The area of the U.S.-Mexico border where a caravan of migrants have gathered looks more like a war zone than a place where refugees may look for help in America, a witness told a crowd gathered in Merced this week to draw attention to the issue.
Itzuri Alberto and about 20 other people from advocacy group Cosecha Merced went down to San Diego to see for themselves last month, and some even crossed into Mexico to give donations of clothes, food, toiletries and other items to the people stranded there.
“There’s no true organization that is assisting them, just communal, grassroots organizations that are going and dropping off materials there. They’re distributing them themselves,” the 23-year-old said Thursday.
Alberto was taking part in a candle lighting ceremony planned by Faith in the Valley of Merced meant to bring attention to what’s happening at the border. Similar demonstrations were held around the Valley in an effort to appeal to the faithful, according to organizers.
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The showdown at the San Diego-Tijuana border crossing has thrown into sharp focus two competing narratives about the caravan of migrants stranded on Mexico’s side of the border, hoping to apply for asylum in the U.S.
President Donald Trump has portrayed them as a threat to U.S. national security, intent on exploiting America’s asylum law, but others insist he’s exaggerating to stoke fears and achieve his political goals.
The demonstrations in the Valley are meant to send a message to elected officials to direct funding toward processing those seeking asylum, according to Blanca Ojeda of Faith in the Valley.
“There is no real system to process people,” she said. “We want them to stand up and create that system. We want them to stand up and process asylum-seekers.”
The U.S. military said hundreds of troops previously deployed in south Texas and Arizona as part of a border security mission have been moved to California to patrol the border.
The military’s role is limited largely to erecting barriers along the border and providing transportation and logistical support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Democratic lawmakers and immigrant rights groups have blasted the border agents’ tactics.
There were clashes that saw Border Protection agents launching pepper spray balls in addition to tear gas in what officials said were on-the-spot decisions made by agents. U.S. troops deployed to the border on Trump’s orders were not involved in the operation.
The Rev. Ella Luna-Garza of United Methodist Church of Merced said the treatment of people at the border goes beyond race issues.
“We should be very aware that this is not a brown issue,” she said. “It’s a humanitarian issue, it’s a spiritual issue and it’s an issue for people who care for this world.”
The advocates in Merced also called for the underfunding of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly called ICE.