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Coming (back) home: Laura Peña returns to TCRP

I remember one conversation with my mother several years ago while I was traveling in Southeast Asia, working to combat human trafficking and advance human rights.

“Mija, I’m glad you are seeing the world. But there are big problems that need solutions, right here at home, on the border.”

Everybody hates admitting when their mother is right.

But Mom had a point.

I was born and raised in the Río Grande Valley, and after high school left for nearly two decades before being called home, spiritually and professionally. I remember the moment in June 2018. I was sitting in a bustling California airport and scrolling through my Facebook feed. I watched my predecessor, Efrén Olivares, speak outside a CBP detention center about defending the migrant parents who had been forcibly separated from their children. Like many other Americans, I was horrified with the level of human rights atrocities being committed by the U.S. government. In listening to the concrete strategy that TCRP was employing to reunify families, I knew immediately where I needed to be and who I needed to fight alongside. That moment led me to TCRP as a visiting attorney for nine months, where I was honored to help reunify families and advocate against the devastating harm to adults and children when the government separated them. I documented these policies in a report (link to report), and the TCRP team has advanced that steadfast work (link to report) by calling out the continued painful effects of ongoing family separations.

Nearly two years after that life-changing work with TCRP, I am returning to the organization that spurred my homecoming to lead the team defending immigrant and borderland communities. I am grateful and humbled to join a team of tenacious, passionate and insightful legal advocates. There continues to be an acute need for rapid-response community lawyering, paired with strategic and impactful litigation to protect the rights of longtime border residents as well as recent asylum seekers whom we welcome to our country.

But we won’t stop there. The intersectionality of border issues across the state of Texas has never been more apparent. The state to federal immigration prison pipeline continues to incarcerate predominantly Black and brown immigrants at an alarming rate. Why should a traffic violation lead to the total destruction of a family unit by deporting the breadwinner? Funding for government operated drones, blimps, and helicopters to monitor our every move has never been higher. What accountability must we require to protect ourselves from invasive surveillance at the border and how does border militarization embolden the prison industrial complex across the state? Family separation, be it through ICE raids, false choices presented to parents in government facilities, or the expulsions, continue to rip apart immigrants’ lives in our name. How is it that the children immigrant prison industrial complex got so big, and why do children continue to be separated from their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and adult siblings? These are a few of the complex and gripping questions that my team and I will be asking ourselves as we work alongside our Texas communities to replace fear and harm with dignity and justice.

So, yes. Mom was right. We’ve got big problems to solve.

But we also have big hearts and big minds. And with your support, we will never go at it alone. I am proud to be back home, and I am ready to fight together.

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