About DukeEngage Tucson 2010

Immigration is perhaps the single largest domestic challenge facing both the United States and Mexico today. People die nearly every week attempting to cross the border. Hostilities against immigrants in the U.S. rise daily. Local, state, and international relations are increasingly strained.

For eight weeks this summer, seven students have been given the opportunity to travel to Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico to study the many faces of immigration. Following two weeks of meetings with local activists, a Border Patrol agent, a federal public defender, lawyers, members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, maquiladora owners, Grupos Beta employees, migrants, and local farmers, we will spend six weeks partnered with Southside Day Labor Camp, BorderLinks, or Humane Borders in order to further immerse ourselves in the issues of immigration.

This blog chronicles our experiences and our perspectives on what we learn while here in Arizona. We hope our stories are interesting and informative.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Did I Learn?

I have spent the last eight weeks in Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico. At the beginning of these eight weeks, I challenged myself with this goal:

“So, why am I here? I am here to learn. To learn in order to better understand. To learn in order to be able to make informed decisions regarding immigration. To learn in order to be better able to serve. But especially, to learn in order to be qualified to educate for change.”—blog post To Learn June 6, 2010

I did learn.

I learned during the first two weeks we spent on the border participating in an educational delegation, the first week of which we spent in Tucson, Arizona where we met with activists in the community, served breakfast at a local church, met with a Border Patrol agent and a public defender, and watched a Streamline trial. The second week of the delegation, we spent in Nogales, Mexico where we visited a maquiladora; held a camp for neighborhood children; visited Altar, Mexico, a common migrant stop before entering the US; and lived in homestays.

I learned during the next six weeks we spent in Tucson, Arizona working at our nonprofit placements. I worked at a Southside Day Labor Center in South Tucson. The Center is a place where people can come and negotiate employment. Every morning at 6:30, laborers participate in a raffle which determines the order in which they will get work. First raffle ticket, first job. They then spend the rest of the morning waiting for bosses to come by and pick them up.

During our six weeks at the Center, the two other volunteers and I did what we could to best fill these waiting hours. We first talked to the laborers and tried to determine how we could best serve them. We did one-on-one English tutoring, watched the World Cup, held computer classes, talked with the laborers, gave a health presentation, helped make Center IDs, helped with leadership and community development activities, made an orientation video for new laborers, put together an orientation packet for new volunteers, and gave a presentation to the congregation of the church that houses the Day Labor Center in the hopes of recruiting volunteers to fill our shoes once we left Tucson.

And I learned during out last two days of delegation at the end of our stay in Arizona. We spent these two days planning how we would take what we had learned in Arizona home, attending the SB1070 hearings in Phoenix, and visiting the Florence Project, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to men, women, and children being held in detention for “immigration removal proceedings.”

I learned more in these past eight weeks than I ever thought I would. But I also know that there is still more to learn, that a lifetime on the border wouldn’t be enough. In my blog posts, I have recorded what I could of these last eight weeks. When I return to Duke, I hope to take what I have learned and to work with my peers to pass this knowledge on to others. I also know that it remains my responsibility to keep on learning.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

El Final?

When I tell people about my project in Arizona, the first questions I'll probably be met with will have to do with SB 1070. "Oh, you were on the ground when all the protests were going on?" or "You're happy about that injunction, right?" or even "Wait, Duke put together a DukeEngage program for 1070 so quickly?"

That's where the interest will stem from. And that's completely understandable.

But as I look back on my two months on the Arizona-Sonora border, I'll know that that's not all there was to it. SB 1070 rallied America's attention, yes, polarized groups on the immigration and documentation issue. It got people talking. In a twisted way, I and many people are grateful for that at least. This is an issue that needs discussion, but it shouldn't stop at the scrutiny of one poorly-written bill. It should even extend beyond Tom Horne's ban of ethnic studies and the proposals to deny people, born in Arizona, U.S. citizenship. The issue is huge, complicated, and 1070 is already in effect in some ways, as Arizonans could tell you.

The 1070 fight hit home pretty hard at my own internship, which I was sad to leave behind. Working at the Southside Day Labor Center was a struggle, but a healthy one. Most days, I had no idea was success looked like, was hard put to see hope when day after day the men went without work and money for their children. But I hope we made an impact in some ways, with our English tutoring, our computer classes, the advertising, health workshop, and every other way we tried to fill in the cracks of the laborers' needs.

Sustainability, though, was our primary goal as we worked through the summer. We tried to engage the church congregation–which seemed disconnected from the day labor program—hoping members could carry the torch when we left. That, we thought, would be the true test of solidarity.

It was the fateful date, July 29, which showed us the fruits of our labors. We weren't there to witness it, but the church pastor and the Tucson Sentinel (http://www.tucsonsentinel.com/local/report/072910_anti1070allnighter) alike reported what we'd unknowingly hoped for. Instead of watching the activities on the news or waiting for much-needed work, the Southside laborers, along with 60 church members marched to downtown Tucson to protest 1070 last Thursday.

