting in numerous “human rights violations.” While he chided Republicans for the stalemate in Washington over immigration reform, he likewise criticized Democrats for not doing enough.
“We are very disappointed,” Garcia said. “This was not the promise.”
Garcia called for an immediate end to Title 42, a COVID-19-related policy instituted by former President Donald Trump to quickly expel asylum seekers from the country, saying it was a “Trumpist, anti-immigration policy” that “has no place in (border) communities.”
Garcia likewise called for the opening of federal welcome centers to take the weight off of religious and nonprofit institutions, which have largely carried the brunt of the work associated with welcoming thousands of arriving asylum seekers.
Communities along the U.S.-Mexico border represent the “new Ellis Island,” he said.
“We didn’t break the system,” Garcia said. “Somebody else needs to fix it and that’s the federal government.”
Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, called for immediate assistance for those sleeping on the streets in Downtown El Paso and likewise criticized Title 42 as a failed policy.
“It was never about the pandemic,” Ruben Garcia said. “It was about border enforcement; it was about border control (and) it continues to be about border enforcement.”
“The immigration system of the United States is broken,” he continued. “We’ve known that for years.”
Also present for Saturday’s protest were El Paso County Commissioner David Stout and former El Paso city Rep. Peter Svarzbein, with Stout railing against Title 42 and Svarzbein focusing on the real-life impact on those seeking asylum.
“It shouldn’t be used to manage immigration,” Stout said of the embattled policy. “It shouldn’t be used to manage the border. We need comprehensive immigration reform now.”
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Leaning on his experience as the child of immigrants, Svarzbein said that he can empathize with the plight of those coming to the United States.
“I understand personally what people are going through coming to this country for a better place,” Svarzbein said. “I’ve seen firsthand what we’ve been dealing with. While our voice is going out today, this issue didn’t start today. We must stay strong… to make sure we keep the ideal of our country, together and united.”