Community members protested in front of the border patrol offices in Las Cruces Thursday, many blocking the facilities entrances in an act of civil disobedience. The action was the climax of a week long public resistance and stand in solidarity with immigrant communities from local advocacy organizations.
About 150 people yelling protest chants, praying and holding signs painted with messages of unity and resistance lined North Main Street, outside border patrol facilities in Las Cruces. Sara Melton is the acting director of New Mexico Café- one of the groups that organized the demonstration.
“We are out her today to send a message to congress and to everyone, in the American public that Border Patrol are also agents of family separation not just ICE and right now in Congress they are having a discussion about funding more border patrol agents, more equipment here on the southern border.” Melton said “That will just lead to more family separation and more fear in our community.”
About 25 of the protestors went further, sitting and even lying down in the entrances of the border patrol facility; blocking vehicles from both enter and leaving the compound. It wasn’t the usual clique of local activists- there were pastors, a veteran and even State Representative Bill McCamley engaging in civil disobedience. Over 100 protestors cheered them on.
“We were prepared for arrests and we were just going to see what happens- we wanted make sure our message got clearly sent to Congress.” Melton said.
If the goal was to get arrested in a symbolic act standing up to the Border Patrol or draw media attention, the activists weren’t entirely successful. Tensions that did arise between protestors and Border Patrol employees were expertly managed and de-escalated by Las Cruces Police force officers. No arrests were made, even with protestors holding the blockade for close to an hour.
“Civil disobedience is just one tool in our tool kit.” Melton said.
The action was just one in a week's worth of resistance and solidarity with local immigrant communities. Other public events included a festival celebrating immigrant businesses and workers, a day of prayer and a day of community divestment from bank Wells Fargo. Ali Scotten was waving around a fist full of hundred dollar bills out on Main Street in Las Cruces.
He was one of many Las Crucens at Wells Fargo to close down bank accounts.
“I just divested from Wells Fargo. I have been an account holder since 1995, but I just can’t support their investment in the private prison industry. I can’t support any company that profits from human misery, so I decide to put my money in an organization that is more responsible.’ Scotten said.
Activists are encouraging community members to divest from Wells Fargo because of its financial support for immigrant detention centers and the North Dakota Access Pipe Line.
“Wells Fargo has a history of exploitative practices that make money off the incarceration of our brothers and sisters who are immigrants and also people of color.. Melton said. “They heavily fund and invest in private prison companies.”
Sara Melton said the profits made from private prisons and detention centers can have a horrifying influence on political decision making.
“There is an incentive to get people in jail and keep people in jail, which means they hire lobbyists, they donate tons of money to campaign contributions to make laws that further criminalize people. Particularly people of color and lengthen sentences. ”
Melton points to President Donald Trump’s support for the Dakota Access Pipeline- which is being built by Energy Transfer Partners, a company Trump until recently – owned shares in. Melton also points to the new federal budget which funds 5,000 more beds to detain immigrants.
“Right now congress has a quota for how many beds there have to be for immigration- and they can dictate how many beds there are.” Melton said. “They just voted on an additional beds- which will mean additional immigrants in jail.”
Community divestment pushes beyond the public protests, pep rallies and marches- characterizing Trump's Presidency. The divestment is a boycott, that advocates like – Scotten say can have immediate impact and lead to real change.
“I hope that it will show Wells Fargo that there is a PR and a financial downside to being irresponsible investors.” Scotten said “It will send a message.”
Besides individuals, entire cities and organizations are removing their money from Wells Fargo branches. The city of Seattle completely divested from Wells Fargo citing the bank’s financing of the Dakota Access pipeline.
Wells Fargo's CEO Timothy Sloan defended the support. He told CNN “We have an obligation”… “We thought it made sense."
Melton said they are working towards getting the City of Las Cruces to remove its accounts from Wells Fargo. Other cities have already followed suit, including Santa Monica and Davis, California
“Many people say our immigration system is broken, but we would say it is working just the way it is suppose to. It lines pockets of big CEO’s of giant private prison companies or military industrial complexes. People make money when families are separated and when mothers are separated from their children and fathers can’t go to work and businesses close in our community.” Melton said.
The Las Cruces Police Department said it expects public protests and local actions to become a more and more regular occurrence.