Journal Entry 1
Today we went to the desert with a geologist and his wife Debby, who is an artist. The couple was interesting because of how well they were prepared and the fact that they were a Caucasian couple in Arizona who was pro-immigrant was a bit odd. Either way, a couple of minutes into the presentation out in the desert, which was surprisingly cool for a hot Arizona environment, Border Patrol was quick to send its patrol car and looming helicopter to observe the area above and near us. Their quick action is actually quite commendable. Now if they were only that quick to catch terrorists on the border, America would be a safer place. Well I guess terrorists have more advanced ways of getting around. Anyhow, I did not know what to expect on the desert trail but I can honestly say that I was not prepared for what I was about to see.
It started out with a black hat stuck on a thorny, leafless bush. But as we continued our walk, what unveiled before our eyes was a vast cape of scattered clothing, red bull bottles, book bags, tuna cans, and shoes amongst other things. It wasn’t until I stood in the middle of the trail surrounded by shoes, female undergarments, baby medicine, and lots of bottles of waters that I realized that history repeats itself. I suddenly found myself pondering about the Oregon Trail and the Trail of Tears. History was happening before our eyes and the lessons of it had seemed to have gone unnoticed.
I could not believe that this was real. Each item I passed seemed to have a story to it. One of the more interesting things we found was a birth certificate of Jose from Atlixco, Puebla. Seeing this document sort of shocked me because my family is actually from that area of Mexico and I’m not just talking about the city of Puebla but the tiny province within the city of Puebla, which is Atlixco. It was inevitable to pin a story to each item we found and we could only wonder what this person went through. The next item we found was a picture of a little boy. This alluded to the fact that when people cross, they leave everything behind – not just their clothing, but their family, their friends, their way of life. When I saw that picture I could not help but imagine a man in his mid thirties in the middle of the day sitting in a group of 5 other migrants just relaxing from a long night’s walk when they were suddenly ambushed by border patrol. In an attempt to escape, this man dropped everything, including the picture of his new born son, and ran to hide. His fate is a blur to me but I can’t help but think that this child on the photo has been left without a father whether because he crossed the border or failed in his attempt. The child looks back at you so as to say here I am, do not forget me. As I stand, I feel an emptiness and loneliness; an uncertainty. Lastly we found a prayer book. It’s a regular spiral 5 inch notebook with a cartoon fish on the cover. The sun has definitely taken a toll on it for its really faded. However, the words are somewhat legible. Inside of it were hand written prayers that asked God for protection. It says something about what people carry when they embark on such life transforming risks and journeys. They carry hope and protection.
The most emotional event with Borderlinks was the visit to the court house where as soon as I walked in I honestly felt like turning around and running away from there and cry my eyes out. I even told Lil, our coordinator that I could not be there. I had to leave. However, I sucked it up and stayed. What I saw was a room filled with about 70 men all of different ages, sizes, and statures. I later noticed that there were two women as well. In every one of these men I saw my brother, my father, my friends, my uncles, my cousins, my grandfathers. What was not different about them was their expression on their face and their fear of uncertainty overwhelmed the room along with the solemn tension that built inside me. I tried really hard to hold back the tears. To my left I heard Lil say, “May God forgive us for what we are doing.” What I witnessed was American politics at its highest and I say that sarcastically.
It was essentially a mass trial that lasted approximately an hour – AN HOUR FOR 70 PEOPLE. I guess it’s justifiable since they are not people; they are illegal aliens that have come to conquer America by working in the fields for mediocre wages. The first group was dismissed because they either did not speak Spanish and there was no appropriate translation for them and the other case was dismissed because it was minor. The second group that went before the judge was a group of about 12. These people all received a sentence where they had to spend from the lowest of 35 days to the highest of 90 days in prison. The rest of the people were asked one by one if they knew that they had the right to a trial and if they wanted to waive that right. They were called out one by one by their first and last name and one by one they all said that they understood their right and consented to the waiving of that right. All that time I was hoping that there would be a brave sole in that crowd that would not waive that right. And one by one I was disappointed. Until finally there was an individual who said no. Lil was so happy and that little light of hope that was wearing off suddenly rekindled again. However, he then agreed for he had misunderstood the question. If only there was one individual who said no and meant it, perhaps that would give the others the courage to do the same, but no.
