By Liz Dalton
It has never been easy for me to share personal feelings of sadness. Often sharing grievances leads to an acknowledgment of injustice. Thus with acknowledgement come sorrow. Then the strength of the anguish could negatively impact my life, particularly my work ethic. When confronted with something negative (especially something I have no control over), I tend to compartmentalize. Once I have compartmentalized, I process through political means. I create a plan of action to be executed. This plan is simply a list of actions. It holds no emotion. Politics has always been my solution and my comfort blanket. Most of what I ponder about and act on is fostered political knowledge and experience, not personal. My motivation for traveling to the border was political. I wanted to gain insider information about one of the fastest growing debates.
Migration and immigration across the US/Mexican border is no longer solely a political issue that affects me. It is a personal issue that eats away at my conscious. It is not something I can ignore, as much as I would like to.
While almost everyone else could identify and connect with their Hispanic heritage, I could barely speak two words of Spanish. I was and unfortunately still am the “gringo.” Gringo is a term in Mexico used to describe white foreigners, particularly English-speakers from the United States. There is some disagreement over whether gringo is a derogatory term used in place of nicer adjectives such as white or Anglo-Saxon. While I was in Mexico the word was often muttered amongst my shadows. Personally, I took no offense because the adjective held true. I could not blend in with a native crowd, nor did I speak the native language, nor did I understand the native customs. But before I left for Mexico I had established my role as an observer attempting to gain facts for use as political ammunition; it was not necessary for me to blend in. Originally, I did not believe that the average Mexican citizen and I had anything in common.
After spending a week on the border, I discovered I was mistaken. The average Mexican and I have everything in common. We both want the same thing, the essentials of happiness. Allan K. Chalmers said, “the grand essentials of happiness are: something to do (a job), something to love (family), and something to hope for (a family that can flourish in a safe environment)”. It only took five minutes of listening to the truth to break down years of stereotype digestion. As a white upper class woman, high society had fed me the classic picture of the Mexican. A dirty man sleeping under the shade of a tree, further protected by a sombrero, and accompanied by cheep tequila.
High society had also taught me the American Dream; as long as anyone worked hard they could rise in status and prosper. This made the members of high society (myself included) feel secure about their fortune in the face of other’s misfortune. It could be inferred from the American Dream that if someone was wealthy it was earned. It could also be inferred that if someone was not wealthy, they clearly were not working hard enough. But I have certainly understood that the world is not fair since childhood. But high society taught me that the American Dream took into account luck. When you are fortunate it is easy to believe that the unfortunately simply do not deserve the pleasures that rich enjoy.
In Mexico I received an education that overturned what high society had taught me. While I am hoping to be a political science major, I am certainly no expert on the issues I address in this essay. But I know the following facts to the true. First, in the United States rights and privileges are only given to citizens and documented immigrants. Undocumented workers and migrants are treated as if they were second class citizens and they are not provided with same opportunities. Second, American citizens are given more privileges and opportunities than Mexican citizens. I no longer believe that the American Dream applies to migrants or undocumented workers in the United States. Therefore, in Mexico I was forced to accept that there is a tremendous amount of injustice on the border and in the United States.
Injustice should always be investigated and evaluated. The injustice that surrounds that border has not been investigated by most Americans. There are many reasons for this. But mainly Americans (myself included) don’t want to look into the hardships that affect people of another country, because it takes time and causes pain. Even the most racists and conservative politician would experience remorse watching the desert swallow a child. Humanity and humility would demand remorse for hundreds of people silently erased by the desert every year.
After I overcame and processed all that I learned within the first five minutes, I devoted the rest of my time to an investigation. In the case of the Government of and People of Mexico versus the Government of and the People of the United States it is easy to make a determination. It is time for the governments and peoples of both lands to address the issues of the border we share. This might sound like a silly girl’s call for world peace.
