Monday, May 12, 2008
Today was an extremely emotionally draining day. It began with an excellent speaker Mike Wilson from the Tohono O’odham Nation. He told of his moving story as a military man and as a strategy adviser during El Salvador’s civil war in the late eighties. There he experienced firsthand the poverty that plagued the lives of the citizens of El Salvador. He saw how hunger allowed men and women to work at terrible jobs for gurgling hours. He proceeded to tell us about his humanitarian work on the nation. He related his work closely with spirituality, and rightly so. The issue of undocumented migration should transcend political ideology in order for everyone to see the pint. Human beings are crossing the border, the end. As fellow human beings I feel we have a moral responsibility to help any human in distress especially so close to home. My heart just shattered when Wilson informed the group that members of the Nation were destroying the water stations. It is true that no human should have to die over thirst. John Donne said it best “….because I am involved in Mankinde; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” I feel that we are all connected simply because we are human beings so I asked myself; how can a human knowingly destroy a source that is lifesaving to an immigrant crossing the desert? His statement also prompted me to think about the Civil Rights movement where minorities were able to unite to overcome injustice yet when it comes to the issue of immigration it seem to be the complete opposite.
As it turns out death of immigrants is a factor in this sick equation to keep immigrants from crossing the border illegally. At the U.S. Border Patrol presentation one of the officers blatantly stated that the agency is following a strategy of “prevention through deterrence”. I already knew of this strategy from previous research yet I was surprised that the agency would freely admit that it is in fact trying to push immigrants into the deadly desert.
The night before I had watched the documentary “Crossing Arizona” in which Wilson appears. A migrant approaches his vehicle asking for help. I asked myself, what would I do in Wilson’s position? This was the first time during the trip that I felt helpless.
I felt helpless again during the tour at the Border Patrol Agency when we were shown the detention center. The migrants were treated as if they were part of an exhibition. I again felt helpless; the migrants could obviously see us and I could do nothing to help them.
Wednesday May 14, 2008
Today we visited a place called the House of Hospitality and we spoke with the woman, Lupita who runs the lodging. She described it as a place where migrants getting ready to cross could sleep and eat and a place for migrants where have just been deported can stay until they decide what they will do next. I was a bit confused when she was speaking to us, since at first she described it as a business yet if an immigrant had no money he would still be accepted. She continued to also state that they received free meals and medical care. It honestly seemed too good to be true and it was. Manuel, our guide who lives in Nogales, Mexico, later informed us that the woman had lied to our faces. He is familiar with such places and that these hotels would never accept a non-paying customer, additionally no one would take the time to provide the migrants with medical care. When we took a quick tour of the establishment I saw the poor state that the rooms were in and clearly the immigrants well being was not a priority. It truly sickened me to think that someone could take advantage of an immigrant’s situation in order to make a profit. Not only are U.S. companies profiting from building a fence along the border yet other Mexicans are also trying to make a buck off of immigrants. For example in Altar, a border town where a large number of migrants prepare to cross the border, many vendors sell only supplies needed to cross the border (i.e. backpacks, jackets, hiking shoes, etc.). There are so many people who thrive off the immigrants’ situation including coyotes.
In Altar we visited a small plaza where I meet two men who had recently been deported. Both had lived in the U.S. for over ten years; their whole lives and families are in the U.S. and so they had no recourse but to return to Arizona without the proper documents. I realized that very few people think about migrants who have already established themselves in America who have contributed greatly to the country. I also met a young man from Chiapas who had been recently apprehended in the desert. He told me that he had given up; the journey was much too hard and costly. He did not know what to do nest; he had neither money to return home nor any place to sleep in Altar. His eyes were full of rejection and helplessness. I could do nothing to comfort him. I too felt helpless.
Friday May 16, 2008
Today I finally had some time to reflect upon the entire trip. I am so tired of having been lied to. First it was the Border Patrol who gave us vague numbers about the number of apprehensions and drugs. Then it was the coyotes we met pretending to be migrants, next it was Lupita who claimed to help migrants. Meeting immigrants in Nogales and Altar helped humanize the issue of immigration and it helped me put together abstract information from scholarly research yet it also made me feel insignificant. I felt that alone at this moment I could do nothing to directly help the immigrants I met.
I believe that today’s visit to the Federal Courthouse in Tuscan was for me the most powerful experience of the trip. There we saw the effects of Operation Stream line; seeing over fifty immigrants cuffed and chains around their waists linking their hands and feet left me stunned. Yet seeing the entire procedure reminded me of why I am in college and why I participated in this trip. My goal is to become a lawyer specializing in criminal and immigration law and going to the courthouse made me feel hopeful again. Even so this is a long-term solution.
Meeting Kat Rodriguez definitely showed us her solution for the here and now. She is part of the Human Rights Coalition who is very active in trying to inform immigrants about their rights. It was surprising to hear that major American labor laws protect the rights of immigrants regardless of their legal status. The work that she is currently doing really motivated to think about what we could do once we got back to Trinity.
Lastly one phrase that Kat mentioned, “low intensity warfare” haunted me throughout the day. She stated that the U.S.’s actions in building the wall and in the manner that the border is patrolled are the characteristics of low intensity warfare. I had never thought of the situation in this perspective and at first I honestly thought she might be overreaching, yet the more I thought about it the more it made sense. When the agency purposefully pushes migrants into the desert knowing that their chances of survival will drastically decrease is a hostile act. It absolutely amazed me how far the U.S. is willing to go to keep migrants from crossing illegally. This realization absolutely amazed me and I mulled over this for quite awhile.
Then I asked myself, why was this the first time I have heard this? Kat pointed out that people are more willing to accept ideas and terminology once they have been academically accepted or published in an academic journal. It is truthful scary to think that the U.S.’s relationship with Mexico as warfare which could be why people have been hesitant to use this term.
In the end it does not matter what it is called, the fact is that a grave injustice is being committed. The U.S. has historically facilitated a relationship that depends on migrant labor and migrants looking for a better life in the U.S. do not deserve to be pushed into the desert.