By Greg Moses
Speaking on his cell phone from somewhere near the border, Jay Johnson-Castro is explaining how his lone walk from Laredo to Brownsville last October, “tore down the wall before it ever got built. That wall will never be built!”
Now it is Christmas Eve, and Johnson-Castro will be driving all afternoon from Del Rio to Taylor to join a vigil outside the T. Don Hutto jail for immigrant children. He is determined to shut it down.
“Can you hold on a minute?” he asks. “There’s a checkpoint.” “Are you a citizen of the United States?” comes a voice. “Where are you going?”
After answering the questions, Johnson-Castro is waved onward.
“Unfortunately this is one of the realities of living on the border,” explains Johnson-Castro, returning to the phone. “Nowhere else in the USA do you have to prove you’re a citizen just to drive down the road.”
I tell him that I’ve been to the Rio Grande Valley before, and I’ve heard stories that the police nuisance is getting worse by the year.
“And it’s getting worse by the year, because of the way the US government is dealing with it,” rejoins Johnson-Castro.
“Before the border walk I was the go-to guy for border tourism. Heritage tourism. I was all about tourism,” he explains.
“But look how we’re being treated on the border by our state and federal governments. We have 13,000 going on 19,000 border patrol agents here along the border with Mexico, while along the border with Canada, there are fewer than 1,000.
“But US policies are part of the reason why we have an immigration problem to begin with. US companies put up factories along the border in Northern Mexico where they pay workers $75 per week for 48 hours of work. Then they close the factories and move them to Indonesia. And many of the factory workers are single moms who live under desperate conditions. We created this situation.”
Citizens north of the Mexico border have “responsibility” for people who have served as “slave labor” in factories of the South, says Johnson-Castro. “And people who imprison the migrant workers are not any different from people who supported Hitler. No different. How far does it have to go?”
“How can I be silent?” asks Johnson-Castro. “At some point they might consider me an enemy of . . . “
The cell phone enters a dead zone. The voice of Jay Johnson-Castro disappears, but he keeps a hand at the wheel, driving to a Christmas Eve vigil that will go down in history some day as the spark that shut down detention camps for desperate Southern children, whose only crime was to join a social movement in search of work further North.