I later found out of even more unfairness of this whole experimental process. The lawyers have just the morning before the trial to speak to their clients which consist of more than one – perhaps six migrants per lawyer. So this does not even give them enough time to the lawyers to explain or to the defendants to understand and ask questions. In addition, the migrants are sought of caught between the sword and the wall. If they waive their right, they get deported quickly, no hassle. However, if they do not waive their right, they must wait in detention while they wait for their case to be brought to court which may take weeks. Even then there is no guarantee of anything. So basically it’s more convenient to waive that right even if they are a citizen or even if they have a case because it’s quicker than being detained for a longer period of time. I honestly do not comprehend all of the legalities and specifics of the situation but it is all very complicated. It’s essentially an experimental phase for American politics on immigration – one that will unfortunately set new precedents for this is a new phenomenon due to 9/11 and the transfer of border patrol to homeland security.
When we got on the elevator, no one spoke. It was the most silent and solemn elevator ride I have ever had. Even as we stepped outside, people’s faces were expressionless yet their eyes clearly reflected a feeling of sympathy, melancholy and disgust. At least that is what I felt, a conclusion that I have achieved in retrospect since at that time I could not even think. I didn’t quite understand what had just happened. Nevertheless, when we stepped outside the court house, one could see the juxtaposition of two livelihoods. Outside there were people all dressed up, laughing with joy in their eyes and having a great time with their families. Graduation for College students at the University of Arizona had just finished apparently and the people were walking to the parking lots evidently to celebrate their family members’ great achievement. The future lawyers and politicians of Arizona – oh joy. This was all happening while literally across the parking lot laid a building that decided the fate of many poor, humble migrants whose only crime was trying to seek a better life, just like these young graduates. However, unlike the graduates whose dreams were just beginning to flourish, the many dreams of the migrants had just been crushed. It was depressing to think that the migrants hopes had just been shattered in front of their faces at the same time those hands were reaching for their diplomas.
The trip to the Border Patrol was sincerely something I was dreading. I did not know what my reaction was going to be because it was like I was going to be face to face with the “enemy” so to speak. But I gathered myself and prepared myself for the worst. Interestingly enough, we were greeted by two officers who seemed friendly enough. But I could not let my guard down.
So we sat down and began listening to the presentation. It was very interesting but very technical. It was also interesting to see how they boasted about retrieving 300 pounds of marijuana and how they stop many migrants. The officer also gave a very ridiculous analogy. He stated “how would you like it if someone whom you didn’t know came to your house, opened the refrigerator and started eating your food and sending some back home. Wouldn’t you want to know who that person is?” Through out all of his presentation I wanted to ask him how in the world he, as a Latino, could do such a job. However, I contained myself for fear of making a big scene. So I let him finish. The most amazing thing that he said was that 10% percent of those people they catch are involved in narcotics. It increases to 15% in that part of Arizona. However, the rest of the 90% are people not involved in narcotics and who are actually just trying to make a better living for themselves. He said it so casually. Meanwhile I was thinking “so why don’t you just arrest those in narcotics and let the rest go?” However, he received more of a humanistic appeal to him when he was asked how one decides to take such a job to which he responded: “it’s a job”. He has a wife and children to feed as well. Therefore it’s a job and somebody needs to do it, regardless of any emotional attachment. However, he stated that he believed firmly in the border patrol’s mission. He said that they needed to protect the United States and the people living in it. Let’s think about this for a minute. He is going to protect people from the 10 % of narcotics people and the 90% of migrants who are simply thinking about crossing for a better life. He is going to protect people from terrorists because that is how the twin towers were destroyed, through migrants crossing the border. Terror of the caliber witnessed in 911 is composed of well organized, well trained, individuals who would not risk their lives or anything for that matter by crossing through the border. Now I am not trying to minimize their work because there are some people who do mean harm. My point is that they are not the majority and even border patrol knows that. My point is also that immigration control became part of homeland security after 911 in order to control terrorism. However, terrorism of that caliber is highly organized and protecting the border does not seem like a reasonable solution to the true problem. In addition, they are not stopping migration because it is a phenomenon that has been happening for years and will continue to happen. What they are doing however is increasing the amount of deaths because they are strategically endangering the lives of the migrants by making them cross the desert and other dangerous areas.
