Friday, February 18, 2011
Angels in America
Enrique Morones advocates for San Diego's undocumented workers.
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Enrique Morones, ’79, didn’t set out to advocate for the immigrant population. But with an international marketing background and a temperament inclined to serve the underrepresented, he could not have been better qualified to address human rights issues on a national stage.
As founder and primary voice for Border Angels, Morones has become a central figure in the hot-button debate over illegal immigration. Though his critics abound, Morones is a hero in some circles. In 2009, President Felipe Calderon awarded him Mexico’s National Human Rights Award.
The San Diego native first became aware of his city’s large immigrant population in 1986, when he joined a loosely organized, church-affiliated group taking food and clothing to the migrant workers in Carlsbad’s strawberry fields and the North County canyons.
It wasn’t until California voters approved Proposition 187—which denied undocumented workers access to health care, public education and other social services—that Morones and the group shifted focus. They began to protest the “criminalization” of migrants and take steps to prevent the deaths of people crossing the desert border between the U.S. and Mexico. For years, their work went largely unnoticed.
“Then, in 2001, everything changed,” Morones recalled.
He was just ending a five-year stint as vice president for Hispanic and international marketing for the San Diego Padres when he was invited to appear on “Sabado Gigante,” a popular national variety show aired on Univision. When promotions for the show called Morones a “border angel,” the name stuck. Volunteer numbers grew “almost overnight” to reach 2,500. Since then, Morones has appeared on CNN and most major networks and “held my own” against conservative commentators Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs.
In the unforgiving desert between the U.S. and Mexico, Border Angels’ volunteers set out water stations in the summer and blankets, clothing and food in the winter. Morones said the group’s role is largely preventitive. “Our public service announcements urge people not to cross and include testimony from relatives of those who’ve died trying.”
Morones is also a principal organizer of the annual Marcha Migrante, a multi-state odyssey that calls for immigration reform and publicizes border killings by police and self-styled border protection groups.
Participants in the 2011 Marcha Migrante traveled from Brownsville, Texas, to Montgomery, Alabama, in early February.
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