SAN JUAN, Texas (Border Report) — Not long before Gov. Greg Abbott hosted former President Donald Trump on a controversial visit to the border wall on Wednesday in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, over 150 migrant advocates and anti-border wall activists filled a hall at the headquarters of a famous civil rights group.
They waved flags and chanted, “Escucha estamos en la lucha,” Spanish for Abbott to “listen because we’re in the fight.” The predominantly Hispanic crowd cheered and clapped and encouraged one another as speakers from various nonprofit organizations took the stage at La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE’s Border Communities Town Hall in this rural South Texas border town.
Texas State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, a Democrat who represents this area, told the crowd in Spanish that Abbott’s plans to build a border wall “no se necesita” (is not necessary), and he chastised the use of $250 million in state funds to seed the project.
“You should spend the money on things that are more important,” he said in Spanish, elaborating that he believes the funds should instead be devoted to improving medical care, drainage and water issues in South Texas.
A torrential rainfall that forced the event indoors didn’t dampen the spirit or prevent the crowds from coming. Some people drove three hours from Laredo, and from Brownsville on the Gulf Coast to support this community that they say is being targeted by a visit by the governor and Trump who they say unfairly represent the region by calling it a “disaster” due to an influx of migrants.”
Members of the Brown Berets de Cemanahuac, a newly formed Chicano civil rights chapter in the Rio Grande Valley, joined members of LUPE, ARISE Adelante, Angry Tias & Abuelas, the Laredo Immigrant Alliance, the Texas American Federal of Teachers and the Texas Freedom Network, holding signs and raising their voices.
“We’re here to show the faces, the real faces of the Rio Grande Valley, of the border. In a few hours, Gov. Abbott and Donald Trump will be here painting a lie about our community,” LUPE Director of Organizing Danny Diaz told Border Report. “How they want to criminalize us and we deserve more militarization and more border walls and arresting everybody and trying to force the local counties to arrest and fill up our prisons. When in reality what we need … is better health care, better education and more infrastructure. Gov. Abbott is always welcome to the Valley to talk about those needs he’s not welcome when he’s here to paint us as criminals.”
At noon, Abbott welcomed Trump to the Department of Public Safety regional headquarters in nearby Weslaco, where he said during a meeting with law enforcement officials: “What a great thing to have President Trump back in the great state of Texas. He is a great friend to Texas. He is a great friend of mine.”
Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn, who heads law enforcement in North Texas in the Fort Worth area, thanked the pair “for putting a light on this so the rest of America sees what’s going on down here.”
Brooks County Sheriff Urbino “Benny” Martinez, whose district is 70 miles north of the border and home to one of the busiest U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints, said bailouts and chases by human traffickers are wreaking havoc in his area, which already lacks resources.
But noticeably absent during Trump and Abbott’s noon meeting on Wednesday were local law enforcement officials from the Rio Grande Valley, where some of the local county judges have refused to go along with Abbott’s disaster declaration due to the immigration surge.
Abbott has since dropped the four South Texas counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy from his May 31 disaster proclamation.
“The county judges listened to the border residents and they heard the facts and agreed there is no border crisis here. So why is Abbott and Trump even coming here?” Diaz told the crowd. “It’s to use our homes as props for their own political greed.”
“We are all immigrants,” said Ramona Casas, who heads the nonprofit ARISE Adelante. “Yes, they are coming from the border now. But so did we. This is what built our country. We should not be mean to them.”
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa led the crowd to chant, “Viva la raza!” “Viva LUPE!“
Hinojosa questioned where Abbott and Trump were “when our people were suffering from coronavirus in the Rio Grande Valley? … Now they come and say we need to build a wall.”
Roger Ramirez, of the Laredo Immigrant Alliance, said Wednesday marked the third anniversary of his father being told that he would be deported. The crowd on Wednesday he said “was very inspiring and energizing” and kept him from being sad thinking of his father.
“We continue to be outraged,” Ramirez said. “Gov. Abbott issued disaster declarations to further perpetuate crimes against our communities. … The crisis that does exist on our border is that we are constantly used as scapegoats.”
‘The Valley is safe’
“The Valley is safe. The Valley is vibrant and the Valley is our home,” said Denisce Palacios, of Texas Rising/Texas Freedom Network.
Cindy Andrade Johnson, a retired teacher from Brownsville who attended the rally told Border report: “I’m very happy that the community is working together because we feel like we’re being used as pawns here. What is happening is really just rhetoric and the border communities are being used. What we’re asking for is stuff that will help our communities so that we can thrive and do better instead of militarizing and using us as scapegoats.”
Said Laura Peña, a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project: “We are going to bring our power and bring the fight.”