‘A hub for everyone’: Border Network for Human Rights office opens in Presidio

PRESIDIO — Last Friday, the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) celebrated a ribbon cutting for its new satellite office in Presidio. The organization has been hosting smaller local events since May, most notably a roundtable discussion and a pop-up event in solidarity with marches protesting Operation Lone Star, Governor Abbott’s infusion of funding for law enforcement in Texas border communities. Locals turned out to Friday’s event to celebrate BNHR’s permanent place in the community. 

BNHR — an El Paso-based organization — hopes to spread its message by connecting border communities with educational resources as controversy over state and national border policy reaches a fever pitch. “The BNHR is opening Human Rights Centers in the Texas border region to further develop community capacity and community engagement to address a systemic violation of rights created, mostly, by unaccountable border strategies and immigration law enforcement institutions,” Executive Director Fernando Garcia wrote in a press release. 

Presidio was not the only community to celebrate a new BNHR outreach location this past week — Del Rio had its own-ribbon cutting on Tuesday. The organization hopes to expand to employ locals in both cities full time and provide everyone in the community with information that will help protect and empower them as political tides change. In addition to the day-to-day operations of their local offices, BNHR hosts actions large and small, from parades in the borderlands’ larger cities to distributing pamphlets about how to advocate for yourself in a traffic stop

Lizette Rohana — who has deep roots in Presidio and Ojinaga — helped bring BNHR to town after years of serving the regional community through volunteer work. “We have activist friends in common,” she explained. “I did not want to let go of this opportunity. We’re so isolated here, it’s important for not only Presidio but the whole Big Bend area. We want to make it a community center, a hub for everyone.”

Rohana has played an important role in helping BNHR adapt its message for a local audience. One major difference she advised from the organization’s big-city messaging was to try to work with law enforcement, rather than protesting their existence — Customs and Border Protection employees represent a significant chunk of the town’s population. “We want to build a network where we can work with law enforcement, but also people feel like they can come in and ask questions,” she said. “We want to be mediators and bridge that gap.”

Presidio high school senior Ramon Rodriguez joined in on Friday’s festivities. He’s had plenty of organizing experience through Project Homeleaf, a youth-led group dedicated to environmental causes.  “I decided to get into it because the youth needs to be represented here too — we have a say because we’re all human beings,” he said. “When I first heard about the program, I thought that it wasn’t a luxury, it was a necessity — especially in a border town.” 

Rodriguez explained that he felt immigration and human rights causes were interconnected with environmental activism. His organization educates folks about climate change and fights against it — in a world where people are increasingly displaced from their homes by climate disasters. “When it comes to peoples’ health and safety, especially refugees or people looking for somewhere to go, the environment plays a big role,” he said. 

Presidio is a town where it’s not unusual for people with multiple immigration statuses — undocumented people, permanent residents, guest workers — to live in the same house. Rodriguez has seen that play out in his own family and in the families of his friends. “I told my grandparents about [BNHR], and they said, ‘Imagine if we’d had that when we immigrated, if we knew we’d be protected and that there’s someone behind us,’” he said. 

Rodriguez is hoping his involvement will help start tough conversations about issues like border policy and racial profiling among Presidians his age. “As the youth, we can’t forget where we came from,” he said, noting that most of the older generations in his family were born in Mexico. “At the end of the day, we all have human rights, and we can really do something to improve things for the next generation.” 

Both Rodriguez and Rohana are looking forward to their next major action — Presidio’s first official delegation to attend the annual Hugs Not Walls event in El Paso, where families separated by border policies spend five minutes reunited in the river together. Rohana is helping to bring the organizers of Voices from Both Sides, a similar event held in Lajitas, to the El Paso demonstration. “We’re not leaving anybody out — we’re trying to see how we can make it a bigger and more powerful event,” she said.