Organizing for border justice in San Diego

January 17, 2019

On the heels of successful back-to-back days of protest in mid-January, Jim Boyle and Zack Frailey suggest a new challenge for a fledgling coalition of organizations committed to immigrant and refugee rights.

THE SAN Diego Migrant and Refugee Solidarity Coalition was back in the streets in mid-January to once again rally and march in support of the rights of immigrants, even as the Trump administration was digging in to maintain the federal government shutdown in order to blackmail legislators into funding his southern border wall.

With reports of a new caravan forming in Central America and thousands of migrants and refugees still languishing in U.S. detention centers and inadequate shelters in Tijuana, a militant mass movement is urgently needed to address the humanitarian crisis unfolding in North America and beyond.

The rallies — on January 11 and 12, along with an action late last year in San Ysidro — are the product of a coalition of local and national organizations which includes Democratic Socialists of America, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), Unión del Barrio, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Colectivo Zapatista and Otay Mesa Detention Resistance.

Instead of a single rally, the coalition organized rallies on successive days to flood the streets with its message. The first rally took place in downtown San Diego with an opening rally in front of the Mexican Consulate followed by a short march to a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facility, a long stop in the middle of the street that included a speech, then another march to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility for a closing rally.

Protesters march in solidarity with the refugee caravan in San Diego
Protesters march in solidarity with the refugee caravan in San Diego (Unión del Barrio | Facebook)

The first rally drew a crowd of between 80 and 100 participants, but it packed a political punch beyond its numbers with a series of sharp political speeches reinforcing an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist message connecting present patterns of migration to the underlying social crisis sown by decades of U.S. domination of Central America.

The second rally took the coalition’s message of solidarity directly to the San Ysidro border crossing. A crowd of about 100 defied rain and cold to tell CBP, “Let them in!” At a press conference and rally outside the station, a representative of the Otay Mesa Detention Resistance read out a series of demands:

That governments around the world respect the rights of asylum for Central Americans

That governments respect the right to seek asylum and that the U.S. lift the executive order limiting access to asylum

That the U.S. government process asylum claims with expediency and allow asylum claims to be made anywhere along the border, according to international law

That the U.S. government publicly acknowledge and apologize for its role in the 2009 coup in Honduras, and that the Honduran government acknowledge that it is a U.S.-supported dictatorship

That the United Nations and Mexico also recognize the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border

Freedom for incarcerated migrants and free movement for asylum-seekers — no incarceration of migrants in shelters or for-profit detention centers

The prosecution of officials who violate the human rights of asylum seekers, according to international law

Amy, an ISO member, also addressed the rally:

Capitalism and U.S. imperialism will keep thrusting the plight of the migrant, the refugee, of women and queer folk fleeing domestic and gang violence, to the front of every struggle. It’s only our power, people power, that can stop the ruling class from hoarding wealth and resources and from committing crimes against humanity. They get to throw around numbers in the billions over how much to fund their state terrorist departments like CBP and ICE, but what’s actually needed are doctors, lawyers, food, and mental health professionals for our siblings in exodus.

After the speak-out, the rally marched to the entrance of the border patrol station, so that those inside — border patrol agents as well as their victims — could hear our message. A group of eight anti-immigrant counter-protesters followed behind, surrounded by police, but their half-hearted chants were easily drowned out.

THE POLITICAL character of the coalition was apparent in the militancy of both marches. The signage was dense throughout the crowd, adding to the visual impact of our numbers. The most dramatic of these signs were three life-sized cardboard cutouts of the children who died recently in ICE custody.

Other signs included “No one is illegal on stolen land,” “Stop scapegoating migrants for the crisis in capitalism,” “Stop child imprisonment and family separation,” and “From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have got to go.” The chants during the march matched the speeches and the signage in vibrancy, and the streets of downtown San Diego were made to ring with denunciations of the police, the border patrol, mass detention, and ICE.

The San Diego Migrant and Refugee Solidarity Coalition accomplished an impressive amount during its second weekend of action in its still short existence. Its political messaging was clear and its demands pulled no punches, which is an achievement for a fledgling organization bringing together a number of different radical tendencies.

Going forward, the challenge will be to connect the coalition’s message to larger audiences beyond the membership of its constituent members. With the attention of the world glued to the caravaneros and the atrocities being committed at the U.S.-Mexico border, the coalition has an enormous opportunity to tap into a large current of society horrified by what they’re seeing in mainstream news coverage. Trump captures headlines with his rhetoric and his ramped-up repression of migrants and refugees — and the coalition can counter by seeking to win the hearts and minds of those who aren’t fully convinced by Trump.

The weekend’s actions were important for keeping the momentum up for the pro-immigrant side, and for injecting an argument for freedom of movement into the public discourse at a time when Democrats are calling for “smart” border enforcement. Like the airport protests in early 2017 that mobilized thousands and spurred the courts to stay Trump’s travel ban, mobilizing larger numbers will give the coalition the power to push back against the injustices at the border.

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