Now I look forward to how I, how we, can bring all the experiences back to Duke. As I consider it, think of revamping a campus group, bringing speakers, teaching a course, I keep the image of the protesting laborers in my mind--as well as the pastor's quote: "Todos somos jornaleros" (We are all laborers).

Friday, July 30, 2010

Part 4: Images of the Wall

The collage above depicts several views of the border wall dividing Nogales, Mexico from Nogales, Arizona. All pictures are from the Mexico side as the US will not allow art on the US side of the wall.

Part 3: Law and the Border Wall

In 2005, the Real ID Act was passed by Congress. Section 102 of this act gave the US Department of Homeland Security the authority to “to waive all local, state and federal laws that the secretary deems an impediment to building walls and roads along U.S. borders.” The result is that thirty-six laws have been waived since 2005 in the construction of the border wall. They are listed below:

• National Environmental Policy Act
• Endangered Species Act
• Clean Water Act
• National Historic Preservation Act
• Migratory Bird Treaty Act
• Clean Air Act
• Archaeological Resources Protection Act
• Safe Drinking Water Act
• Noise Control Act
• Solid Waste Disposal Act
• Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
• Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act
• Antiquities Act
• Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act
• Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
• Farmland Protection Policy Act
• Coastal Zone Management Act
• Wilderness Act
• Federal Land Policy and Management Act
• National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act
• Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956
• Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
• Administrative Procedure Act
• Otay Mountain Wilderness Act of 1999
• California Desert Protection Act
• National Park Service Organic Act
• National Park Service General Authorities Act
• National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978
• Arizona Desert Wilderness Act
• Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899
• Eagle Protection Act
• Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
• American Indian Religious Freedom Act
• Religious Freedom Restoration Act
• National Forest Management Act of 1976
• Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act of 1960

The Real ID Act has set a dangerous precedent. What other laws will be waived in the future? Will we know they are being waived?

Sources: The Sierra Club, http://www.sierraclub.org/borderlands/realID.aspx

"No one deserves to die in the desert for lack of a glass of water"

(Gallon jug left along migrant routes in the Arizona desert, photo taken by Sarah)

It is virtually impossible for a migrant to carry enough water to make it through the desert from Mexico to Tucson without becoming severely dehydrated. Humanitarian groups such as No More Deaths and Samaritans put out gallons of water such as the one above along well known migrant trails in the hopes of reducing the number of deaths that occur in the desert due to dehydration and other heat related illnesses.

In July alone, 57 bodies have been brought in to the Pima County morgue. The majority had died within the previous week. The morgue is so overrun with bodies that some have to be stored in cooler trucks outside. Many of these bodies have been rendered unidentifiable by exposure. Others lack any identifying documents or characteristics. The New York Times released a recent article on this topic: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/29/us/29border.html?scp=1&sq=immigration%20deaths&st=cse.

Though the number of people crossing the desert has decreased this summer due to increased border enforcement, high summer temperatures, and a poor US economy, the number of deaths has increased. This is because the border wall and increased border militarization is forcing migrants in to more hostile and dangerous territory where they are forced to walk for days through the desert in order to enter the US. Those who cannot make it--whether they are injured or otherwise physically unable to walk--are left behind. The result is that more people are dying because they are unprepared for the harsh conditions of the desert.

(Humane Borders truck with water barrels, photo taken by Sarah)

Humane Borders, another humanitarian group that maintains water stations throughout the Arizona desert (see image above), has compiled a map indicating the location of migrant deaths throughout the desert. The map can be found here: http://www.humaneborders.org/news/documents/cumulativemap20002007.pdf. As can be seen on the map, a majority of the deaths occurring in the desert happen in a specific valley called the Baboquivari Valley on the Tohono O'odham Nation. This high death rate may be due to the fact that Nation leaders will not allow humanitarian groups to leave water along this valley.

When you look at the death statistics, whether or not migrants should be entering the United States becomes irrelevant. What matters is that people are dying and that they are often dying because they need a drink of water.

(Socks left by migrant along trail in Arizona desert, photo taken by Sarah)

Part 2: The Environmental Impact of the Border Wall

(Picture of Border Wall from Nogales, Mexico side)

They are trashing the desert. They are polluting the environment. They are damaging vegetation. They are disturbing wildlife. These arguments are used by some to argue for a closed border. The migration through the deserts of Arizona is damaging the environment and therefore needs to stop. The migrants and their journeys are to blame for the environmental destruction scarring the Arizona desert.

According to the Sierra Club, though, it is not the migrants who are causing real and long lasting damage to the many and priceless ecosystems of the border region. It is the border wall that is doing so. The trash can always be picked up. The trails can be repaired. The vegetation can grow back. But animals that go extinct will not come back. Cities that are buried under meters of water won’t ever be the same.

