Group wants CBP, ICE out of Brownsville parade

A confetti cannon shoots confetti into the crowd of guest Sunday during the annual Baile de Sol Street Dance celebration marking the official kick-off of Charro Days Fiesta.

A local coalition of progressive organizers is calling on Charro Days Fiesta to remove both U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from its annual Color Guard Parade.

Frontera Progressives, a Brownsville-based coalition that organized in the wake of the 2017 Women’s March, sent an open letter last week calling on the festival to officially remove CBP and ICE from the parade and other events.

“Since its inception, this Fiesta has been imbued with good will across the border, a time to honor each city’s heritage and culture, a time to share music, food and dance. It is a special occasion where boundaries cease to be important and only camaraderie and friendship are significant,” the collective wrote in a letter sent to the festival and reporters.

“All this joviality is disrupted by the prominent inclusion of [CBP] and [ICE] officers in the Color Guard Parade that precedes the Charro Days Grand International Parade.”

The group’s co-founder, Mark Kaswan, said the letter was an opportunity for Charro Days to say “thanks but no thanks” to the agencies. “If they don’t agree, then we’ll be there in protest,” he said.

Charro Days Fiesta declined to comment but noted that the festivities will remain a positive space to celebrate Brownsville’s bicultural heritage.

Frontera Progressives has previously demonstrated against the presence of CBP and ICE in the parade.

“We’re involved in many actions, but this one is the most rewarding,” said Kaswan, who explained that locals appear to be receptive to concerns despite the fact that the agencies are so ingrained in Rio Grande Valley life.

“We’re a small group and we print hundreds of signs. People take them with enthusiasm,” he said.

The organizer recalled a day where a woman whose son is a CBP officer agreed to hold a sign in recognition of the cause.

Kaswan says the group’s goal has always been to provide an opportunity for those with progressive values in the Valley to express their voices.

In the past, they’ve focused efforts on educating the public leading up to local elections and on issues of race and racism, including the effort to get rid of the statue of Jefferson Davis — the former president of the Confederacy — in Washington Park.

The letter cited articles published by The Brownsville Herald detailing the Brownsville port of entry’s refusal to allow critically ill and disabled asylum seekers stuck in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) to enter the United States to access medical care.

“While we understand that they are a part of our community and may perform an important public service, it is also the case that they have worked aggressively to enforce border policies that have ripped families apart within our own community, denied people their basic rights, prevented people access to critical medical care, and even led to the deaths of numerous people,” the letter stated.

“Whatever one may think of the work being done by these agencies, their presence at a celebration of togetherness is jarring and disquieting,” it continued. “Their participation at Charro Days Fiesta is incompatible and irreconcilable with the connectedness that binds our two cities.”