Exclusive interview
"We are Mexican-Americans and a quarter of the population was born abroad. We know that migration enriches us"
The executive director of the NGO Hope Border Institute, Dylan Corbett, works in El Paso. In dialogue with LPO, he tells how they live in the border, questions Governor Abbott's policies and says Biden's approach is failing.

Dylan Corbett is the executive director of Hope Border Institute (HOPE), which promotes the development and growth of communities on the US-Mexico border. The organization brings together local leaders, faith communities, lawyers and legislators to generate transformations and build solidarity on the border. Furthermore, Corbett is a Migration consultant, an official in the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican, and participated in the USAS-CCHD anti-poverty initiative. In an exclusive dialogue with LPO, he spoke about the situation on the Mexico-United States border and the policies carried out there.

What is work like on the border?

Policies are always changing, because they are often subject to political interests in the capital and a little complicated by policies at the national level. And also because we are in Texas, and we have the local political situation. There are many policies at the state level that also affect the reality of the border, of migrants. In fact, another law is going to be implemented that will allow local Texas police to enforce immigration policies. In practice, they will be able to directly deport people, they will be able to leave people there at the border, people who they suspect are here illegally. Things are always changing. The flows too. There are moments of strong arrivals and moments when the flow is not so strong. So, with the flows, the laws, the policies, the politics in general here in the United States at the federal level and also at the state level, it is a quite complex and always changing situation.

We talked about humanitarian crisis, now you talk about "humanitarian catastrophe."

Yes, another thing we have here in Texas is that the governor (Greg Abbott) has his own immigration plan, which is truly brutal. It includes the construction of walls, which has already begun. Right now there are also plans in the Legislature to build more walls, physical ones, but we have also seen that they are militarizing the river, putting obstacles in the river to make crossing difficult. And we have already had situations in recent months in which many people have died, including children, due to these new measures. They have put up barbed wire, which has hurt many people who were trying to cross the border, and we have also had dead people. Since May, here in El Paso, we have had more deaths than any other year. That is, the mortality rate has already been exceeded. And that is due to the governor's policies, but also federal policies. There are many people who are waiting to enter the country, who have no other option than to use the river, cross the border, the desert. When you have those policies at the federal level and also at the state level, the situation is quite lethal for many people.

The organization has different programs, all aimed at caring for migrants. Do you have or did you have problems, obstacles or questions about these activities?

We have had these kinds of tensions, without a doubt. I prefer not to go into that issue in detail, because during the Trump administration, there was undoubtedly conflict, there were difficulties. This government has not improved some things. For example, it has granted many people from Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba, and other countries, the possibility of having a visa to enter, or at least parole to enter the United States for humanitarian reasons. There are family reunification programs right now with countries like Ecuador. So, there have been many initiatives. However, here on the border we still have the asylum transit ban and other things that force migrants to wait in Mexico. We are trying to influence to improve policies.

"El sue√Īo americano es cada vez m√°s dif√≠cil y cada vez m√°s, una ilusi√≥n"

Does this prohibition depend on the national government or the state government?

Unfortunately, both. That's why we are always working a little against the current.

Governor Abbott has a truly brutal migration plan, which includes building walls and they are militarizing the river to make crossing difficult.

Precisely in the organization you talk about a reset of priorities. What can El Paso offer to other cities that have to deal with situations that they don't know about or aren't as common as the ones you get all the time?

Yes, I think that the border communities have a lot of experience in this regard and many lessons learned that we can share, many good practices. The spirit of collaboration that we have here between civil society, government, and churches is very good and allows us to work together and face difficult situations when they exist. And we have a lot of experience in welcoming people, but what is more important right now, especially during this political moment in the United States when many are sowing fear, such as the governor and other actors, other politicians even, are saying that we must be afraid of migrants. I think that is the big difference, the most important lesson we can offer. That is, we do not have to be afraid of them, migrants arrive and are human beings, they want the same things as we do, they want to work, contribute, help their families, they want to have, raise their children safely and offer them better opportunities. That's what we all want. And this is a largely migrant community. More than 82% of us are Mexican-American. A quarter of our population was born abroad. But we are a vibrant community, we have a functioning economy, we have opportunities, we have diversity, we are a safe community. So, we know that migration enriches. And if we change that attitude a little and see migrants not as a threat, but as an invitation to solidarity, we can all benefit.