(Arizona Desert Landscape)

Research conducted by professors at the University of Arizona and the University of California, Berkeley with the help of the Defenders of Wildlife and the US Fish and Wildlife Service have found that natural movement of the pygmy owl and the bighorn sheep is affected by the border wall. The result is that natural migration of animals is stymied and gene flow is impeded, thus decreasing the diversity of the border region and changing natural wildlife patterns. Images and videos of javelinas and deer stopped at the wall show that owls and sheep are not the only animals affected by the wall. The wall is changing the natural environment of ecologically sensitive and unique areas, such as the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Barry M. Goldwater Range, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the Sonoran Desert, among others.

Migrants will enter the US regardless of the size of the walls built. As I said in my earlier post, the wall slows migrants down by only 5 minutes. Instead of keeping migrants out, the border wall is instead pushing migrants in to more ecologically sensitive areas, such as mountain ranges and National Wildlife areas. The Border Patrol in turn builds roads to pursue these migrants, roads that cause even greater damage to the environment. Without the border wall, the damage caused by migrants would be limited to trash collection and trail use, both easily repaired.

(Trash left by migrants along trails in the Arizona desert)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Judge Bolton Injoins Key Provisions of 1070


Saturday, July 24, 2010

the world I imagine now

When Margi asked us to imagine a “better” world for one of our last delegation activities, many things came to my mind; and I soon realized those things now I imagine to be in a better world are fairly different from what I would have imagined a few months ago. The experience of two month here definitely affected my point of view in many substantial ways.

I now imagine a better world to be where people are treated according to their talents not there nationalities. DREAM Act students who have grown up in the US for the most part of their lives and have some kinds of valuable abilities, not only limited to SAT scores, should have the same chance to be educated as any other “American” students. They deserve way more than what they get right now.

I now imagine a better world to be where people in Latin American countries, or any other countries in the world, live in economically, socially, and politically better societies. Before coming here, I knew almost nothing about economic, social, and political push and pull factors all organically working to force people migrate without documents. I assume the US government would have known that better than I; but they are still working on treating the symptoms rather than the causes. I want the government and other people who have the substantial power to change the situation to work on solving the root problems such as economic disparities.

I now imagine a better world to be where immigration process is more accessible and difficult and expensive “naturalization” process is not required when one only wants to work in another country for a relatively short period of time of his life. If one wants to live his entire life in the US, for example, going through the naturalization process makes sense. However, when one only wants to work for a couple of years to earn some money and go back to his family after that, I personally do not see the point of going through it. This may be a biased opinion, since I myself want to work in the US in the future and feel burdened about the possibility of going through green card process if I want to get a really good and influential job which is not very accessible to aliens without green card.

I now imagine a better world to be where people listen to the other sides’ opinions without looking down on it. I have met many people here who were deeply enthusiastic about their works. Sometimes, however, I saw some people who seemed too emotional or blindly and extremely devoted to their positions, which made them unable to listen to the other side. I believe lack of communication only worsens the conflict. As I wrote in the last blog posting, I want people to try to listen what the people on the opposite side say without any prejudice; because if you don’t do it, the other side will not do it either. Mutual respect between two opposite sides seems to be needed in the current situation.

This is my last posting in Tucson. However, I don’t want this to be the real last one – things I have been experienced here which have changed me in many ways will keep me thinking and writing more and more even after I leave here.

Final Thoughts

My Duke Engage experience was very enriching. I learned a lot from the delegation provided by Borderlinks and also from interning at Humane Borders.

I learned so much in the first two weeks about immigration - walking in the Migrant Trail, sitting in Operation Streamline, talking to Public Defender Laura Conover, Isabel Garcia, and Mike Wilson, going to the Tohono O'odham presentation, attending racism workshop, picking and stacking onions at a local farm, and interviewing people in different parts of Tucson about SB1070.

I also leanrned a great deal from working in Humane Borders. I've helped the Humane Border to transition from the old building to the new building by organizing the office. I've organized the educational library in Humane Borders. I've worked with data entries and especially compiled a vandalism record of the water stations that was be filed to the police. I've helped out promoting a benefit show, flyering in streets of Tucson and also making the educational display of the show. I've also worked with updating the newsletter database and sent out the newsletter to the community. I've been out on water runs in Ironwood and Arivaca North to put out water in the desert. I've helped out with making brochures for Humane Borders. Lastly I've also helped make a packet that would help student organizations to become a Humane Borders chapter. Besides from helping out, I also had the opportunity to learn by watching the documentaries about the border issues from the educational library.

This have been an amazing experience, filled with education about the border. I am sure this experience will help me to understand the immigration issue much better when it comes up any time in the future.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What I Accomplished This Summer

As I mentioned in a previous post, my work with the Southside Day Labor Center has been fraught with challenges. However, I still am able to reflect on my experience and say that I have accomplished a lot for the community I served and I grew as a person.

