'Maybe a Few Hundred More': Coffee with Jay Johnson-Castro

By Greg Moses

“I’ve got to show you something I’m proud of,” says Jay Johnson-Castro, pulling a stack of business cards from his pocket and dealing off the top. “The Border Ambassador,” says the card, with a neatly cropped photo of Jay walking, foot up, head down, hat brim filled with sunlight.

“Jane Chamberlain, a very, very frail Austinite made these cards for me. She’s one of the lady champions of this thing. That was a long-distance photograph that John Neck had taken when Teye joined me for the first day of the first Hutto walk four months ago.”

John Neck is the driver who usually accompanies these walks, protecting Jay’s back. But this weekend John is tending to a medical emergency in the family as Jay returns for a second walk from Austin. Over three days time, Jay will walk from the Capitol to the T. Don Hutto prison for immigrant families. On Sunday evening the walk will end with a vigil until 8pm.

On Saturday morning Jay sits inside a cozy Austin cafe, sipping a cup of coffee before he drives to Manor for the walk of the day. An impatient wind from the NorthWest chills the faces of the very few who walk the avenue outside.

Last week, before launching his walk from the Capitol, Jay met with the staff of Austin Rep Eddie Rodriguez to get a status report on a House Concurrent Resolution (HCR 64) that would, “respectfully request the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to reconsider all alternatives to the detention of immigrant and asylum-seeking families with children.” Rodriguez co-filed the resolution with Dallas Rep. Raphael Anchia on Feb. 5. The resolution was referred to the State Affairs Committee on Feb. 12 where it today still sits on the desk of chairman David Swinford (R-Amarillo).

In a widely reported move at the end of March, Swinford announced that he was going to take immigration off of the agenda at the statehouse, effectively killing about 30 bills, including HCR 64.

“Hopefully we elevated the awareness a little bit, however small, but at least it’s on record that these guys have sat there for two months, let babies be imprisoned, while they continue their cushy lives of authority. I find it kind of appalling.”

“And yet we have 19 representatives, 17 sponsoring and 2 co-authoring, but unfortunately most of them are Hispanic” (sponsors are: Alonzo, Bolton, Burnam, Castro, Escobar, Farrar, Garcia, Gonzalez-Toureilles, Hernandez, Herrero, Donna Howard, Martinez-Fischer, “Mando” Martinez, Rick Noriega, Olivo, Quintanilla, Veasey, and Villarreal). “Of the 17 who have signed on, 14 are Hispanic, which makes it look like a Latino deal, and it shouldn’t be a Latino deal.”

Does it say something about the white voters?

“The white voters I’m talking to are shocked.” At a music gig Friday night in South Austin, Jay met one woman who works with children who said she would try to show up on Sunday. Another woman who runs an international art gallery gave Jay her card and promised to forward information to her clients.

“They’re blown away. They say ‘yeah, I’ve heard about Hutto, that’s terrible.’ But my big thing is to try to figure out how do you get that ‘God, that’s terrible’ into some kind of action. ‘That’s really terrible, now let me get back to my enjoyable life, my routine, my every day stuff,’ you know? I have good friends who joined me on the first walk, but they say they don’t want to get too involved, because they have their lives to live, you know?” Jay laughs a little.

“I’m subjective at this point. I’m not even objective anymore. I’m just focused. So I think I’m like the converted smoker who says everyone ought to quit smoking. Now that I’ve become aware of the children, I think everyone ought to join in, but it isn’t going to happen.” Jay’s brown eyes reach across the table. “I think it should.”

“I had some good interviews. Sharon from SisterSpace interviewed me and that will be on the web. And then Pacifica radio. I had my second interview with them. They interviewed me the first time from Los Angeles when I did my Raymondville walk. This time a producer with Flashpoints called me the night before and asked me great, great questions. So we had that interview yesterday. And then the Spanish-language producers at Pacifica called me and interviewed me in Spanish about 45 minutes later.”

“On Thursday morning I was on a call-in show for a Spanish-language radio station in Phoenix, and the calls were lining up, and it was really neat, and I know it was a listened-to show, because I’ve hosted a radio talk show, and sometimes you get the calls and sometimes you don’t. There was just a long stream of call-ins.”

“There was only one that was kind of questioning. He was an an immigrant who became a citizen, got his green card. And he says this is really a great country, why do people say that it’s not? My response is, it is a great country, but we’re losing our greatness. There’s an element within the government that’s doing this. But anyway, everybody else was pretty well responsive.”

“Every time something like that happens tells me that maybe a few hundred, maybe a few thousand more people are hearing this message, and overall the response is the same. There are very few people who would defend this policy. And I’m not sure what gets people the most. When I tell them about the incarceration of children, they say, ‘oh really, wow, that’s terrible.’ Then I say it costs $7,000 per month and they say, ‘God, that’s gross!’ Is it because of the money? I think everybody believes it’s wrong, it’s immoral, but then it’s almost like they’ve become really sleazy when it’s for money.”

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