Dylan Corbett.

In September, organizations and shelters sounded the alarm over their inability to care for the approximately 1,200 migrants who were released daily by the federal government.

Yes, although the situation is quieter now, it is not as overwhelmed as in September. And although there are difficult moments, and although there are going to be difficult moments, I assure you that in the future, the truth is that the entire community is doing a lot to receive migrants. Many times the media focuses on difficult moments - and there are, without a doubt. But most of the time the community has many resources, it can count on many organizations, many initiatives, both from the government and from civil society and faith communities. It is something that we do to receive migrants with dignity, with humanity. And we increasingly have more resources, more organizations. So, although there are difficult moments - there surely will be - it is also important to highlight the work that is done every day to receive migrants and that is done without controversy. It's something we have done here in this community for many years and that we will continue to do despite the situation.

The great lesson we can offer from El Paso is not to be afraid of migrants. They arrive and are human beings, they want the same thing as we do, they want to work, raise their children safely and offer them better opportunities.

You urged El Paso authorities to build a permanent migrant processing center. Now that it's a reality, how does it work?

Yes, there is a reception center at the county level, at the local government level, that receives many migrants after being processed by federal authorities, that is, the Border Patrol. And it is an initiative of only a few months, less than two years, and is working very well, helping migrants travel to their destination communities after passing through the Border Patrol. Most migrants have family, friends, and plans to reach other communities in the United States. Almost no one stays here.

"Los inmigrantes siguen llegando y la lucha no termina porque los retos todavía son monumentales"

Traditionally, El Paso is hospitable, but Governor Abbott charters migrants to cities like Denver, Chicago, New York. Why don't they ever stay in El Paso?

Yes, it should be noted that these government transportation programs are not the same thing. When we are talking about the county, here for example, it is helping migrants, it is another initiative, another government effort, it is not the same thing. Most migrants go to other places, they have friends or family there. There is a population, a percentage of the South American community, the majority are Venezuelans, who when arrive do not know where to go, because we have not had much migration from Venezuela, there are not many already established communities in the United States. But they do know that they have compatriots in New York, Chicago or other cities. They come there looking for work, an opportunity. Now, what the governor is doing has a purpose, a clear political purpose, which is to plant chaos. The transportation carried out by Abbott is done on purpose without coordinating with the destination communities, without coordination with New York, without coordination with Washington, without coordination with Chicago. So, it doesn't solve anything, it does not help, it only generates conflict, confusion and chaos. Migrants are the victims in these circumstances, because they know nothing about American politics and many times they can take advantage of this transportation to reach other communities where they hope to find work, a welcome, although sometimes this is not the case, in almost all cases. In some cases, migrants are victims of this political strategy.

And what do they do in other locations when these people arrive in these conditions, without something arranged?

It's a bit chaotic, because they don't know what they are going to find when they arrive. And there are many difficulties, it must be said, in communities like New York and Chicago. There are efforts, there are communities that are also organizing themselves to receive people with dignity. What happens is that many times this population cannot work because, unfortunately, our system is very outdated. Migrants who arrive and want to work, but sometimes have to wait up to a year or more to receive authorization to do so. The system is failing, because we in the United States have many needs at the labor level, many gaps at the economic level. We need more workers. And we are also paying the consequences of many years when, during the previous government, we did not allow migrants to enter. The agriculture, hotels and restaurants, construction sectors need workers. However, we are not allowing this population to work. And they are suffering a lot. The government has proposed some initiatives to speed up this process, for example, granting a good part of the Venezuelan population TPS, but those arriving now will not benefit from TPS. So, we don't have a long term solution. Migrants really want to work, to integrate, to be part of a community, to help their families. However, the system doesn't allow them to do that very easily. So we need political changes. There are eleven, twelve million undocumented people who live all day without being able to fully integrate into our society.

How do you take Elon Musk's visit to the border?

Many people come here to the border. Many actors come here with political reasons. Again, with the purpose of planting fear. And I think this was another example. I was very disappointed, because it planted the image of chaos here on the border, when the truth is that is not the case. Despite the challenges and difficulties, this is not the case. And at the end of the day it was simply to provoke fear again. And that in turn generates a xenophobic political response. I wouldn't say anything beyond that.