While our classes were not always as well organized or attended as we hoped, I still think they were useful for the men. Our English tutoring improved the men’s English skills so that they are now slightly better at communicating with their patrones. Also, we taught the men how to create and use an email account and how to use craigslist and google search during our computer classes. Finally, we conducted a workshop on heat stroke, which is especially important since the men are working in extreme heat and sun exposure.

Other projects we completed include the making of an instructional video to show new members of the center the new rules. We also researched wage abuse and how the men could take action against patrones that do not pay them for their work. This is a constant problems for them and is particular tragic given that there is little work for the men to come by and that many are earning money to support their families either here in the U.S. or in their native country.

On a personal level, we established strong relationships with the men. I really thought of them as friends and I think they thought of me in the same way. We shared good conversations and had laughs. We also watched much of the World Cup together. Several of them have my phone contact information and I hope to keep in touch with them. I think I got a lot more out of this experience because I was able to be friends with the workers, some of whom are migrants from Mexico or other Central American countries. I had a personal connection with these individuals rather than just witnessing them from objective perspective that we were getting from some of the other experiences. Being close to these individuals was the most moving aspect of this trip. I also think they had a lot more fun with us around; we made things more exciting for them.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Slideshow of Our Stay in Tucson

Migrant Deaths In July Could Set A New Record

The Arizona Sun Times reported last week that the migrant deaths recorded this month in Pima County alone could set a record. The county has experienced 38 migrant deaths this summer, which puts the county on track to break the record for July 2005 of 68 deaths in a month. Body counts for 2010 are up by almost 100 recovered bodies in a given time period from 2009, though evidence shows that migration across the Mexico border is slowing. Check out the full article here:


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hearing Their Narrative (Ignorance, Part II)

They call it "blind" ignorance sometimes.

For a while this summer, my ignorance blinded me, made me forgetful of the fact that immigration laws should not be about fear and hiding in the shadows, but about having the courage to ensure that those who harm others are brought to justice, no matter the consequences.

A few weeks ago, a man "with papers" attacked one without. The result was physical and psychological harm, not to mention fear. I tried to give what advice I could, consulting people with more knowledge than I, and came to the conclusion that testifying was out of the question. Better to stay hidden.

"He [the attacker] will be released, though," I was told urgently. My mind wasn't changed.

They say ignorance is blind, but I've got news for you: it can be deaf, too.

In a recent, fluffy speech on immigration and SB 1070, President Obama reasoned that, "Among other things, [1070] puts pressure on police officers to enforce rules that are "unenforceable" while making communities less safe -- in part, by making people more reluctant to report crimes.

If only he knew. If only he'd lend us an ear.

Ultimately, my and the lawyers' advice were not followed, and I'm glad of it. It was discovered that the police–though sometimes easily painted as the persecutors and those empowered by 1070–wanted justice to be done, too.

After all, what kind of society would we have if a few pieces of paper could keep a good, hardworking person in fear for himself and his family, and at the same time keep a violent one on the streets?

That's the kind of society that already lives and breathes in Arizona and many other parts of country. If only Obama could see that. I'm fortunate to have learned that in my time here.

In many ways, papers give you a voice in this country and you're totally disempowered without them. If you're mistreated, denied wages, denied water and basic human rights, very few bother to listen.

That's a shame for countless reasons, but one is that what nearly all the people I've worked with at the Day Labor Center--no matter their status--have to say is so crucial to the immigration debate, not to mention damn interesting. Their voices are the ones so often missing. The result of our own policies, by the way. In the way that the deaths of the less fortunate migrants are on our hands, and the abuses that continue to go unheeded fall to us to resolve, though resolve them we won't.

All because we don't want to hear, or just don't know what to listen for.

Before coming to Arizona, I never thought I could have felt so strongly about amnesty. But if there is no pathway to citizenship for those 11 million+ living in silence, their opinions and voices go on muted. The wrongs, real crimes that certainly trump an offense that is nothing more or less than trespassing, will continue.

And the narrative, though it's being spoken, whispered in every corner of our country, goes unheard.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Respecting Dignity

I came to Tucson with only a bit of knowledge of the legal aspects of immigration. Addition to that, the two days our group had a pre-Tucson training helped me to realize that there were many sides to this issue, including guest farm worker rights and DREAM Act.

However, my time in Tucson taught me the realities of the immigration issue, face to face.

Though I have already experienced some discrimination and prejudices earlier in my life, I’ve never seen the connection between white supremacy and privilege and immigration restrictions so clearly during our workshop in our delegation. I did not know anything about Operation Streamline, the fact that people are in shackles when they are being mass tried at 70 people in roughly an hour and thirty minutes. I didn’t know that the detention centers only fed immigrants peanut butter crackers for meals, gave water in buckets while their hands are still in shackles. I’ve heard that they don’t give women on their menstruation to have any sanitary means. And I’ve heard stories of families breaking apart during process of deportation. And of letting someone die on a hospital bed in shackles. These are the realities I came face to face.

