Migrant advocates issue counter-disaster declaration, say Texas governor is ‘spreading fear’

U.S. & World

'Ya basta' moment spurred civil rights group into action

SAN JUAN, Texas (Border Report) — A well-known migrant advocacy group has “hit back” against Gov. Greg Abbott’s disaster declaration that was issued for Texas border communities due to the migrant influx, and have issued a counter-disaster declaration of their own that questions the governor’s stance on minorities and his willingness to help border communities in South Texas.

The nonprofit group La Union del Puebo Entero (LUPE) on Wednesday issued a proclamation “By the People of the Rio Grande Valley” of South Texas, which claims Abbott’s disaster declaration issued earlier this week was “a transparent attempt to distract from his failed leadership,” and unfairly mischaracterized the border communities.

Read LUPE’s proclamation here.

LUPE’s strongly worded proclamation charges the Republican-led Abbott administration with racism against minorities stating “he shames and blames Black, brown and working-class communities who have struggled to work, feed, their families and secure healthcare.”

And it claims the governor has sent unnecessary law enforcement to the South Texas border region, such as surging 1,000 DPS state troopers, which they say “militarize, surveil and hurt border residents.”

Instead, the Abbott administration should better help border residents by providing a “social safety net and investing more in their lives,” LUPE Director of Organizing Danny Diaz told Border Report on Thursday.

LUPE Director of Organizing Danny Diaz is seen on Thursday, June 3, 2021, at LUPE’s headquarters in San Juan, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

LUPES’ proclamation was meant to send a message, Diaz said as he gave Border Report a tour of the group’s headquarters in San Juan, Texas.

The organization was co-founded by civil rights activists and farmworker champions César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, and has assisted thousands of migrant workers and mixed-status families in these rural farming communities on the border with Mexico. Most live in poor housing complexes with little amenities, known as colonias.

And rather than sending resources to better help them — such as during the February freeze and electric power failure — Diaz says Abbott instead diminishes migrant communities by spreading misinformation.

“He just declared a disaster again using the immigration issue,” Diaz said. “He’s pandering to it. He’s messaging. He’s giving red meat to a base that wants to hear that. It’s unfortunate. And to use the border communities or immigration as a political punching bag, we think that’s unfair. That’s injustice. So we have to hit back. We have no choice. If we believe in what we believe in we have to call it out,” Diaz said.

In issuing the proclamation, LUPE is requesting that supporters donate to organizations that support migrants in the region, such as the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers and the nonprofit Angry Tias & Abuelas.

“To use the border communities or immigration as a political punching bag, we think that’s unfair. That’s injustice. We have to hit back. … we have to call it out.”

Danny Diaz, LUPE director of organizing

How much effect the proclamation will have is yet to be seen.

Proclamations, resolutions and declarations are frequently used by political entities to galvanize support for an idea and to show a unifying group behind it. But the documents do not carry legal weight.

“They do pay attention. Do they do anything about it? That’s another question,” State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democrat from the Rio Grande Valley, told Border Report on Thursday. 

“Abbott issued a declaration that I don’t agree with. We’re stepping up resources to deal with immigrants coming across the border,” Hinojosa said. “To me it’s more political than practical.”

A sign at the nonprofit La Union del Pueblo Entero in San Juan, Texas, explains the organization was co-founded by civil rights activist César Chávez. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

LUPE’s proclamation was issued on behalf of these four South Texas counties: Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr.

Abbott’s disaster declaration, issued Monday, includes 34 Texas counties from El Paso in the West, to Cameron on the Gulf Coast

Read Gov. Abbott’s disaster declaration.

In it, the governor claims the federal government has abdicated its responsibilities, saying “the international border is the federal government’s responsibility.” He wrote that since 2014, the State of Texas has spent $3.5 billion to help secure the border and protect public safety.

He announced that he was authorizing “the use of all available resources of state government … to cope with this disaster.” That includes use of local law enforcement agencies “to assist and protect Texans from criminal activity and property damage.”

A U.S. Border Patrol agent apprehends a undocumented migrant on March 26, 2021, in Brooks County, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

The declaration comes after ranchers in communities along and just north of the Mexico border have increasingly called for more state assistance as they say their farms and properties are in a battleground area where migrants and human traffickers, known as coyotes, try to flee law enforcement agents and cause much collateral damage.

Several counties recently have declared states of emergency to request federal funding for costs related to the disaster, including: Crockett, Edwards, Goliad, Gonzales, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Jim Hogg, Kinney, La Salle, Lavaca, Maverick, Presidio, Real, Uvalde and Val Verde counties.

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks to media on March 9, 2021, in Mission, Texas, alongside other state leaders touting Operation Lone Star. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Since Biden took over the White House, Abbott has repeatedly blamed the latest immigration surge on the Southwest border on the Biden administration and what he says are lax immigration policies.

Since January, Abbott has visited South Texas several times, including in early March when he announced he was surging DPS troopers to the region via Operation Lone Star.

Diaz said the overwhelming use of force on the Rio Grande Valley is unnecessary and a threat to local communities, where state troopers are positioned in many locations barely a mile apart on state roadways.

“It’s an unfortunate political move on his end to politicize South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley. Not only have we seen his failed leadership on those issues, we’ve seen a massive surge of DPS without clear, concise goals or what he’s trying to do,” Diaz said.

Danny Diaz directs organizing activities for LUPE in San Juan, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Abbott has defended the operation, which in three months has made over 1,300 criminal arrests and apprehended 35,000 undocumented migrants; seized over 10,000 pounds of drugs and 100 firearms, he wrote in the proclamation.

“Operation Lone Star is delivering results to keep our communities safe, but it is also exposing the continued failures of the Biden Administration to secure the border,” Abbott said April 1, in Weslaco, Texas, where he came to give an update on the operation.

Diaz says that Abbott’s declaration came at a time when he is taking heat for threatening to cut off funding to the Legislature for a voting rights bill that failed to pass in the session’s final day.

He calls this a “ya basta” moment (which means to stop) in the history of the Rio Grande Valley. And he hopes residents in South Texas and throughout the state and nation will take notice.

Ya basta, right! We want security for families. We want opportunity. We want the bread and butter issues to be addressed by the governor,” Diaz said.

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