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Tear Gassing Central American Migrants Is Inhumane, Unconstitutional, Immoral

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US border patrol officers fired tear gas into a crowd of desperate Central American asylum-seekers Sunday in Tijuana, Mexico as some tried to push their way through the heavily militarized border with the United States. Mothers and small children were left gagging and screaming as the tear gas spread. The migrants are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and are fleeing widespread violence, poverty and mass unemployment. We speak with Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign and president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with Reverend Dr. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach. I want to ask you about what is happening at the US-Mexico border. In Tijuana, Mexico, US border patrol officers tear-gassed a crowd of desperate Central American asylum seekers as they tried to push their way through the heavily militarized border with the United States.

Among those attacked were mothers and small children who were left gagging and screaming as tear gas spread. The migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador fleeing widespread violence, poverty and mass unemployment. If you could talk to us, Reverend Barber, about what has just taken place? And then you have your own situation in Raleigh where one man took refuge in a church, a sanctuary, and has just been arrested by ICE when he walked outside to go to ICE to be fingerprinted.

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER: The Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival -- my co-chair, Reverend Doctor Liz Theoharis, we have actually been invited to go to the border in December to meet the caravan and to be there with other leaders, the American Friends and Quakers and other religious leaders. This is beyond tragic. First of all, as you noted, these people are fleeing places that were destabilized, and much of the destabilization happened because of our own military policies in Guatemala during the Reagan years. And nobody wants to talk about that. We created a situation that destabilized people, we supported the wrong people in South America and upheld governments that were oppressive to the people and now many of them are fleeing. And they are fleeing much of what we helped create and then we want to push them -- or at least Trump and this administration wants to push them back.

The second thing is this is white nationalism. White nationalism says that the first proxy war they must win in the modern era is the one about immigrants. They are afraid of immigrants. They see changing demographics. They see the browning of America. Trump has said it himself over and over again -- "What if these people vote?" It is the fact that the Congress and the senators, all on the Republican side or the extremist side of this, are being quiet about this and allowing this man to use the military for all of the wrong reasons. But this is white nationalism being played out in public policy. This is racism being played out in public policy.

This is also inhumane. When we see the military turning itself on children and women, it is immoral. I say every day that I wake up, where are the so-called white evangelicals who claim that they follow an immigrant like Jesus, who claim that they follow someone who said the one thing you have to do to be a person of faith is to welcome the stranger? And it's unconstitutional because these people have a right to apply for asylum. Even the 14th Amendment says that when you come to the American soil, when you get here, if you're a person -- you don't have to be a citizen -- you have equal protection under the law. But the law says they have a right to apply for asylum, and we have a process, and if they don't meet that process, then they can be turned back.

But to see it being done this way is nothing but Trump and his enablers -- we can't just blame him; the people who are quiet on his side are just as guilty as he is in this inhumane, unconstitutional, immoral action that we see happening against human beings. Not migrants; human beings. Members of the human family. It is ugly, it is sinful, it is unjust and it is wrong. I call on all religious leaders to stand up against it, especially. And political leaders that have any sense of decency should stand up against it.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what happened in North Carolina on Friday when ICE agents arrested a Mexican immigrant after he emerged from a Durham church where he had been living in sanctuary for nearly a year, 47-year-old Samuel Oliver Bruno who was going to the ICE office in Raleigh to have his fingerprints taken so he could apply to remain with his wife and son in the United States? It was after he was taken into custody and placed in an ICE van that supporters including church leaders and members of the family surrounded the vehicle, singing and praying for two hours. Why did he step foot outside the church? What was the understanding among religious leaders? What happened?

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER: I am actually headed to a press conference in just a minute to demand that that sheriff, if he still hasn't, to not agree with ICE and to release this young man, been here some 22 years. He left sanctuary because ICE promised two congresspersons, Congressman Price and Congressman Butterfield, that they would allow him to come in and go through the process. They knew that mistakes had been made, and they would allow him to do all of the things necessary for him to stay here. They believed them. The congresspeople believed them. The pastor believed them. The family believed them. And as soon as he was there, they not only took him; they jumped him. They wrestled him down to the ground and put him under arrest.

And religious leaders -- his pastor and others -- surrounded the car and said, "You take him, you have to take us." The whole city of Durham in many places -- Durham and Raleigh -- many advocates now are just appalled of this kind of trickery, this kind of ugliness, direct lying to United States congresspersons and using this system as a system of oppression against outstanding citizens, people in this country, a man who has contributed to this country in more ways than one.

But even if he had not had the 22 years and all of that, to do it this way and to tell these lies, again, shows that they are using ICE now to snatch up people. I don't want us to go too far with this because I know the history of what happened when the Gestapo snatched people up in Germany and in other places. I know the history of when black people used to be snatched up, even when they were free. When Native Americans were snatched up. There is some ugly history behind this if we look down through the years. And this was just brutal and wrong and ugly.

But what I'm so proud of is all of the people of every race, color, creed and sexuality that are standing up saying that we stand with this young man and we're going to fight for him to get his due and his justice in this land. And the congresspeople are still standing up.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to ask you, in the last minute that we have, about President Trump's nomination of Thomas Farr, the protege' of Senator Jesse Helms, to serve on the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Can you lay out the story?

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