I wrote an article once for The Chronicle featuring Archbishop Makhulu. What really struck me was how much he valued a person’s dignity. “Everyone inherently has dignity,” he said. Throughout my time in Tucson, I came to think a lot about dignity. Putting water out in the desert, a simple act such as that, shows that I respect of human life and dignity. Although much of the water, especially nowadays, have been drained by vandalism. However, I do think all the effort, time, and resources are worth giving if it can save even one person’s life.

Yes, many migrants have come here without documents. Yes, it may not be right for citizens to pay for certain fees to the government or healthcare while migrants may not be. However, we should never forget that they are human too, instead of labeling them as “illegals” or “undocumented immigrants.” Many of these migrants have come here because they have no other option but to come here and work to feed their family. To treat them with guns, shackles, and extreme unsanitary conditions are not only offensive to the dignity of these people, but is degrading the value of people who are doing these to them. What I got most out of this experience is that the important issue of immigration is not political, religious, or educational. It’s simply humanitarian. It is a humanitarian issue, as basic but important as giving someone water when they are dying of thirst.

what Arizona gave me

Don’t get me wrong – I have learned a lot here especially from people who are pro-immigrant humanitarian workers and I consider myself as pro-immigrant as well. Still, in Arizona, the heart of immigration issues, I have also learned a lot from anti-immigrant people as I listen and read their arguments. I actually do not understand their arguments; most of the time, it seems their arguments lack a proper logic and rather make me more pro-immigrant. Yet I always try to listen and read them as seriously as possible, because I know that maybe my – or our as pro-immigrant – arguments would seem ridiculous to them just as theirs seem to me. One of the biggest lessons I have gained here is the fact that everybody – pro-immigrant, anti-immigrant, or immigrants themselves – has different stories, and one should not dismiss others’ stories; I listen what anti-immigrant people say because I want them to listen what we say.

Also, I have learned why people cross the border regardless of the unfair label of ‘illegal’ they would get. Before coming here, I thought it was not immigrants themselves but only their children who had no choice but to cross with their parents – that was why I supported the DREAM Act. Now, I understand the lack of options in Mexico or other Latin American countries.

And that made me even more interested in the legal or political facet of immigration issue than I had been before. If there are strong push and pull factors that force people to cross, creating border walls or increasing the deportation rate will not help to solve the root problem at all. It is those push and pull factors that should be treated, and I think those treatments have to be made from the legal or political approaches – to ameliorate economies of Latin American countries, to make immigration process accessible, or to establish appropriate programs such as the guest worker program.

With those deepened understandings of multifaceted immigration issues, I now look forward to even more enlightening experiences during the 10 days left ahead of me and after that as well.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Before Arizona

I didn’t know most of this before I came to Arizona.

It is not easy for a migrant to enter the US. They must pass through an incredibly dangerous and hostile environment to get in to the country. This year, to date, 130 people have died crossing the desert in Arizona alone. 5000 have died since 1994. 209 died last year. These numbers reflect only found bodies. These found bodies in turn are believed to comprise only 25 percent of the total number of migrant deaths that occur in the desert each year. Many who die are not found. Therefore, the adjusted number of deaths could mean that 520 people have died in the desert this year and 20,000 people have died since 1994. Most Americans don’t know these numbers. I didn’t. This story is not discussed in the media.

(Migrant belongings left behind in desert)

On a perfect journey through the desert, a migrant would suffer at the very least from dehydration. There is no thing as a perfect journey. All migrants face the risk of being caught by Border Patrol. Many suffer from heat sickness; exploitation at the hands of their coyotes; risk of attack by drug traffickers, human traffickers, or bandits; rape; life-threatening blisters that cover their whole feet; hunger; thirst; fear. All pay inordinate fees to their coyotes, the “mafia,” and other exploiters along the route. And this is all just in the walk through the desert to get in to the US. Most Americans don’t know this story. I didn’t. This journey is not deemed newsworthy.

(Wackenhut bus waiting in desert to deport migrants back to Mexico)

If a migrant successfully enters the US, they have to start a new life from nothing. Among other hardships, they often end up working for less than minimum wage, and that is only if they are lucky enough to find work. They may be exploited by their bosses. Many cannot afford health insurance. They pay taxes and social security, yet they do not benefit from them. If they are abused by their fellows, by their bosses, by the cops, by the border patrol, they often do not seek legal recourse. They are afraid they will be caught by Border Patrol. The result is that crimes go unsolved and unpunished. Justice does not prevail. Fear does. Most Americans don’t know this life. I didn’t. This life does not make headlines.

These numbers, this journey, and this life are real.

Yet they are not the narrative we are presented. They are not the stories we read. I didn’t know them before I came to Arizona. I didn’t know this narrative. Now that I do, it is my duty to tell it.

Two Stories

I am generally dissatisfied with the news media in this country, particularly television news. The networks seem to focus primarily on providing entertainment. It seems like every time I watch the news on television I see flashing objects and people screaming at each other. I rarely witness stories that go behind a superficial analysis of the subject.

