AUSTIN (KXAN) — Conversation, education and action. That is how one Austin organization says people in central Texas can help with the crisis along the border.

The organization held a forum on Saturday as part of a way to connect the community with issues they say could be distant to many people not living along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It’s important for us as Texans to be educated on this topic and know exactly what’s going on so we can know how to act,” said Laura Hoyos, an Education Coordinator for Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera. Advocates with the organization aim to raise awareness about social and economic injustice along the border, which is one reason why they hosted the forum.

Speakers focused on what causes immigration, detention, asylum and sanctuary, the Trump administration’s use of troops near the border and how U.S. and Mexico workers are affected by the country’s economic policy, among others.

The list of invited panelists included journalists, authors, immigration advocates and public officials:

  • Dawn Paley: Journalist and sociologist: Her first book, Drug War Capitalism, interrogates the role of U.S. backed anti-drug policies in Mexico and Central America. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the Autonomous University of Puebla and is currently writing a new book about Mexico.
  • Gus Bova: Journalist: Reports on immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border, and grassroots movements for the Texas Observer.
  • Velia Marrujo de Luna: Administrator for the Comité Fronterizo de Obrer@s (CFO), Border Committee of Working Women in Piedras Negras, Mexico.
  • Montserrat Garibay: Secretary-Treasurer for the Texas AFL-CIO.
  • Sulma Franco: Sanctuary and Immigration Organizer for Grassroots Leadership who was held in a detention center.

Dawn Paley spoke about arguments she makes in her book about the drug war being more about capitalism than narcotics and touched on violence faced by so many people from communities caught in the crossfire of power-seeking gang members.

Velia Marrujo de Luna spoke about how she saw the violence affected her community, explaining in Spanish the version of reality that is told differently to people depending on who they are. “They would tell people they were being kept in the detention centers to protect them from organized crime, and they would tell citizens who lived there that we had them there to protect them,” she said.

Montserrat Garibay started by holding up a bag of mini Oreos and a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies to remind people in attendance to check the labels on the products they enjoy that are part of trade deals, including NAFTA, that public officials need to make better.

Gus Bova outlined reporting he’s done with the Texas Observer, focusing on the Trump administration’s strategy for asylum access and remembered construction on the wall in Texas, a huge campaign promise touted by President Donald Trump, would possibly start this fall.

Though the topic has been polarizing for the entire country and beyond to tackle, organizers hoped people who went would leave with a message of unity.

Let’s just come together, there’s no reason why we can’t do that, can’t just talk, share ideas, share backgrounds. I am an immigrant myself, I migrated here when I was a child from Columbia and there’s so much that I have to say and I would like to share about my story that maybe would help somebody that is not experienced with immigration that doesn’t have a family member that has migrated maybe to understand a little bit better where we’re coming from.

Laura Hoyos, Education Coordinator for Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera

The conversation closed with a push for people in Austin and across central Texas to find out how they can make a difference. Here are some of the things they listed:

  • Find out who your representatives are
  • Vote
  • If you’re not a citizen, share your immigration story

Sulma Franco spent time in an immigrant detention center and was offered sanctuary in a local church and said people with her organization, Grassroots Leadership, are looking for volunteers to sponsor women at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor. Find out more information on their website.

Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera also hosts what they call delegations, where they offer people the opportunity to travel through San Antonio and across the border into Mexico to meet with different officials and see people’s living conditions for themselves. Their next trip is October 11-13. Find out more information here.