July 5, 2018 500 AM
ALPINE – “Ironically I see far more of God’s love in the words of Emma Lazarus, than I have heard from many of our political leaders as they sought biblical justification for the barbaric policy of separating thousands of children from their parents at the borders of our country” spoke the Reverend Michael Wallens of St Paul’s (Marfa) and St. James (Alpine) Episcopal churches as he stood clothed in a blue vestment under the red and white gazebo of the Brewster County Courthouse on Saturday in Alpine at a Families Belong Together rally.
The reverend was referring to Lazarus’ most famous poem, ‘The New Colossus’, which adorns the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Written in 1883, the poem helped to shape the popular idea of the Statue of Liberty as a welcoming mother, and of America as the great nation of immigrants. “Immigration is a complex issue” he continued, deserving of sophisticated dialogue and proposals. “We can argue over the appropriate approaches of how they should be enacted” stated Wallens, “but what is not debatable is the humanity of the individuals trying to enter our country out of fear from living where they do and the dignity they deserve”.
Resounding pleas to keep families together and analogous expression echoed from coast to coast, as hundreds of thousands of people gathered in both small towns and big cities across the country. Moved by accounts and galvanized by images of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, chants reverberated in collective opposition – an act of mass resistance to the Trump administration’s current immigration policies. Protesters flooded more than 700 locations, from immigrant-friendly cities like New York and Los Angeles to conservative Appalachia and Wyoming, calling for the swift reunification of undocumented families, and an end to the policies that cause separation.
They gathered on the front lawn of a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, near a detention center where migrant children were being held, and on a street corner near Trump’s golf resort at Bedminster, New Jersey, where the president was spending the weekend. In Alpine, a crowd of approximately 150 assembled to express collective disapproval of an issue so very close to home. Donned in white, bellowing dissent and shaking their fists in the air – both locals and visitors waved signs reading: “seeking ASYLUM is NOT ILLEGAL,” and “We are only as strong as we are UNITED.”
Speakers included Rev. Wallens; Amanda Chisholm, attorney with the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid; Dr Bibiana Gutierrez, clinical psychologist; Pete Gallego, former U.S Representative and longtime Texas House of Representatives member; and Jaime Escuder, criminal defense lawyer, writer and podcaster.
While moral issues and obligations, notions of humanity, legal rights of asylum seekers and migrants, thoughts on erroneous enforcement, and psychological effects of the children were at the forefront of the addresses, a more provokingly forthright and inspirited rhetoric came from Escuder in his remarks closing the rally.
“We are in big trouble”, he pronounced, “we got here through apathy and now we are in a real mess.”
He urged his audience to “WAKE UP!” by continuing to proclaim that “We are in a terrible time, where the checks and balances that we so carefully crafted to keep us from having to do what we are going to have to do soon, do not exist anymore… the truth is… our willingness to put our bodies in service of our ideals is the real check and balance. Forget about Congress… it is your turn, it is MY turn.”
Escuder concluded his assertion with a call to action, prompting the community to consider action beyond their presence at the rally. “We have to engage our bodies in non-violent movements of non-cooperation. No government can long stand when the people refuse to cooperate. If some of us aren’t free, none of us are free and it will take more than just speeches on a beautiful day…”
The Families Belong Together rally in Alpine was just one of many held across the state. Thousands attended rallies at the city halls in Houston and Dallas. At the Houston event, attendees marched to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s downtown Houston office. In El Paso, several hundred people took part in a rally at the front of the Paso del Norte international bridge downtown. More than 50 organizations partnered to co-host the event in Austin, which drew Austin Mayor Steve Adler and state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin.
The rallies certainly captured headlines and the attention of millions, but now what?
Will the critically compelling nature of this issue and the widespread outrage fade into a backdrop or will it help lead to a pivotal moment in the debate over immigration in the U.S.?
“I’ve never seen so many people that so deeply care about immigration. This is unlike anything I’ve seen. It’s just a huge amount of opportunity and we have to ride this wave to making change,” said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for Move-On.org , one of the organizations behind the nationwide rallies. Those at the rallies said they know the march likely won’t be enough to lead to meaningful change, but they don’t intend to sit idly by without speaking out.