The case of migration is no different. There are very few stories in the media that go beyond the basics of the issue. I mostly see stories about SB 1070 or people arguing with each other over immigration. However, there is a lack of information on what the immigrants must do to cross Arizona and what their lives are like when they are here. This is not to say that 1070 is not important, but rather that focusing on it to such an extent leaves huge gaps in the migrant story. I also find it interesting that the biggest controversy over 1070 seems to be that it will lead to increased racial profiling. While I think this is a significant problem with the bill, I see many other issues with it. By just pointing out the aspect of racial profiling, people seem to be suggesting that it is okay to harass undocumented workers currently in the U.S., just as long as you can separate them from legal citizens. I would like to see more people upset over the way the bill pressures the police to make more deportations and increases the fear that migrants have of the police.

The overall story of the migrant that this news depicts is not overly sympathetic. I have seen many reports about jobs being ‘taken’ by migrants, although I have seen comparatively fewer stories detailing the terrible working conditions that these people must endure. Few people think about what the farmers are going through to grow their crops. The migrants that work as farmers are typically paid very low wages for long hours of doing extremely difficult work under abusive bosses. I think a greater appreciation of the migrant’s situation once they come to the US would be part of a more balanced presentation. These people are not coming to the US and taking easy jobs. Rather, they are extremely hardworking and dedicated. Often they send every extra bit they make to their families.

I also notice that the news media blows every act of violence along the border out of proportion. For instance, in the case of the Arizona rancher that was recently killed the media made it a breaking news story. Though, there seems to be no rationale for considering this event as much more significant than other murders that occur every day in the United States. Given that the media highlights such cases, people get the impression that many of the migrants are violent criminals or drug smugglers. This impression is reinforced by anti-immigrant politicians, who exaggerate the number of migrants involved in illicit activities. For instance, Jan Brewer recently claimed that the majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming into the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels and they are bringing drugs in. There are also many claims that migrants are causing crime to increase greatly. However, the vast majority just want a better life for themselves. Nearly all the migrants I have spoken to have been kind and respectful. Crime has in fact been decreasing as the immigrant population goes up and contrary to what Ms. Brewer asserts, the majority of migrants are not drug smugglers.

There is also a dearth of information on how the judicial process works for undocumented immigrants. Specifically, the media makes little effort to explain what deportation actually entails. Most people, including myself before this trip, have never even heard of Operation Streamline. They do not realize that some migrants may serve time in jail before being deported. During their time in jail the migrants are just provided packages of crackers rather than real meals. People are also ignorant of the fact that many migrants are separated from their family that they have been traveling with and are bused to cities in Mexico that are usually very far from where their hometown is located. To add to their difficulties, the migrants have little or no money on them when they are deported and no help is provided to them. I get the sense that the portrayal of the deportation process is one in which the migrants are escorted back to their home country in a respectful manner. However, I think this assessment to miss out on a lot of the details.

My conclusion is that the media presents a very superficial analysis of the migrant story. It is not necessarily meant to serve an anti-migrant agenda, but the media is unconcerned with getting all the details (as is the case for most subjects). It is important that people seek out more information so that when they are considering immigration as a policy issue, they know the true story of what is going on.

Walls Change the Game

I have spent the past eleven summers surrounded by hundred year old pines, basking in 90% humidity, and chasing mosquitoes away from my ankles. So were the summers of my childhood spent in Camp Juliette Low, a camp for the woodsy sort in northwest Georgia. We would often attempt to make the hot Georgia nights a little more interesting by taking to the playing field for intense competitions of capture the flag. We would don a hodgepodge of camouflage clothing and war paint, in the end looking more like a misfit army than cohesive team. We’d gather in a pregame huddle and come up with intimidating chants asserting our superior flag-capturing and opponent-tagging abilities.

We would consult our generals, usually counselors who were the ripe old age of 18, on the best strategies and war tactics to render the other team helpless and establish us victorious. We marched onto the field, crunched up noses, snarled expressions, the look of destruction in our eyes. We constructed a human barrier of counselors – the symbolic fence between our territory and theirs. We strategically hid the flag, positioned guards, established chasers. As you can see, it was a pretty sophisticated operation for a group of twenty 13 year old girls.

The whistle blew and we would all be a little too scared to make the first move. Eventually the younger of the teams would make an advance, sending only the stealthiest infantry troops into enemy territory. But the older girls were quick and knew the drill (for we had once been that age), and would retaliate with a sophisticated defense strategy. You see, we would build a human chain. We would line girls up shoulder to shoulder along enemy boundaries, clasping hands and ensuring no one could steal the flag or stir up a jail break. But inevitably the game would come to a grinding halt. All tagging, jail breaking, and flag stealing would come to an end.

