Christian Ramírez, Director of Human Rights for Alliance San Diego and Director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, came to Scripps College for a talk on “The Struggle for Human Rights in the Southern Border” on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are some of the most militarized border areas in the hemisphere and are threatened by various U.S. immigration policies, according to Ramírez.
Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Ramírez said that many people ignore the fact that his hometown is a border city just south of the United States. There has been a long history of racial profiling and targeting of both Mexican Americans and other border communities.
According to Ramírez, in the past, the United States has blamed Mexican Americans for bad policies that led to the Great Depression, and although Mexican American soldiers were drafted to fight in World War II, many of them were deported once the war ended.
Ramírez noted in his talk that the kind of racial targeting happening today is “nothing new to border communities” and “definitely nothing new to [his] family.”
Among the deportees were, in 1920, his great-grandfather, born in San Francisco, and in 1967, his grandfather who worked in the Central Valley of California, Arizona, and New Mexico, but died while still being owed around $3,000 by U.S. companies who refused to pay his backwages.
Oppression, racism, and excessive use of force toward Mexican Americans were part of the everyday conversation for Ramírez growing up in San Diego. Running away from border patrols was so normalized in his daily life that it became one of the games he would play as a child.
In fact, he and his family often slept through the sound of undocumented immigrants running through their backyard, the lights of helicopters shining, and the barking of dogs.
When he was in high school, the people in Ramírez’s community would often be handcuffed and detained by border patrols, under the office of California Governor Pete Wilson, who launched “racist,” “xenophobic,” and “anti-immigrant” campaigns, Ramírez said.
Ramírez added that under the democratic administration of Bill Clinton, “Every day became a repressive state in my community … [as] the status-quo of heavy-handed, iron-fisted border enforcement began to consolidate itself.” Ramírez added that in the time since, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have become some of the most militarized border areas in the hemisphere.
The narrative of U.S. lawmakers tells those outside the region that the border regions are lawless, barren lands filled with drug dealers, gun runners, and undocumented immigrants. Ramírez probed at the fallacy in this rhetoric, pointing out that El Paso, Texas, a U.S. border city neighboring Ciudad Juarez—one of the most dangerous cities in the world—is the safest city in the United States, while another border city of San Diego is the third safest city in the country.
According to Ramírez, most border communities actually contribute to the economic well-being of the United States. In fact, four out of every 11 jobs in this country depend exclusively on the trade between Mexico and the United States, Ramírez said.
“Despite all of these facts, facts don’t matter and have not mattered to policymakers, whether Republican or Democrat, because the notion is that in this lawless land, the Constitution does not apply here,” Ramírez said.
“If folks are strong enough to endure crossing the border for three or four days crossing the mountains, [they will] end up perhaps cleaning your campus here this afternoon,” Ramírez said. “That is not the American dream, but … the American nightmare. And that is the worst strategy of labor selection that we are seeing in the twenty-first century today.”
Today, the situation is even worse, according to Ramírez, as border patrols are permitted to set up checkpoints or detain others based on racial profiling—one’s skin color, attire, or proficiency in English.
However, Ramírez noted that the “silver lining” is the younger generation.
“You have in your hands the fight of your lifetime no matter where you stand,” he told the audience of students and community members.
Although Ramírez said that customs border protection is the largest body law enforcement in the United States, he urged students to engage in the political dialogue in order to make democracy work.
“Be mindful that we did not elect a king last November,” Ramírez said. “It is we the people who, at the end, will determine how he governs.”
Students from the 5Cs said that the talk opened up their perspective on the issue.
Annika Mammen SC ‘20 said that she was surprised by the extent to which the government racially targeted border communities, as the border patrol can enter private properties 100 miles from any border and has a history of murdering members of border communities.
“If the government itself is against immigrants … then that sentiment seeps through the ranks, right down to the general population,” Mammen said. “When America is basically a land of immigrants, how can we prevent other immigrants from coming here in search of a better life?”
Leah Shorb SC ’20 echoed the same sentiment, as the talk made her realize the degree to which even democratic administrations have mistreated various border communities. She also thought it was important that Ramírez brought up the idea of not “normalizing” the discrimination. The lecture gave Shorb a new “level of knowledge” and a sense of “urgency,” as conflicts today are not only more relevant, but more intense and more frequent for larger amounts of people.
Ariel So SC ’20 previously served as TSL’s editor-in-chief.