I later found out that sometimes the people who are found with narcotics at the border are guilty only because the narcotics members have a certain control on the border as well. They charge a certain toll in order to let migrants pass. They will lower this fee if the migrants pass their drugs with them. Therefore, I conclude that the majority of this 10% of migrants who are found with narcotics are those who needed or wanted a discount on their crossing toll- they are not truly criminals. They are still people who want to seek a better life for them selves but are pushed to seek notorious discounts due to their poverty.
The visit to Border Patrol got increasingly more intense. A discussion infused between me and the border patrol officer who had given the presentation. I asked him to please explain to me how is it that a Latino takes up such a job against his own people. As I asked him this, I felt that I was going to cry out of outrage and anger. I felt my mouth tremble and it became harder for me to swallow and I felt tears start to form at the corners of my eyes. He told me that he believes firmly in what he has to do to protect the country from the narcotics criminals, the rapists and stealers. I had to interrupt him and say that he himself recognized that that is only 10% what about that father who is trying to find a better life for himself and his family and I told him to get himself in that position. He stated that he was not Mexican, he is Puerto Rican and that there are ways to get into the United States legally. I explained to him that it was not really the case because it takes a tremendous amount of time and money to even be considered for a visa and even then it is not guaranteed. He then told me that he was not a politician. His job was not to make the laws but enforce them. We left it at that. I then caught up with the officer who was Mexican American. We basically got into the same argument. It seemed hopeless, but I did see their face expression change. I know I annoyed them a lot but I also know that it got them thinking – I’m satisfied.
That visit was also very intense because they took us to see their watch tower so to speak; where they have all the cameras and where they can monitor any activity that goes on. Then they took us to a room where a couple of students who were with us could not stand it and had to leave. It was the room where the migrants were. My eyes gravitated and attached themselves to a little boy with a blue shirt, some jeans, and a book bag. I don’t believe he was traveling with a guardian. It broke my heart to see that because he could have easily have been my cousin, or anyone’s child. I now imagine what must be going through the heads of his family members. Did he get to the US safely? Is he ok? Where is he? Is he cold? Has he eaten already?
The face of the migrants is something that cannot be easily described. It’s a face that one cannot describe and one cannot understand until one sees it for oneself. However, I will try to describe it. Their face is one of defeat. It’s of shattered dreams, and guilt or humiliation. It is guilt for breaking the law and being captured. But it is also guilt for not getting to wherever their destination was, get a job and send money back home. In their minds, they let their family members down. I cannot help but see my father held in that cell, having his picture and fingerprints taken and being deported back home. I say this because when I returned from the border and I shared with my parents the pictures and stories, my father also told me that he had crossed the desert and was deported twice. He said that he was held in prison for two weeks. Therefore, seeing these men, women, and children at Border Patrol just broke my heart and it really hit home for me.
This whole issue of the border is a very complicated one because of the various things at stake. We need migrants to work. But: Why don’t they come here legally? Is it the US’ job to provide for everyone, including these people who are breaking the laws? What is their government doing about it? These are not easy questions. One can only hope that an agreement is reached where it is both beneficial for the United States and the migrants and where no more people die.