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Protesters picket migrant judicial tent courts, launch daily South Texas vigil against MPP

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BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — Carrying signs proclaiming the “evils” and “injustices” of MPP, hundreds of protesters from throughout the country descended upon Brownsville, Texas, on Sunday to kick off a daily vigil against the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

The protesters came from 30 states, the UK and Mexico, and represented several different organizations, all with one common goal: To end the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy that since its inception has sent 60,000 asylum-seekers over the Southwest border into Mexico to await their asylum hearings, federal officials have said.

Chanting “Shut them down!” and “End MPP!” the protesters stood outside the judicial tent city at the base of the Gateway International Bridge, where the asylum hearings in South Texas are heard. Until late last week, the public and media were not permitted to attend these tent-city courts where migrants must appear and are video-streamed to U.S. immigration judges elsewhere in the country, including Albuquerque, El Paso, San Antonio and othe South Texas cities.

“They call these courts? Courts are places where justice is administered. These are places where people get injustice,” lead organizer Joshua Rubin chanted into a megaphone as he led the group across the street from Xeriscape Park to the sidewalk in front of the judicial tent cities.

Joshua Rubin, right, leads protesters on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Brownsville, Texas. Rubin kicked off a daily vigil on Sunday that he says he will hold “until every migrant is allowed to legally cross.” (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Rubin told Border Report he plans to hold a daily vigil starting at 9 a.m. at the park “until every last migrant in Matamoros is granted asylum.” Sunday’s event was called “Witness at the Border” and was organized to shed light on the humanitarian crisis, violence against women and the separation of families caused by MPP or “Remain in Mexico” policy, organizers said.

Rubin, who has experience organizing vigils and protests in other states, says anyone is welcome to join him at the park, as well as in daily visits to the tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, where 2,500 migrants currently live.

Earlier this year, Rubin organized a six-month vigil and protest against a detention facility in Homestead, Fla., where migrant children were being held. That facility was eventually closed. Before that, he helped lead protests that lasted three months against the federally-sponsored migrant-child detention facility in Tornillo, Texas. That facility also was shut down in January 2018.

“We’re here now and dammit we’re going to close this place,” said Rubin, who came to South Texas from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Waving signs reading: “It Is Not Illegal To Seek Asylum” “MPP Is Immoral” “End Secret Courts” “Choose Your Side in History” “Love Has No Borders” “Compassion Breeds Love!” and “The Real Enemy Lives In The White House (Tax-Free), Not At The Border,” the protesters peacefully marched up and down the sidewalk in front of the tent city courts. The courts were closed on Sunday, but Rubin and others vowed to return at 8 a.m. on Monday to gain entry into the asylum hearings.

Many of the participants were senior citizens — some pushed in wheelchairs while others used rolling walkers to get around.

Susana Neal, 77, came from San Diego for the protests “to support the refugees and to hopefully free up the border because there’s no reason why in the wide West that I live in there’s not room for people to settle and have humane treatment and they’re not being treated humanely at all along the border,” she said.

Margarita Lopez traveled nine hours from Grapevine, Texas, to be part of Sunday’s event. On Saturday, she visited families in the Matamoros tent encampment, which she said, “moved my heart, seeing the children just running around and playing like normal children. And these are a threat to our country? They’re just children. They just want to be hugged and loved.”

Margarita Lopez came from Grapevine, Texas, to participate on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in protests in Brownsville, Texas, against the Trump Administration’s Remain in Mexico (MPP) policy. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

‘Testigo’ to your neighbors

“I can go home and say I’ve been there so you cannot BS your way out of this. You go to church on Sunday and minutes after that you’re supporting an administration that does that for the children of God. I can’t comprehend that,” Lopez said.

Most of the protesters were not from South Texas, but were invited to “witness” what is happening on the Southwest border, Rubin said. Many wore buttons that read, “FREE THEM.”

“The word for witness is testigo in Spanish. We’re going to go back and testify. People who come here to witness are going to carry what they’ve seen across the nation. They’re going to shout it from the rooftops,” Rubin said.

Lisa Nieslanik, 57, came from Glenwood Springs, Colo., with her friend Joani Northrup, 63. Nieslanik said they helped Rubin protest the detention facility in Florida earlier this year. They both planned to attend judicial court on Monday, and were part of a group crossing into Matamoros on Sunday to view the refugee camp.

“Part of the process is to go home and inform people what it really looks like and what it really feels like and what it sounds like and take that home and make people aware,” Nieslanik said.

Among organizations helping to support the event included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the local nonprofit Team Brownsville, which for over a year has been feeding and providing tents for the migrants in Matamoros.

Read a Border Report story on Team Brownsville volunteers.

On Sunday afternoon small groups of protesters went in to Matamoros, but were told not to carry signs nor yell near the migrants.

“You don’t yell around traumatized people. … It will hurt you to see this,” Rubin told the crowd. “But they need our help. We’re going to help them. Our job is to watch, to listen and to tell their stories.”

In conjunction with Sunday’s South Texas event, solidarity protests were also held in 15 cities across the country, including cities in New York; Florida; New Hampshire; Northern California; Ohio; and Virginia, organizers said.

We will do everything in our power to make them see what is happening over there. They may be out of sight and out of mind but we need to make folks understand.”

Florida artist Alessandra Mondolif

“We will do everything in our power to make them see what is happening over there,” said Alessandra Mondolif, an artist from Florida who designed most of the T-shirts and picket signs. “They may be out of sight and out of mind but we need to make folks understand.”

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