Migrants Have a Human Right to Cross Borders, Activist Says

Ray Ybarra is well-known for leading teams of legal observers through the southern Arizona desert tracking Minutemen volunteers on the lookout for undocumented migrants. Ybarra told an audience last night in Denver that it’s time for the immigrant-rights movement to go on the offensive to protect the human right of migrants to cross the border in search of economic opportunity. He is famous in immigrant-rights circles as an activist who led campaigns against civilian border patrols like the Minuteman Project. Now Ray Ybarra runs a humanitarian center for migrants in Agua Prieta, Sonora, just across the border from his hometown of Douglas, Ariz. Through his work as a writer, photographer, public speaker and documentarian, Ybarra tries to help people see the world from a migrant’s perspective, which means rethinking borders, immigration controls and the movement of people.

“My work in the past has been reactive – reacting to the vigilantes coming to the border, to the plans to build a wall. Now I want to do something proactive. Part of that is debunking the notion that nation state rights are more important than human rights. … Migrants believe they have a human right to cross borders.”

Currently on a six-month speaking tour throughout North America, Ybarra spoke Monday night at the Denver office of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that supports immigrant rights.

For several years, Ybarra worked with the ACLU in the border region around Douglas helping to organize teams of “legal observers” who follow civilian border patrol groups in the desert with the goal of protecting the rights and safety of migrants.

Ybarra says the impact of a few hundred civilian border patrol volunteers along a 2,000-mile border is minimal, but he credits the group for ratcheting up the hostility towards immigrants – Latinos in particular.

“They all have this fear that America, the country they believe in, is rapidly changing – the browning of America,” Ybarra said. “I think (the role of the Minutemen) has been to mainstream the notion that there is an invasion and we are being harmed by the brown hordes – it’s the mainstreaming of hate toward immigrants that was at first marginalized but now is the norm.”

At Ybarra’s Centro de Atenci

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Kate Bernuth

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