EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Far from discouraging them from helping international citizens on the move, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s busing of migrants to major U.S. cities is creating stronger partnerships, an El Paso immigrant advocate says.
“What used to be a very specific borderland issue now, because of Gov. Abbott’s initial response – his tactics of busing migrants to other parts of the country – has actually brought us into closer contact with colleagues in other communities,” said Marisa Limon Garza, executive director of El Paso’s Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.
Abbott since April has sent more than 9,000 migrants released from U.S. immigration custody to Washington, D.C., New York City and this week, Chicago. Some of Abbott’s GOP colleagues celebrated the uninvited transports so that Democratic-led municipalities experience what border communities have been living with the unprecedented migration surge.
But Limon said representatives from New York City Mayor Eric Adams were on the border this week, requesting advice from Las Americas to better understand the needs of the migrants getting off buses the Texas governor put them in so they can address those needs.
“You can believe we are going to start seeing more of a network of support that, yes, is connected to the border, but it’s not going to be us being the only group carrying the water,” Limon said. “Instead, it will be more organizations, more municipalities and governments taking a concerted effort to work together in a humanitarian response to meet the needs of people on the move.”
An Adams spokesman confirmed that New York City representatives were in El Paso on a “fact-finding mission to hear directly from folks on the ground along the southern border.”
Las Americas also has received unprecedented resources in the years coinciding with the migrant surge, as like-minded partners and individuals all over the country want to help those fleeing poverty, violence, political oppression and droughts and storms some attribute to global warming or “climate change.”
“If we zoom out, we know that people are on the move all over the world every single day. Whether it’d be due to COVID, due to the climate crisis, due to economic fallout, due to the war in Ukraine — there are so many reasons for people to be on the move,” she said.
Dealing with immigration cases like ‘being a doctor’ at the height of COVID-19
Limon began her job as the new executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center this week. The former senior director for advocacy at another nonprofit, the Hope Border Institute, describes herself as a “fronteriza” in tune with the culture and challenges residents of border communities like El Paso face.
She takes over for Linda Rivas, who led the organization through periods of major changes in U.S. immigration policy.
Those included former President Donald Trump’s hardline tactics to deal with increased migration characterized by large caravans originating from Central America. Trump measures like the “Remain in Mexico” policy exposed tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to violence in Mexico, while the Title 42 public health order authorizing immediate expulsions of ineligible migrants shut the doors to asylum almost entirely.
Limon says she’s grateful for President Joe Biden doing away with MPP, but as long as Title 42 remains in place people are denied due process and continue to be exposed to violent and human smuggling gangs.
“The last several years [….] have been incredibly challenging for border communities like ours and organizations like Las Americas and legal service providers who are the first line of defense. I can only compare it to an emergency physician during the COVID era,” she said. “That is what it’s like being an immigration attorney in the southern border with policies like Title 42 and ‘Remain in Mexico’ in place.”
Las Americas continues to receive numerous calls daily of people seeking legal advice and representation. “There is so much need, and every call feels like life and death. In some instances, it very much is,” she adds.
Whether a new normal as a result of exacerbated “push” factors like poverty and violence, or whether the perception that it’s easier to be let into the United States with the Democrats in power also plays a role, encounters with unauthorized migrants continue surging at historical levels, according to federal government data.
Defining what makes a ‘fronteriza’
One of the biggest obstacles that other advocacy groups cite when serving the needs of legal and humanitarian assistance is that migrants are physically in Mexico, whether through expulsion or the denial of access to asylum. Advocates must know the language, the laws, the customs and where it is safe and not safe to go in a foreign country.
Limon, whose father is from Mexico and her mother was born in El Paso, and some members of her team have such bicultural awareness and can accomplish their mission on either side of the border. That’s part of the mystique of being a “fronterizo,” or denizen of the U.S.-Mexico border, she said.
Another is the deep commitment to family and spirituality that is such a big part of Hispanic culture.
“It’s not lost on me that I’ve had many privileges in my life and that I enjoyed the benefits of a college education, a lot of experiences in El Paso but also outside of the region in Texas, other parts of the country and also internationally,” Limon said. “Those experiences come with a great responsibility to recognize the systemic challenges that are at play in the United States and in Mexico [….] It’s incredibly important to me is to make sure that if I have any kind of power to help other people thrive and reach their fullest potential, then, why wouldn’t I do that? I’m so incredible fortunate to do that as part of my work.”
Limon, 45, is a graduate of Eastwood High School in El Paso and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Notre Dame University, the latter in education.