But America has and is spending material resources on the border. Currently, the US government is investing in militarization as the solution to immigration and border issues. This needs to end. Militarization will not stop people from coming. It does nothing to address the reasons why Mexicans travel north across the border. It does create hostile feelings between the governments and the people of the Mexico and the United States. It ruins the natural deserts between Mexico and Americans. It directly leads to the deaths of hundreds of fathers, mothers, bothers, and sisters every year. It only helps America prepare and practice for military action in Iraq. I would like to point out that we are not at war with Mexico. America needs to truthfully address the economical and social issues of the border not the paranoia and racisms of its citizens.
Furthermore, America has recently learned to hope and has been rallying behind the idea that things can be better. A few months ago I attended a rally in support of Senator Barrack Obama. It was freezing and there was a slight snowfall. But over 40,000 people showed up to wave signs, which said HOPE, and cheer the word. Hope that life will be better with President Obama. If so many Americans can believe in and contribute to Senator Obama’s campaign then it might also be possible for Americans to believe in and contribute to enhancing human rights (regardless of national origin) and foreign relations. In order for Americans to care and hope they would have to understand why I have determined that its time we all did something to address the issues and elevate the suffering.
My determination was based on images that still burn in my brain even though I departed Mexico over a month ago. I always think of the baby with small lips first. I met her and her family at a Migrant Aid Station just off the border for those who have been departed. She was covered in pink fleece though it is over 90 degrees. Though she was only four months old, she and her family have been deported three times. The parents started crossing when the mother got pregnant. One time they went for three days without food or water. They had to give themselves up because their baby was getting sick. In the United States the parents get five dollars per day for picking coffee. In this couples eyes this is a fortune. They are from Chiapas, a Mexican state located at the southern tip. It is common for Mexicans not to finish High School and often providers find that they do not have enough to support their children or live comfortably. In Chiapas the education and economic situation is especially dire. The husband was talking of returning. I have never seen a women more devastated. I do not think this mother could get go of her dreams for a brighter future.
I think of the kids I saw at the Border Patrol. There were six ten-year-old girls and one seven-year-old boy. They just wanted to cross into the United States in hopes of a brighter future. But the Hispanic border patrol agent had them pinned against the wall like adult criminals. If these kids were like the white kids from my hometown they would have been hanging out at the mall or on a play date. Instead these kids were in a detention center unsupervised due to economic circumstances beyond their control.
Then I think of the large Mexican who ran the Grupo Beta Proteccion a Migrantes in Nogales Sonora. Grupo Beta was founded by the Mexican Government to help migrants of all nations. They do several different types of work across both the northern and southern border. First, they provide an education about the hardships of the desert to those who want to or need to cross, hoping to convince them not to cross the border. Education about the hardships of the border only deters less than ten percent. People would rather die trying to reach the United States then suffer from lack of opportunity in Mexico.
They also patrol the dessert along with border patrol. But unlike border patrol they do not pick anyone up unless they are in need of emergency medical care. Grupo Beta also works to protect the rights of migrants. This man who worked at the Grupo Beta facility I visited said many things that haunt me.
First, they must work to protect the rights of migrants because Mexican authorities violate those rights. For examples, they take money. On the northern border there is less stolen money because by the time that migrants get there they don’t have much. But despite Grupo Beta’s efforts, Mexican authorities get away with violating human rights, because they only action Grupo Beta can do is put a mark on the violator’s carrier. But there is also a lot of mistreatment by the border patrol. The only way for Grupo Beta to take action against a US authority member is to register a complaint with the US consulate. The consulate will no do anything because they fear registering a complaint against an American on American territory.
Second, he has to convince migrants that it is more than a thirty minute walk to Phoenix or Tucson. Coyotes have spread this rumor in hopes of ascertaining business. In Mexico, men will offer to guide migrants for a fee. These men are coyotes. They care more about money than migrants. In reality its sixty miles from Mexico to Tucson and the walk takes about two to three days. Furthermore if Border Patrol tires to capture the group, the coyote will run for his life. The coyote is used to running but the migrants are not. Often the migrants are left behind, lost in a dessert they do not know or understand.
