North Carolina civil rights activist the Rev. William Barber II on Monday condemned the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico and described it as a symbol of white nationalism.
Barber is a leader of the New Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, which was launched with a march and a mass gathering Sunday in Downtown El Paso.
The campaign, which will tour 15 states, intends to revive the movement initiated by Martin Luther King Jr. nearly 50 years ago.
On Monday, Barber, along with local and national civil rights activists, visited the border fence in Sunland Park, where they chanted “tear down this wall” and called for unity of the American people regardless of their skin color or background.
“I just looked through that wall and I didn’t see criminals and rapists. I saw children,” Barber said after greeting a group of Mexican children through the bars of the 18-foot-tall steel fence.
Barber was referring to President Donald Trump’s comments during his political campaign last year that described Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.
“What is criminal and what is a form of rape is this wall. This wall is criminal in the way in which it … attempts to separate humanity, the way in which it looks like a cage, like we are trying to cage some people and keep them from others. It’s criminal because it’s a symbol of racism and white supremacism and white nationalism,” he added.
Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, said the goal of the campaign is to show that communities of color can come together and fight racism, xenophobia, poverty and the displacement of marginalized people in the United States.
“One example of the racism and criminalization of our communities is the border wall … the symbol of the America that we don’t want to be,” he said.
Among the activists who participated in Monday’s event was Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez of Saltillo, Mexico, who is famous for defending indigenous rights and denouncing abuses against migrants in Chiapas.
Vera Lopez said that as a Mexican, he sees the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico as a symbol of the failure of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He said the agreement promised to help the poor in Mexico. However, there has not been progress and while the poor are still poor, the rich got richer, he said.
During his visit to Austin on Friday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the Trump administration’s new immigration principles and argue that Trump’s proposed wall would send a message to people hoping to enter the United States to “wait your turn” and follow the appropriate legal avenues to entry.
“The president is determined, first and finally, to build a wall at the border,” he said. “This will make it harder for illegal aliens to enter the country. But, more importantly, the wall will send a message to the world that we enforce our laws. It sends a message that, finally, we mean it.”
The Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the civil rights campaign, said that while Sessions talked about the criminality and illegality of people on the other side of the wall, Americans must question the values at the heart of the nation.
“For anyone who claims to be a Christian, let us remember that we follow a savior who was poor, undocumented, the child of a teenage mother who was living under foreign domination, who is considered illegal and killed by the state for trying to create a movement to unite people, and to make life better for everyone,” she said.
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