A man in native attire sports an impressive mohawk, and brandishes the flags of Mexico and El Salvador. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

The Movimiento para la Reunificacion Familiar, a recently-formed grouping of individuals and organizations that aims to address the humanitarian crisis developing on the U.S. border, held a march Saturday that began at 16th Street Bart and ended at 24th, spanning two city blocks and including some 1,000 people, according to an organizer.

“We’re responding to the children’s crisis at the U.S. border,” Edgar Ayala said. “We want to make sure migrant children receive legal humanitarian protection,”

Berta Hernandez, another organizer, echoed his sentiments: “Stop the deportation of children at the border so that they can receive the medical, legal, and human services they deserve. We need to do something for them.”

Since October 1, 2013, some 57,000 “unaccompanied alien children” have come across the southern U.S. border, up from 27,000 for the total of the (fiscal) 2013 year, according to Customs and Border Protection. Because these children mostly come from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala (not Mexico or Canada, which are adjacent countries), the United States cannot quickly expel them, creating inordinate strain on the system.

Customs must transfer the children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the ORR, they are entitled to a formal deportation hearing to determine their refugee status, a process that can take months or years to clear court. These delays necessitate the expensive creation of emergency shelters, so expensive that President Obama requested $3.7 billion from Congress to deal with the crisis; Congress eventually approved additional funding of $694 million.

With the government divided on the issue and slow to act, many have turned to the Movimiento in hopes of taking more direct action and starting local dialogue. Hernandez, for one, sees the group as “the beginnings of a grassroots organization” meant to address the problem in continuity, a hope corroborated by Ayala.

Besides calling and emailing the White House, Ayala said the group is planning a trip to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to meet with civil society groups. Such international solidarity would address the problem at its source: “poverty, inequality, violence, and drug wars,” according to Ayala. He thought these were the products of U.S. foreign policy in the region, but were unlikely to be solved by the government.

“We know that Congress is not going to solve the problem,” he said. “We need a transnational approach to this issue.”

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Joe was born in Sweden, where half of his family received asylum after fleeing Pinochet, and spent his early childhood in Chile; he moved to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating. He then spent time in advocacy as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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