A group of pro-migrant activists protesting at the National Border Patrol Museum in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday defaced a memorial, the manager told Homeland Security Today.
The group, “Tornillo: The Occupation,” held protests all weekend in Texas “to disrupt migrant detention, deportation and murder” of immigrants apprehended by members of the U.S. Border Patrol. The group posted a Facebook livestream showing protesters, some covering their faces, as they held up signs reading “Border Patrol Kills” and “No Deportations on Stolen Land” inside the museum.
Accompanying the livestream, the group’s message said it was “reclaiming the border patrol museum and exposing the true violence of borders and border patrol.” It went on to say that the protest aimed to “highlight the voices that were missing from this memorial and the human rights violations inflicted upon them. They died in border patrol spaces, they deserve to be remembered in border patrol spaces.”
“Pedestrians were run over by agents. Car chases culminated in crashes. Some have drowned, others died after they were pepper-sprayed, stunned with tasers or beaten,” the group claimed on Facebook, “but the majority of victims died from bullet wounds, including shots in the back. The bullets were fired not only by agents conducting border enforcement operations, but also those acting in a local law enforcement capacity and by agents off-duty, who’ve shot burglary suspects, intimate partners and friends.”
As part of the protest, the group defaced a memorial to fallen agents, placing on it photographic stickers depicting Guatemalan girl Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, who both died while in U.S. custody last year.
One of the protesters, Elizabeth Vega, told KVIA-TV that the demonstration was not vandalism but “an act of civil disobedience done because we believe there is a humanitarian crisis and human rights violations being perpetuated by a corrupt and broken immigration system.”
“If this was happening in another country, we would be in an uproar,” she said.
Military police from nearby Fort Bliss responded to the incident and checked protesters’ identification papers before allowing them to leave the scene, the El Paso-Times reported.
Homeland Security Today spoke to David L. Apodaca, manager of the gift shop at the Border Patrol Museum, who told us he thought the protesters were not from El Paso. “They were professional protesters; one woman was from Ferguson,” said Apodaca.
The museum is non-political, nonprofit and receives no federal income, nor is it officially affiliated with the agency. It survives purely on donations from the public.
Apodaca told HSToday that there were only three museum staff around when the protesters came in chanting and singing. “They had banners, and were singing and chanting with a megaphone,” he said. “They desecrated the memorial room and went around the museum putting stickers on all the displays, covering the dioramas with these industrial-strength stickers that are not easy to remove.”
Apodaca says the protesters arrived without warning but he believes they scouted the museum.
“We’ve never had anything like this happen before,” he said, adding that the protesters arrived in separate cars and that there were “around 50.”
“You can’t tell me the injustice – we have homeless and veterans on the street – why don’t they protest about that? I don’t see people protesting for those things,” he said.
The museum, which is on federal land, is pursuing charges against the protesters and is currently waiting for an insurance adjustor to provide an estimate on property damage.