Delegation to Chiapas, Mexico preaches cross-border advocacy for migrant rights
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Delegation to Chiapas, Mexico preaches cross-border advocacy for migrant rights

A year after the surge of Central American migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, a group from Los Angeles has not forgotten about the ongoing regional migration.

A delegation of clergy, lawyers and activists recently traveled to Chiapas, one of Mexico’s four southern border states, to meet with local immigration advocates. The goal of the trip was to witness the hardships migrants experience passing through Mexico and to promote collaboration between organizations helping these migrants in Los Angeles and Chiapas.

White-haired and fierce-tongued Father Richard Estrada selected the group. The priest from East L.A., now in his seventies, is no stranger to organizing people around a cause. He worked with Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers labor movement decades ago, and has continued fighting for Latino and immigrants’ rights ever since.

Now Estrada works mainly with immigrant youth in Los Angeles, but his work extends past Southern California.

Through Ramon Verdugo, who runs a shelter in Tapachula called Todo Por Ellos, Estrada planned a trip for L.A.-based immigration advocates and scholars to understand the crisis beyond the U.S. border.

People use rafts to carry goods across the river. Photo: Anna-Catherine Brigida

People use rafts to carry goods across the river. Photo: Anna-Catherine Brigida

On the Guatemala bank of the Suchiate River, Estrada addressed the delegation, its local hosts and anyone else who gathered around to listen. On the humid, 90-degree day, both Mexican and Guatemalan workers took a break from unloading the cans of Coca-Cola and paper towel rolls they had paddled across the river on makeshift rafts, as Estrada stood with his back to Mexico’s Ciudad Hidalgo across the river.

“This is more than a trip,” Estrada said to the group in Spanish. “It’s a strong symbol that we are with you all.”

The delegation had just crossed the border as a symbolic gesture in solidarity with migrants from Central America who have been following this route for decades.

A year ago, these migrants resurfaced on the international community’s consciousness when a surge of unaccompanied underage migrants and women with children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of these migrants were from Central America’s Northern Triangle: Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Many of these migrants chase the American dream. Others end up putting down roots in Mexico.

“These children are our children”

In Chiapas, these migrants may find temporary work in “el basurero,” translated to English as “the dump.” To get there, the delegation traveled up a winding road into a humble town where the trash pickers live. Stray dogs walked on the side of the road.

For $1 a day, men withstand the unbearable stench that is only made worse by heat. They rummage through trash for recyclables as vultures circle overhead. Most women stay at home with their children, but some work alongside the men in the dump.

People work in the "basurero." Photo: Anna-Catherine Brigida

People work in the “basurero.” Photo: Anna-Catherine Brigida

Other migrants stay in shelters while en route to the United States. Verdugo’s shelter, Todo Por Ellos, provides food and shelter for young migrants.

The modest shelter, with chipped yellow paint covering the walls, can house no more than 20 migrants, but hopes to expand. As the delegation walks upstairs, they notice the lack of a handrail. Verdugo wants to fix it for the children’s safety, but his funding is limited. The group quickly notes that this is something with which they could help.

Back in Los Angeles, members the delegation will continue their work. This means continuing to support shelters like Todo Por Ellos through fundraising efforts and keeping channels of dialogue open.

The delegation will also continue to build connections with organizations throughout the United States, Mexico and Central America to collaborate in their efforts to denounce human rights abuses against migrants.

“We have to realize that these children are our children,” said Father Tom Carey, who traveled with the delegation from Los Angeles, as he stood on the river bank. “We cannot separate ourselves.”

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