But was Elon Musk's activity in South Texas directly related to a political issue?

I would say so, without a doubt. I mean, manipulating, that is, it is also a manipulation of reality, it was a manipulation of the situation, but it is a dehumanizing manipulation, because it showed the migrants in their maximum moments of vulnerability to spread that image of chaos for political reasons that generate repressive and xenophobic reactions. So, that fear also generates hate. We have seen here in El Paso, when we allow that, we allow that xenophobic, racist, fearful rhetoric, it generates reactions that cause death, cause violence, provoke violent responses. So, It makes me very angry, but I wouldn't say anything else because, for me it was a cruel and meaningless spectacle. I wouldn't say anything else.

I was very disappointed with Elon Musk's visit, because it planted the image of chaos here on the border, when the truth is not the case. Despite the challentes and difficulties, this is not the case.

Do you think that the public policies of the state of Texas are the harshest regarding immigration?

Yes, I do think so. The governor has taken the lead, let's say, in terms of repressive policies against migrants and is taking advantage of the difficult situation here on the border. But for political reasons. Unfortunately, the right here in the United States has seen that generating fear is going to have some political success. Although the governor has opted for that political strategy, that xenophobic and racist line, I do not think it will be sustainable in the long term. I hope there is a change, of course. The governor is also a person of faith. I hope he has a moment of conscience and realize all the damage he is causing.

How do you assess Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star?

Operation Lone Star is the governor's project that encompasses many things, but it is effectively the militarization program here on the Texas-Mexico border and includes deploying many state police. It also includes the construction of the wall, also that aspect of putting obstacles in the river so that they cannot cross.

And we're about talking billions of dollars. It is also absurd because the border communities in Texas, compared to others in Texas, are low-income communities. So, we could invest that money in different things, education, developing job opportunities, etc. It is a great waste of resources for the citizen of Texas to militarize the border and have a massive presence of state police here.

And Joe Biden's Asylum Ban?

Biden's asylum transit ban is a policy he implemented after Title 42, and it forces migrants arriving at the border to wait multiple times in Mexico. Sometimes they have very long waiting periods and in the meantime, they are vulnerable to difficult situations of exploitation. It is a stance largely against asylum seekers, it allows the government to expel many people. It is not the best policy, it is an immigration policy that does not work. We have talked a lot about migrants here in El Paso, but it must be noted that there are thousands and thousands of migrants in Mexico waiting because of this Biden policy. We need a change to have a more humane, more humanitarian system to receive the most vulnerable.

How do you assess the Biden administration's position regarding the situation in Gaza and the support of Israel?

Borders can be places of tension, of conflict. That is what worries us the most, for example, when we are talking about the governor's policies, which is creating unnecessary conflicts here on the border, militarizing it against a country that is our neighbor. But borders can also be places of meeting, of growth. That is what we experience on a daily basis in places like El Paso and Ciudad Ju√°rez, that the border is a place that unites us, where we share culture, where there are cultural and family links that unite us. We must work for a culture where borders are like this. Unfortunately, in the case of Israel we have seen that the border has become a place of hate, of fear, and we should work for a solution to the conflict, but this government has fully supported the very bellicose stance on the part of Israel. And that unconditional support has allowed an excessive response that has affected the community, civilians without discrimination. We have seen more deaths in Gaza in these weeks of conflict than in two years of conflict in Ukraine. Of course, Israel has the right to protect its population. However, we have seen that the Biden administration, with its full support, has facilitated a response that has rampantly impacted the civilian community and caused many deaths. It is unacceptable. These are hard times, of course, and terrorism is not acceptable. However, we cannot allow responses that disproportionately affect civilians. We need another solution, the military one simply does not work in this conflict either. And the US government should put a lot of pressure on the Israeli government to change its stance, because it is disproportionately affecting civilians. We need to change course and think about the way we support Israel.

Translator: Bibiana Ruiz.

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By Bibiana Ruiz
El director ejecutivo de la ong Hope Border Institute Dylan Corbett trabaja en El Paso. En diálogo con LPO, cuenta cómo viven, cuestiona las políticas del gobernador Abbott y dice que el enfoque de Biden está fallando.