Border Network for Human Rights hopes to inspire borderlands residents to organize 

PRESIDIO — On Sunday, El Paso’s Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) hosted a luncheon and roundtable discussion for representatives from organizations in Presidio, Terlingua and Marfa. The conversation flowed easily between English and Spanish as participants briefed the El Paso contingency with local views on Operation Lone Star and how the national news casts the border in an unfairly negative light. 

Though it was some of the El Paso organizers’ first trip to Presidio, the group has a long history in Presidio County — according to the BNHR’s website, the organization listed its involvement in fighting for justice for Esequiel Hernandez, a teenager from Redford who was murdered by National Guard troops stationed at the border in 1997, as one of its proudest achievements. In recent years, the group has organized protests against the use of military force at the border, citing Hernandez’s death as an example of how dangerous these policies can be. 

“Right now what we’re doing is convening our Frontera Tejas organizing project,” explained Betty Camargo, policy director for the BNHR. “The focus of this project is to be able to partner with different leaders along the border to strengthen communities where there is no community organizing capacity, and to be able to develop programming where families can come and learn about human, civil and constitutional rights.”

The organization will be touring communities along the border over the next few weeks — Presidio is their first stop. “We want to share our organizing model and see what necessities are in this community,” Camargo said. 

Executive Director Fernando García moderated Sunday’s roundtable discussion. “What we want to do is to start training organizers, where we teach community members to become human and constitutional rights promoters,” he said. “That’s the first step — we want to train people how to document abuses and to deliver noise presentations to members of the community who want to learn more. Most importantly, we want to bring people together.”

Camargo explained that the training offered to community members in Presidio will be a condensed version of the workshops the organization offers in El Paso. “Our curriculum talks about what human rights are, and how we can share that information with others. We talk about the universal declaration of rights as well as civil and constitutional rights. Usually it’s a 40-hour training, but we’re shrinking it down to a day and a half.”

García said that organizing rural communities like Presidio could be “a challenge” for his El Paso team, but that they have experience working in rural communities outside the city and in southern New Mexico. “The first thing is to actually identify and create some empathy in regards to the issues people are going through. I think, if that happens, then the rest of it is going to come more easily.”

He cited the “massive presence of DPS troopers” at the border in the wake of Governor Abbott’s Operation Lone Star surge as an example of a statewide issue that could have repercussions even in remote communities along the border in the Big Bend. “We want to know how people here are dealing with that,” he said. “To be honest, organizing is a very slow process — sometimes you need to connect with people one by one, one family and then another family.”