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The Acuña 8: Arrested in Mexico

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May 03, 2013
Rev. Kate Rohde

This post was written by Rev. Kate Rohde, interim minister at the Wildflower Church in Austin, Texas.

When I encouraged members of Wildflower Church to cross the border for their annual church service education trip, I never dreamed that we would end up detained, deported, and banned from Mexico. I am the interim minister at Wildflower Church in Austin, Texas. I have always found these person-to-person delegations energizing for justice work and profoundly moving spiritually.

It was supposed to be an easy trip, just across the border to Piedras Negras and Acuña, to talk with workers, mostly the women workers, about their experiences in the factories (the maquiladoras) that are run by multi-national corporations on the Mexican border. We felt it would inform our immigration work at home.

We first heard from the women. There is an assumption that maquiladoras women are docile, but these women had proved them wrong. Conditions such as working more than a decade for fifty cents an hour, ten hours a day in a facility with no windows and undependable sanitation organized them to change. After a ten hour day, you earned only enough for a gallon of milk.

I was particularly moved by fifty-year-old, Juan, who told us how he had grown up working on the family farm in the outdoors he loved, only to have to emigrate to the maquiladoras from Southern Mexico when farm prices were driven down after NAFTA. Now he worked just as hard, for less, without the healthy air and open skies he had loved as a young man. This he will do for the rest of his days, far from home. The aspect of NAFTA requiring fair labor practices is not only being ignored, but conditions for unions are getting worse.

Members of the Austin delegation meet with the maquiladora workers

Members of the American delegation meet with the maquiladora workers.

After several morning visits, we went to the small meeting room of The Border Committee of Workers (CFO) to have a lunch prepared for us by our hosts. Shortly after we arrived, the building was surrounded by police with large automatic weapons and four immigration officers entered the building saying they had an “anonymous tip” about a large gathering which included foreigners. Eight of the eleven of us (the other three were Latino) were asked for our papers and told we didn’t have the correct papers and we would have to be taken down to the office to remedy the situation. Our Salvadoran-American companion told us later that this was the first time brown skin had ever been an advantage for him with police! We spent eight hours in custody during which we were asked to sign documents we couldn’t read. At first we were denied access to the consulate and later to a lawyer. At one point we were threatened with a two week stay in detention in Saltillo. We finally agreed to sign a short document saying we didn’t have a tourist card (not normally required near the border), we got finger printed, and we were deposited in El Rio, Texas with nothing but the purses we had with us. We were never given a credible reason for our deportation but headlines in the Mexican papers suggested we were political organizers. Through all our detention and the night that followed, the Mexican workers including some of their friends from the miners’ union, stood outside the building in which we were being held and then made sure we were safely across the border. Three of the eight detained were UUs from Austin.

Hand at detention center fence.

The view from detention.

It was clear that it was not us, but our hosts, who were the true target of this action. Multi-national corporations are crushing independent unions in Northern Mexico and this was another attempt to cut them off from friends and to intimidate both workers and allies. Most of us left Mexico truly inspired by the courage and friendship of these Mexican workers and I hope to return if and when the ban on my return is lifted. From Julia, Angelica, Javier, and many others I learned the meaning of the word corazón which means both heart and courage in Spanish. They taught us that to truly Stand on the Side of Love you need corazón and you need it for a long time. We had come to stand with them. Instead they stood with us.

If you would like to show solidarity with the workers, sign the petition online for the reinstatement of people we met who were fired for organizing.

5 Responses to “The Acuña 8: Arrested in Mexico”

  1. Dick Tarble says:

    Right on, Kate. Corporations sure do have inluence in the most out of the way places. Keep up the good work.

  2. manuel prince says:

    da coraje y me llena de impotencia el no poder hacer nada por el trato que se les dio a esta delegación de personas que vienen a compartir experiencias y que por 14 años consecutivos lo venían haciendo. si ellos no son ningunos delincuentes que mal estas autoridades de Inmigración me gustaría que se les investigara y se les destituyeran de sus puestos a los responsables de este atropello gracias Compañeros por sus visitas y los esperamos pronto por acá Saludos a todos,

  3. margarita says:

    me siento frustada en no poder ayudarles todo esta en nuestra contra medios de comunicacion y hasta el propio gobierno que tenemos que ganarles a esta gente corructa cuidense y que dios quiera que se arregle todo esto

  4. Joshua Collier says:

    I work with an Austin-based organization called Bikes Across Borders that has completed several bike-powered solidarity trips to the CFO office in Piedras Negras and to Ciudad Acuña. I just want to say how impressed I am with your words, your resolve, with your sense of solidarity and with how I see that you actively walk in the path of your faith. Actions do truly speak louder than words. The attention from the authorities only confirms the importance of the work being done by the CFO. ¡Solidaridad ahora y siempre!

  5. Robert says:

    The cause is just, but are you suggesting that you and your groups do not exist to support and encourage real labor unions? Why paint a picture of innocence? To suggest you just went to attend a church service and for the purpose of education is misleading and you know it.

    You encourage the Mexicans to risk losing their jobs and real jail time, but will not even admit what your organization is trying to accomplish?

    Real unions are needed and would be wonderful for these people. It is sad that their ‘example’ denies the real purpose of their visit.

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