The younger girls would flood the line attempting to find holes, inconsistency in our plan, the weak link. We would stand shoulder to shoulder glaring down at the younger girls, staring blankly and becoming increasingly bored. You see, these human chains, or invisible walls, defeated the purpose of our game. This was supposed to be warfare, retribution, fun. However, constructing a fence erased everything exhilarating from the nature of the game. You see, every member of the team was so fixated on forming the chain and such a strong defensive strategy had left us no infantry of our own to attack and capture the opponent’s flag. Thankfully the human chain kept the younger girls out of our half of the field, but they also kept us in.

Las week I found myself comparing much of my summer in Arizona to these very same games I used to play in the Georgia woods. Granted, Arizona has far fewer trees, not as many mosquitoes, and about 0% humidity, but it does have walls. I’ve heard stories from liberals, conservatives (thank you, Granny), and moderates. I’ve heard them from adults, children, Christians and Jews. I’ve heard them from socialists and capitalists, environmentalists and industrialists. And the one thing I keep coming back to is that walls defeat the purpose of the game. We are keeping undocumented immigrants out, yes, but we are also keeping ourselves in. We are inhibiting the free flow of labor, of resources, of art, of culture, of music, and of life. We are inhibiting fun.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


When I was in college I learned about the “dirty wars” in Latin America during the 1980s. I learned that parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents were disappeared by authoritarian governments and never came home. Many ended up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, shot in soccer stadiums and fire bombed by military helicopters. Justice for these victims has yet to come. The dirty secret is that the Reagan Administration largely funded these military operations in the early 1980s. Consequently the U.S. government routinely denied refugee status and visas to Salvadorans and Guatemalans attempting to flee death squads. If you are interested in learning more about the dirty war in El Salvador, check out Massacre at el Mozote. The book chronicles the mass killings of men, women and children in a remote indigenous village in the mountains of El Salvador. It also clearly documents that the weapons, training and military helicopters were funded by US tax payers.

During this period there was a group of American citizens who realized what was happening in El Salvador and began offering “sanctuary” to people trying to flee the military regimes. The sanctuary movement began in Tucson, Arizona in 1980 when Southside Presbyterian Church and other congregations began providing food, shelter, material aid and legal aid to refugees. This was a direct violation of federal immigration law, yet over 500 congregations nationwide followed suit by 1984. Prominent members of the movement stood trial for violating federal immigration law and faced criminal charges. The Sanctuary Movement appealed to the Bible when explaining their rationale for breaking the law referencing Leviticus 19:34 which says: "The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself." Ultimately, the defendants in the Sanctuary Trials were either acquitted, received suspended sentences or received sentences of house arrest. In 1990 the House and Senate approved a bill that would give Temporary Protection Status to refugees, allowing for refugees to remain in the country legally.

It took ten years for policy to catch up with the need to grant visas to refugees, in the meantime thousands died. How long will we need to wait for the deaths to stop in Arizona?

The Tucson Corridor on the US/Mexico border is home to at least 153 migrant deaths since October in 2009. Economic refugees attempt to cross some of the most harsh, inhospitable desert in the world in search of a job in the United States. There is no border in the world where such economic disparity exists. The draw is too intense and the need to survive is strong, every day hundreds of people attempt the journey. What we know is that people are losing their lives, every single day. The number above documents recovered remains. There is no telling how many bodies go uncounted, lost in the desert. Prior to 1994 there were no reported deaths in the Tucson Corridor, the deaths began with the building of the wall. Border policy has pushed people into the desert, away from traditional crossing places in urban areas. I recommend the documentary “Crossing Arizona” /if you want more information on how border policy has pushed people into the desert resulting in over 2000 deaths since 2000.

Next week the DukeEngage group is preparing to go visit the No More Deaths camp in Arivaca, Arizona. While we are there we will go on patrols and walk migrant trials where we will provide food, water and first aid to migrants that are lost in the desert. Many people disagree with providing humanitarian aid to migrants, believing that encourages illegal immigration. However, I think that I have a moral obligation to help those that are need just like members of the Sanctuary Movement did. I can't stand idly by and know that people are dying in my country's backyard. It's beyond politics and Mike Wilson, a humanitarian aid activist, said it best, "No one should die in the desert for a glass of water".
ICE Director against SB1070 http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2010/07/13/20100713ICE-director-says-states-should-not-copy-arizona-law.html

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Look Who's Immigrating LEGALLY

CNN reports that the US Department of State issues about 4,500 passports to registered sex offenders annually. It seems as though we may have double standards in who we allow into other countries and who we allow in ours.


Do YOU want to be a farm worker?

There are constant complaints of how immigrants steal jobs from US citizens. But in reality, how many US citizens will willingly perform the same jobs under the same conditions as immigrants? How many US citizens will work in construction, cleaning, or farming for less than minimum wage? I’m sure there’s a small portion of citizens who would. Perhaps more would want the jobs if they were paid better. Even in the terrible state of our economy, how many unemployed US citizens would refuse to work these “inferior” jobs? In response to the outcry for immigration reform, The United Farm Workers Union is challenging US citizens to work the same jobs as immigrants. At TAKEOURJOBS.ORG, US citizens can sign up to work in the fields. Since June 24, at least 4,000 people have responded to the Farm Worker Union’s application. While some responses are serious, others are hate mail. Only a few dozen of the applicants have actually followed through (http://money.cnn.com/2010/07/07/news/economy/farm_worker_jobs/ ).

