The situation at the U.S.-Mexico border has garnered even more attention, following the release of a photograph of a man and his 23-month-old daughter lying dead on the bank of the Rio Grand River after a failed crossing attempt last week. Some are calling it America’s Syria moment, alluding to the photo of a drowned Syrian boy washing up on a Turkish beach in 2015, an image that sent shockwaves across the world.
“It’s dreadful and frustrating,” Nancy Neavel, an 81-year-old Austin grandmother and activist for women’s health care, says about watching the unfolding border drama and heartrending plight of immigrant families from the sidelines in Austin.
But, as Neavel notes, there’s an “education process” that everyone can get involved in to better understand the politics behind the crisis — and what’s actually happening on the ground.
There are also a range of real, concrete actions Austinites can undertake to help ease the suffering occurring right here in Texas. Though the scale of the border immigration challenge can appear unsurmountable, anyone can make a contribution — and a difference.
“Go down and be present at the border,” says Deliana Garcia, director of international projects and emerging issues at The Migrant Clinicians Network. “You’re a U.S. citizen, so you have every right to be there on the American side to see what is actually going on and witness what is being done in your name.”
Make small, practical gestures.
While the likes of food and medicine are sorely needed, Garcia notes how those are usually bulky and so best left to organizations. She says a more practical option for an individual looking to help at the border is handing out cheap phones outfitted with sim cards and some credit. Phones are often overlooked as a donation item but sorely needed by immigrants who often arrive with only a phone number of a relative or contact in a distant city scribbled on a piece of paper.
Offer up your skills.
As government agencies grapple to respond to the crisis, numerous non-governmental organizations are mobilizing in response to overcrowding and substandard living conditions in shelters housing immigrants. (The Texas Tribune has compiled an extensive list of such organizations engaging with the crisis at the Texas-Mexico border.)
“If you’re a health care worker, and can take two weeks off, offer your services to an organization helping immigrants, and they will use you,” Garcia says.
She notes that anyone who can speak Spanish, or a language of one of the South American countries from which immigrants are coming, can offer to work as an interpreter. In addition to assisting with everyday interactions, Garcia says an interpreter is vital for conducting interviews to establish if an individual has “credible fear” for leaving their country and being granted asylum in the U.S.
Even if you don’t have any obvious specialist skillsets, an organization may still need you. For example, volunteers don’t need to have immigration law experience to work with Kids In Need of Defense, which partners with major law firms in a nationwide pro bono network representing unaccompanied children through their immigration proceedings.
Reach for the wallet
Donations are clearly needed and being accepted by the likes of Angry Tias & Abuelas (which translates as Angry Aunts and Grandmothers). It delivers financial support to local shelters; transportation to and from bus stations, airports, and shelters; and emergency food, water, clothing, and toiletries to individuals and families seeking asylum.
... and the phone.
Despite our political winds appearing to often blow ill nowadays, no country offers the potential for genuine contact with elected officials quite like America. So, if you want impending raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be called off and detention conditions improved, let your congressional representatives know. Austin-based legal defense nonprofit Raices has a template and an online form that you can use.
You can also reach out to local officials to voice concerns and ideas for helping immigrants. This official government website provides links to finding your city, county, and town officials.
Know your rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union has shared a “Know Your Rights” page for encounters with ICE, as well as a video to help people understand their rights and what to do if ICE officials come to their home.
Exercise your First Amendment.
In the coming weeks, marches and other civic actions protesting inhumane conditions and calling for an end to detention camps are expected across the country. Lights for Liberty, a nationwide vigil scheduled for July 12, is hosting nine events in Texas, including Austin, Georgetown, and Hutto.
During the first Democratic presidential debate on June 26, the situation at the border proved a major debating point — one that saw a feisty exchange between former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke over immigration law.
With the presidential primaries still months away, you’ll be hearing much more on the topic. Listen to what each candidate says about his or her plan for immigration reform, and look back at their voting records. And be prepared to cast a ballot in line with the type of border policy you would like to see beginning in 2021.