Steve Taylor on the Border Caravan

Rio Grande Guardian editor Steve Taylor was the first to write about Jay Johnson-Castro’s walk of conscience against the border wall last Fall. Here Taylor gives an overview of the latest border caravan.–gm

Border Wall-ker now participating on border caravan tour

By Steve Taylor
Rio Grande Guardian

BROWNSVILLE – Border Wall-ker Jay Johnson-Castro, Sr., is traveling again – only this time he will not wear out the soles of his shoes or develop blisters on his feet the size of golf balls.
Last October the 60 year-old Del Rio bed and breakfast owner achieved worldwide attention when he walked 205 miles from Laredo to Brownsville to protest the federal government’s plans to build 700 miles of extra fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In November, he walked 55 miles from Ciudad Acuña to Piedras Negras for the same cause.

In December, Johnson-Castro walked 35 miles from the state Capitol in Austin to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, to highlight the plight of Other Than Mexican (OTM) families being housed there.

And now, he is on a 2,000-mile caravan tour from San Diego to Brownsville, stopping off along the way to participate in vigils with immigrant rights groups and meetings with border mayors.

“I have seen the wall in San Diego and it is ugly. People are going to be appalled to see that in Texas,” Johnson-Castro said, in a telephone interview with the Guardian. At the time, he was driving towards Phoenix.

Johnson-Castro set off on the motorcade on February 2, along with immigrants rights activists from up and down the border. They include members of the South Texas Immigration Council, including its Executive Director Benigno Peña.

By Thursday the travelers should have reached Mission, where the Rev. Roy L. Snipes, of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, will provide a barbeque, just as he did on the Border Wall-k.

By Friday, the caravan should be rolling into Brownsville, where Mayor Eddie Treviño will hold a reception, just as he did for the Border Wall-k.

“This time, many of the Texas border mayors have agreed to meet with us as we pass through their cities. I am very grateful for their support,” said Johnson-Castro.

Among the mayors Johnson-Castro expects to meet up with are El Paso’s John Cook, Del Rio’s Efrain Valdez, El Paso’s Chad Foster, McAllen’s Richard Cortez, Pharr’s Polo Palacios, Weslaco’s Joe Sanchez, Harlingen’s Rick Rodriguez, and, at the end of the tour, Treviño.

“I met up with a number of the mayors at a Border Trade Alliance meeting in Eagle Pass the other week and I was very impressed,” Johnson-Castro said.

“I was particularly proud of Mayor Cortez. He said that as the federal government had not figured out how to deal with border security, it was up to the cities to step forward and set the agenda.”

Just as the caravan tour is longer than the Border Wall-k, so the list of causes is longer this time around.

“We are not just traveling to highlight the absurdity of the border wall,” Johnson-Castro said. “We are highlighting the unnecessary deaths of immigrants as a result of our failed immigration policy. We are highlighting the imprisonment of immigrant children in the Taylor detention center and other detention centers around the country.”

Johnson-Castro said the caravan tour has already been enlightening for the Texas contingent because of what they have seen in the deserts of southern California and Arizona.

“We were taken to what looks like a mass gravesite which appeared to have been freshly cleaned up for our visit,” he said, referring to a slight detour the caravan took to Hopeville, a small town east of El Centro, California.

“We saw 440 crosses, all John Does. There’s the illusion that the burials were spaced apart but no one knows if all the men, women, and children were afforded individual caskets.”

Another moving experience, Johnson-Castro said, was participating in a vigil in Yuma where the names of the immigrants who have died since last June were read out. “It was shocking. I’m afraid I did not count the number,” he said.

Though the entire border region will have been covered when the caravan reaches Brownsville, the tour does not end there. Participants will then travel to Taylor to hold another vigil outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Center.

Opponents of the detention center won a small victory last week when the Ibrahims, a Palestinian family seeking asylum in the United States, were reunited. Salaheddin Ibrahim was being imprisoned in Haskell, Texas. His pregnant wife and four of his children were locked up in the Hutto center.

Another recent victory was the decision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to increase the education given to children in the Hutto center from one to four hours per day.

“These are great victories but where is the public outrage that Corrections Corporation of America are getting $7,000 a month to house each of the 400 inmates,” Johnson-Castro said, referring to the $2.8 million a month CCA gets from ICE to run the Hutto facility.

“By defeating the border wall in Texas we got to first base. Home base means freeing the children in the Hutto center and making sure we have nothing like that again in our country.”

Participants on the caravan tour also want to visit Farmers Branch, a suburb of Dallas, to protest a local city ordinance that requires property managers or owners verify the immigration or citizenship status of apartment renters.

Another possibility is stopping off at the King Ranch in Sarita to view another unpublicized burial site for immigrants.

And, when the caravan tour is finally over, Johnson-Castro will head back to California for Marcha Migrante II, an event organized for February 17 by San Diego immigrant rights pioneer Enrique Morones to protest the border wall in his city.

At the end of the e-mails he regularly sends to thousands of people across the world, Johnson-Castro signs off as, ‘The Border Ambassador – Connecting the Dots, Making a Difference.’

He said there’s a clear connection between the border wall, housing OTMs in concrete cells in detention centers, and the mass burial of immigrants in the southwest desert.

“It is all part of a failed immigration policy. We have a lot of layers to peel back here. There are a lot of things we have to cleanse,” Johnson-Castro said.

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