Alibi V.28 No.32 • Aug 8-14, 2019 

New Mexico News

Border Concerns Continue

Immigration, violence and their local effects

Mariela Ruiz-Angel
Mariela Ruiz-Angel
August March

The humanitarian and cultural crisis at the southern border continues unabated.

At the border that extends about 300 miles through The Land of Enchantment’s Southern end, new challenges—including the massacre of Latinxs in El Paso that left 22 dead this past Saturday in El Paso, Texas—continue to add cruel and functional appendages to a multitenacled problem that has persisted since last summer—and also seems to grow and writhe in the calculated chaos invoked through divisive language coming from Washington.

Here in Burque, the ripple effect from these events, happening a mere 200 miles south of Barelas or Ridgecrest or for that matter, Holiday Park, is noticeable. Here’s a report on the effects and consequences of living near the edge of the world.

22 Dead in El Paso

This one’s likely still visible on Wednesday or Thursday, when the paper comes out; but if you get your news from Twitter or Instagram, then it may have already disappeared down the rabbit hole of allatonceness that Marshall McLuhan warned our parents and grandparents about. But this is huge news and it has tragic significance. We’re aware of the other mass slaughter of humans that happened within hours of the El Paso massacre. But as they say in the news business, that’s a whole other story.

Reports—as this is being written—point to an incident of domestic terrorism and hate crime against immigrants and Latinxs. The premeditated executions were carried out with an assault rifle at a Walmart store in a predominantly Latinx area of a city that is already about 80 percent brown to boot.

The shooter somehow survived his encounter with police and is cooperating, authorities say. But the story that he is telling and the artifacts he left behind, pre-massacre, are particularly disturbing.

In a missive posted on 8Chan minutes before the shooting began, alleged gunman Patrick W. Crusius wrote about the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and then threatened immigrants from Latin America, writing that “our way of life” could be sustained “if we can get rid of enough people.”

In El Paso—a place where many Burqueños have roots—the shock and consequent anger and mourning over this series of events was evident in the community.

On Monday morning, after federal investigators determined that what happened in El Paso was an act of domestic terrorism, a reporter from Weekly Alibi reached out to Irene Vasquez, chair of the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department at the University of New Mexico.

A longtime educator, advocate for the community and the Latinx world, Vasquez told Weekly Alibi, “In Albuquerque we feel the loss of those killed in El Paso by an individual perpetuating a hate crime against innocent and vulnerable human beings. The cold-blooded murders make us tremble and grieve simultaneously. Here in Albuquerque, many of us, including me, have relatives who live in El Paso and Juarez and who easily could have gotten caught up in the shooting. But we are connected by more than region and kin. Our hearts ache because we know that this is the result of hatred and malice stoked by those who look at the majority of our society, communities of color and the working class, as worthless and disposable. No one is free from this basic idea, which also means no one is safe. Our grief and insecurity weigh heavy today.”

Burque Equity

Mariela Ruiz-Angel works at the City of Albuquerque Department of Equity and Inclusion, where she’s the coordinator of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. Weekly Alibi met with Ruiz-Angel on Monday morning to discuss the mission and scope of her office and the effects that recent developments at the border may have on the work they do.

Weekly Alibi: Could you please tell our readers about your office and how it functions?

Mariela Ruiz-Angel: The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs was created about three years ago—with seed money from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation—to be an office that was inclusive to everyone, but especially toward immigrants and refugees who tend to be a little more vulnerable; there are many obstacles that they go through. We thought to create this office as a connector to the community, a catalyst for the community. If we see an issue that needs to be addressed, we’ll be the first one at the table to say it. We also consider ourselves to be collaborators. This office is not just myself, it really is about the community. When Mayor [Tim Keller] came into office, he created the Office of Equity and Inclusion under the direction of Michelle Melendez. Within this division of the office, we also have an Office of Native American Affairs.

What’s your basic mission?

What we’ve been dealing with is being a guide, a place for figuring out how to deal with injustice, how to fight injustice. We start having that conversation and have had some great interactions with the community regarding that. Healing and discussing systemic issues when it comes to health and immigration—and equity as a whole, job and housing equity—is also part of our mission. I think we’re in this really great spot where we can have tough conversations, but we’re getting somewhere.

What are you currently working on?

We currently working with a grant that we got from Cities for Citizenship. We’re really pushing people to get comfortable and to begin the process of naturalization. In the state of New Mexico, some 57,000 people qualify for naturalization. We’re working in partnership with the local community to get more people to apply for their citizenship. There’s so much more power there [for the individual]. But there’s still a lot of fear, fear of giving up their citizenship in the other place. We also worked with the asylum-seekers that were coming through Albuquerque.

I noticed that the movement of migrants and asylum-seekers through Albuquerque has tapered off. What’s the reason for that?

I will say that the federal administration instituted the Remain in Mexico program, we’ve seen a huge decrease. It just stopped. We know that there are families in Mexico that are stuck there.

Are they mostly citizens of Central America?

Yes, but we’re also seeing a large population of Central and Southern Africans that are flying in to Panama [or other Central American locales] and traveling north to our Southern border. There are people from Burundi and Cameroon at the border seeking asylum.

Why do people still head toward the US, especially given that some residents are presenting as violently hostile to immigrants?

My belief is that there this idea that came from the fact that many of our relatives, aunts and uncles migrated here 10 or 20 years ago, and it was much different. They succeeded and became part of America, part of the melting pot. Now we’re in a completely different world. But these are people that came with dreams. I don’t think many have realized that we are in a different place now. If you follow the news from El Paso and Juarez, there are busloads of people being sent back daily to their counties of origin, who have to let their relatives know that they didn’t make it across. The idea persists though, that there is a better life here. I still believe that; don’t you?

Yes, but now more complexity is added. Now violence has been directed against Latinos at the border. How does that affect you, the mission of your office, the people of Albuquerque?

I was born and raised in El Paso. I lived there most of my life. This is very painful. El Paso has always been a safe place, a place where crime is low. In my head I imagined this happening [to my family] ... The weekly ritual of getting paid on Friday, traveling between Juarez and El Paso, having Saturday be the big day for travel and shopping. You come across with your family. You get food, you go to Walmart, you do all your errands together, it’s all about family and that’s one reason our office is ready to help as much as we can, as we always have. Todos somos familia.

News Update

The latest developments from the border:

• The Los Angeles Times reports that the direct effect of the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico mandate has caused a massive shift in migration patterns. By the end of June, the US returned more than 20,000 asylum seekers to various border cities in Mexico to await their asylum hearings. Of the over 1,100 cases heard by June’s end, none have so far gone in an asylum-seeker’s favor. Faced with dire circumstances in Mexico, some are returning to Central America, where they also face danger.

• As of Monday, Aug. 5, inland border patrol checkpoints—like the one north of Las Cruces, N.M. on I-25—that had been closed in late March are back in business. Administration officials said the checkpoints were closed to help stem the flow of migrants and asylum-seekers at border checkpoints in El Paso and Antelope Wells, N.M. The checkpoints are a required stop for motorists and are located in the following spots in The Land of Enchantment: I-10 West—located 22 miles west of Las Cruces; I-25 North—located 23 miles north of Las Cruces; US 70 East—located 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo; US Route 54—located 30 miles south of Alamogordo; New Mexico Highway 185—located 13 miles northwest of Radium Springs.

Community Gathering in Support of El Paso
UNM Chicana and Chicano Studies Casita
1829 Sigma Chi NE • Saturday, Aug. 10, 6-9pm
For more details email chicanos@unm.edu