Local Groups, Immigrants Push Back on Trump's State of the Union Calls for a Border Wall

A local coalition of community organizing groups, faith-based organizations and immigrant advocates are asking Congress to reject Trump's calls to build a $5.6 billion border wall.

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click to enlarge A coalition of local groups issued a letter to national elected leaders asking them to block a border wall with Mexico proposed by President Donald Trump. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
A coalition of local groups issued a letter to national elected leaders asking them to block a border wall with Mexico proposed by President Donald Trump.

A coalition of Greater Cincinnati faith organizations, community organizing groups, immigrants and their advocates today issued a sharp rebuke to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address: Don’t build a wall.

Trump touched on a number of points in his address yesterday, but among them, he doubled down on calls to build a wall along the United States’ southern border with Mexico.

The president and his supporters say that the wall is necessary to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants and illicit drugs into the U.S. During his address, Trump said he welcomes documented immigration, but called undocumented immigration “an urgent national crisis” and again warned that caravans of migrants from Central America are streaming toward the U.S.

Trump’s demand for $5.6 billion to build the wall — a demand that Democrats in Congress have resisted — resulted in the longest-ever federal government shutdown in the U.S. Another shutdown could loom in the coming weeks over the impasse.

Trump’s critics say a wall is unnecessary, expensive and immoral, and that undocumented immigrants are mostly families seeking asylum, not criminals.

Local groups who advocate for immigrants are pushing back against the president’s message. Representatives from the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, the League of United Latin American Citizens Cincinnati, the AFL-CIO Cincinnati, the Catholic Interfaith Workers Center, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Ohio's Cincinnati Chapter and other activist and faith-based organizations held a news conference today to share a letter the group has sent to Congress asking elected leaders to refuse to vote for money to build the wall.

“Obviously we’re here right after the State of the Union,” LULAC member and immigration attorney Don Sherman said. “But we understand this has been a continuous situation in which President Trump is calling for a wall, and calling this a national emergency when it is not an emergency. It’s an emergency for those in Central America who are suffering from violence and hunger.”

The groups’ letter cites recent Department of Homeland Security data showing that most illegal drugs streaming across the border come through legal entry points, and point out that border apprehensions are down by three-quarters since high points in the early 2000s.

Instead of spending billions on a wall, the groups suggest, the U.S. government should provide aid to Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and others that have been wracked with corruption, violence and economic despair, conditions activists say have been in many cases caused by U.S. political actions and policies like the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The coalition also wants Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, including permanent protection for young people brought into the U.S. by their parents.

click to enlarge Rita Enriquez - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Rita Enriquez

Among those who spoke out against Trump's calls for a wall along the border were local immigrants.

Rosanna Jimenez-Eche-Verria and her husband left Guatemala 17 years ago after she says corrupt government officials disrupted their livelihoods as construction contractors and threatened the lives of their family.

They left in 2002, eventually gaining political asylum and citizenship. Verria says others in her country leaving more recently are simply trying to do the same, and should have the opportunity to apply for asylum.

“They are leaving Guatemala because of the corruption in the country,” she says. “It is too much, with drug trafficking rooted in the highest levels of government. That’s led to extreme poverty, violations of human rights, lack of employment, lack of security. There are not enough doctors or medicine. The people of Guatemala are immigrating because they are desperate due to the situation in their countries, or because they have been threatened by entrepreneurs who are taking away their land. It’s important that the U.S. government grant the opportunity, as my family and I have taken, to request political asylum. They only want the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.”

Rita Enriquez, another speaker, came to the Cincinnati area from Honduras with her family when she was 15. She says that violence forced her family to flee. Because she came with her parents as a minor, she was protected under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a policy with a cloudy future in the Trump era.

“In my village, there was so much violence,” she says. “They were killing people for nothing, and the police would do nothing about it. The cemetery in my village didn’t have any room for any more people. So my mom got scared and decided to try and come here to make a better life for those in my family. I’ve been here since 2000, and I’d like to ask the president for a chance to keep DACA. We’re not criminals. I’d like to work and have a life here with my kids.”

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