Third, there are many deaths in the dessert. The United States says there are about 200 deaths or disappearances a year. But he knows that there can be more than that in a month. He said that the US authorities do not release the correct information as a means of protecting themselves. People are always telling him about numerous bodies they encountered in the desert. Fourth, he claimed many migrants have sold drugs and beat their wives. He also said that all Hispanics are law-breakers. Border patrol documentation proves these claims false, but it was disturbing that a man would stereotype his own people in such a way. Fifth, he estimates there could be 700,000 people crossing the border every day.
Occasionally, the woman from the shelter in Altar, visits my dreams. She was working in the US but she missed her eleven year old daughter. She came back to Mexico to visit her daughter. Now she is trying to get back into the United States and gain employment since her hometown in Mexico is very expensive. When I met her she has just been caught crossing the border for the first time. In truth she wanted the border patrol to find her because her sister was not doing well. She was treated fine in detention. But when she was sent back to Mexico the police threaten to send her to Cuba.
She showed them proof that she was a Mexican citizen by providing her Mexican version of a SSN. But the policemen still did not believe her because she was black. The proceeded by asking her a bunch of questions about Mexico. The asked questions such as, “What do the colors of the flag mean?” and “Who is the president of Mexico?” She answered all of their questions correctly but they still did not believe her. At that point she threatened to sue. Then the policemen let her go. After she was released she took a bus to Altar, Mexico. When she got to Altar she asked people for money. She got enough money to buy a pair of shoes but not enough to also buy food. She had to choose between shoes and food. She choses the shoes. Then she went to a church and they told her about the shelter. She had been at the shelter for eight days when I met her. She was hoping to cross the border soon. I hope she was not swallowed by the desert.
I come from a family of lawyers and I want to go into the law making side of politics. In many ways I have always seen courtrooms as a place of security that establishes right from wrong. In Tucson, Arizona, when I walked into the courtroom I saw Operation Streamline. My group was escorted and educated by Isabel Garcia who is a public defender. She has been witnessing Operation Streamline since January 14th, 2008. “Illegal immigrants” that are put into Operation Streamline are brought from a randomly determined part of the border and they make up about ten percent of the people apprehended along the border. About 70 people a day are put into operation streamline, but the government is hoping to increase that number to 100. Operation Streamline makes crossing a misdemeanor on record so that if a migrant tries to cross again they have to serve ten years in jail. Operation Streamline was established by Homeland Security under Proposition 200.
Watching Operation Streamline in action reminded me of slavery in the early days of North America and the Holocaust. All of the Hispanic migrants on trial were handcuffed at the wrists and feet. They were also chained to one another. They were all wearing translation devices. There were referred to by number and not by name. They were all tried within one hour with the guidance of group representation. There is one lawyer for every six migrants. Each lawyer makes over 600 dollars a day. Neither background nor stories are offered to explain the actions of the migrants. It wouldn’t have helped anyways. The court has already assumed these men have illegally crossed the border because they are in the US without papers or education. I saw no justice in the courts I visited in Phoenix, Arizona.
Where is the justice? It is not at the border. What I have touched on is only a small part of what I found. I only found desperation, despair, and death. What I found is evidence that both people and the government of Mexico and the US need to act now to truthfully address the economic and social dynamics and issues that afflict the border. We have the resources; we just need to redirect them. And there is hope that America will believe in and contribute to enhancing human rights and foreign relations.
But to be honest I am not going to embrace that sense of hope. I am a future politician. I know that it sometimes takes several sessions before legislation is passed. Like a woman trying to get pregnant and only suffering from miscarriages. And I know that these people are just like me. They want the same essentials of happiness but they are not going to ever achieve them if they are an “illegal immigrant”; and that it why this issue personally nags my spirit. That’s why even thousands of miles away we should not rest but instead care about the border.