Cross-Border Organizing: Report from the SOAW Border Encuentro

Categories Immigration, Ithaca, Politics, Protest

By Beth Harris and Patricia Rodríguez

All views expressed are that of the authors, who were participants in the events they report on below.

From November 10 to 12, several members of the Ithaca College community and the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition (TCIRC) traveled to the Arizona/Sonora border to participate in the 2nd Border Encuentro (Convergence). Our journey took us to protests in Tucson, the Eloy immigrant detention center and along the wall at Ambos Nogales, which divides communities in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. As an antidote to the U.S. government’s mobilization of nationalist, anti-immigrant fervor and military aggression, the Ithaca contingent will share our exhilarating experience of transnational solidarity at the Border Encuentro on Wednesday, November 29, from 6 to 8 p.m, in Business School room 301 at Ithaca College.

The Encuentro was a gathering of communities and social movements in Mexico, Central America, and the U.S. who are organizing grassroots resistance to oppressive militarization policies at borders and beyond, and generating proposals for alternative policies surrounding immigration issues.

The School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), a nonviolent grassroots movement, organized the Encuentro. SOAW has worked for decades to close the School of the Americas (now named WHINSEC), a military institute in Fort Benning, Georgia, that trains military and police officers from Latin America in counter-insurgency techniques. Many graduates of the school have been responsible for some of the worst human rights atrocities in the region. For the last two years, the organization has expanded its work to join alongside allied groups to denounce U.S. military and foreign policy as a principle cause of migration, and the devastating impact of border militarization on refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrant families across all borders.

With lessons learned from last year’s Encuentro, SOAW organizers deepened and broadened their connections with movements led by people of color, LGBTQ communities, indigenous communities and organizations working with, and led by, migrants. Bilingual spaces through innovative approaches to interpretation were created for public protests, workshops and cultural events.

A growing number of movements from Mexico and Central America participated, including caravans from Oaxaca, Honduras, and Guatemala. The Observatorio de Derechos Humans de los Pueblos (Peoples’ Human Rights Observatory) brought delegates from Oaxaca indigenous communities and social movements and representatives from 13 Latin American countries and Palestine on an 11-day journey through Mexico to publicize the Encuentro and mobilize solidarity between social groups facing repression and economic deprivation.


Demonstration at Border Encuentro 2017. Photo by Patricia Rodriguez.

Representatives of the Tohono O’odham nation, which is split by the border wall, greeted guests arriving from the north and south with the message that the wall is a false line in the desert, which leads to the destruction of human, animal and plant communities. They called on the Border Agents and ICE to lay down the weapons to work for the good of the people and the land, not for the profits of the corporations making a killing off of the militarization of the border.

Activists from the Colectivo Diversidad sin Fronteras (Diversity without Borders Collective), spoke about how trans and gay men and women suffer abuse and violence in the hands of police and migration officers as well as gangs. With tremendous courage and solidarity, they made it across the US border and are receiving help from solidarity groups in the Tucson area to challenge detentions and support asylum claims.

The Border Encuentro brought together activists struggling to resist U.S. policies of repression at multiple borders, including financing Israel’s walls and military occupation that imprison Palestinian communities and provide resources for Mexico’s surveillance, displacement of indigenous communities and detention of Central American refugees along its Southern border. Activists from Palestine, indigenous communities in North, Central and South America, and labor, LGBTQ and environmental movements shared inspiring experiences and visions of transnational resistance to corporate exploitation, systemic racism and militarized repression.

At the current economic and political moment, when criminalization, exploitation, war, and imperialism continue to amass victims and to divide families, the coming together of resistance movements at the Arizona/Sonora border was a breath of fresh grassroots energy and reminder of the importance of the right to a dignified life.

Everyone invited to  our report back session on the 2017 Border Encuentro on Wednesday, November 29, from 6 to 8 p.m, in Business School room 301 at Ithaca College. For more information, contact

Featured photograph of demonstration at Border Encuentro 2017 by Patricia Rodriguez.

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