When I arrived in the United States from Mexico as a teenager in the 1990s, intimidated by a new language and a new culture, I never thought the life that this country would offer me and my family. Immigrants and asylum-seekers in the United States today face a very different reality, and those of us who care about human rights have to fight everyday to make sure that immigrants are afforded the most basic human dignity.
When I joined TCRP in December of 2013, I could not have imagined what the fight for immigrants’ rights in Texas would look like today. In the last seven years, I have seen anti-immigrant leaders in Texas deny birth certificates to hundreds of brown U.S. citizen children because of the immigration status of their parents. I have seen Texas lawmakers adopt one of the harshest anti-immigrant laws in the country.
Efrén speaking to a crowd on June 2019i n McAllen, TX, during a protest against family separations
More recently, hundreds of parents have fought back tears recounting about how Border Patrol agents took their children away in the name of a “Zero Tolerance” policy crafted by white nationalist policymakers in Washington. The federal government, in our name, has turned thousands of asylum-seekers away and forced them to live in the streets of Matamoros and Reynosa, and all along the border. The wasteful, xenophobic efforts to build a border wall have upended the lives of dozens of families, jeopardizing homes, communities, and our environment. And this year, the Trump administration continues separating families– using the pandemic as an excuse—and expelling hundreds of children fleeing violence and trying to reunite with their families in the United States.
Despite the challenges we face, the resilience of immigrant communities across the state and the country over the past few years gives me hope about where the movement is headed, and the role that TCRP will play in it. I have seen scores of advocates come forth and oppose SB-4, in and out of the courts. Our small but mighty team fights forcefully to expose family separations for the torture that they are, and help the rest of the country recognize the cruelty of the policy.
Protestors outside of the border patrol “Ursula” detention center in McAllen, TX
Today, TCRP continues to find creative ways to challenge the administration’s efforts to destroy the asylum system. I am inspired by our team’s innovative approach to stand up to Trump’s lawyers who enable him by trying to ram his border wall through the courts, and ensure that every affected family, every landowner, has their day in court and is treated with dignity and respect. And I am confident that our team will continue to do its part to ensure that every person— adults and children alike— who qualifies for asylum is afforded that protection.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, the immigrants’ rights movement must continue fighting for an affirmative vision of what this country can be, a vision in which a person’s skin color or immigration status does not determine their worth. We all need to build this future if our country is to truly live up to its promise of a land where everyone can aspire to a brighter, more just future. I have no doubt TCRP will play an instrumental role in crafting that vision for the border, for all of Texas, and far beyond.
Efrén and Civil Rights Leader Dolores Huerta at a fasting for immigrant family reunification in McAllen, TX
Leaving TCRP was not an easy decision, but I am excited about what lies ahead. As I embark on this new chapter at the Southern Poverty Law Center, I am eager to bring everything I have learned at TCRP to this next phase of my professional life. I am confident that the combination of my personal experience as an immigrant and my professional dedication will make a difference for immigrant communities across the South. Like I have done at TCRP, I will continue to make sure that the voices and experiences of immigrants are front and center in the fight for immigrant justice.
Read more about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project here.
Efrén is the legal director of the Racial & Economic Justice program at the Texas Civil Rights Project.