Before leaving North Carolina, we visited farm workers at a nearby farm. Although this farm was in better condition than most, I still don’t know anyone who would willingly live there. The twenty workers cooked their meals in a trailer with rows of old, dirty stoves and then ate at one of the two picnic tables inside. Until recently, farmers did not have to provide their farm workers with mattresses to sleep on. The bathrooms don’t provide nearly enough toilets or shower stalls. Often times, the stalls don’t have doors or curtains. Men and women immigrants work in the fields for longs hours in excruciating heat. Those who work in the tobacco fields aren’t always properly equipped to protect themselves from getting sick from the tobacco. When they do get sick, they have to occupy one of the few toilets without any privacy.

Most Americans are ignorant as to where their food comes from. Farm working is a very difficult job. We need to recognize the hard work that immigrants do for our country. Accordingly, we should treat the human beings who provide us with food with respect and decent living conditions.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Migration as a Shared History

Several weeks ago the DukeEngage group made our way from Tucson, Arizona to the Grand Canyon. We needed to see some trees (although the Saguaros are lovely) and were seeking cooler temperatures, however part of our trip was to learn about the history of the migration Native Peoples in the American Southwest. One of the things that my time on the border has taught me is that migration is part of our shared human story. The story of people who are compelled to leave their homes because of scant resources is one that has been told for millennia. We all have legends, stories and myths to explain how we came to be who we are and where we came from. Those of the Judeo-Christian tradition are taught that the Isrealites wandered in the desert before coming the promised Land of Canaan, a land of milk and honey. An example from the Americas is that of the the Hopi people, a Native American tribe in the Southwest. They say this about their migration history:
And now before Masaw turned his face from them and became invisible, he explained that every clan must make four directional migrations before they all arrived at their common, permanent home. They must go the ends of the land--west, south, east and north--to the farthest place where the land meets the sea in each direction." (Waters, Book of the Hopi)

The first place we stopped is pictured above, Montezuma's Castle. Explorers "discovered" the dwellings around 1860 and mistook these cliff dwellings as part of the Aztec Empire and named the dwellings after Montezuma II. What we learned about these cliff dwellings was that a pre-Colombian group of people called the Sinagua lived there until about 500 years before the Spanish Conquest. Archeologist believed that they left the dwellings, which are still largely intact, in search of better resources. The Hopi people even trace some of their own origins to this same area where the cliff dwellings are.

As I stood in front of the ruins, thinking about the people who lived there and raised families in the centuries prior, I realized that maybe their story wasn't that different than my own. In fact, the Hopi's migration story didn't sound too different than the story I learned as a child, when God told Noah and his sons, "As for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it." (Genesis 9:7). Not only did the myth resonate with me, but the actual migration story seemed relatable. At some point in my own family's history, someone decided to leave their home, a familiar land, in search of different resources and opportunities. So when I think about the current state of migration in my country, it's not just political. For me, it is another chapter in our shared history of survival.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

On using the term "Illegal"


I have often been frustrated with the media's (and sometimes friends and family) continued use of the word "illegal" to describe immigrants who do not have authorization to be in the United States. Not only is it grammatically incorrect, I also find it offensive. People break the law everyday, everything from rolling through a stop sign to much more serious offenses like theft and violent crimes. I don't know of any other group of people that has broken a law to be categorically called "illegal". I have never been called "illegal" by a police officer for committing a minor traffic offense, the privilege in this is that my character isn't questioned every time I walk down the street. No one assumes that I have done something wrong based on my appearance. "Illegal" is problematic because it conflates the crime of entering the United States without proper paperwork with being Latino. Laws like SB 1070 sanction racial profiling because looking "illegal" or looking Mexican is now a criminal offense. White law breakers aren't labeled "illegal", because that term has a specific racial implication.

Secondly, "illegal" is problematic because it frames an immigrants' entire identity and character around which laws they have broken or followed. Their very being and humanity is dismissed and replaced with a politically charged term. I say politically charged because it is neither a legally or grammatically correct term. I think "illegal" is meant to signal to community members, law enforcement and even family members that immigrants without papers are nothing more than law breakers. The intent is to over simplify the discussion and reframe it so that the root causes of immigration are completely absent from the debate. Instead of having a conversation with our friends or with media outlets about why people leave their ancestral lands, and cross a dessert where people die by the hundreds each year, advocates are forced into a semantics battle. We stop talking about the needs that compel migrants to make a harrowing journey. Needs like feeding their children and providing medical care to ailing parents. Needs that any decent person would try to meet for those that they loved regardless of whether it was legal or not.

So, let's stop playing a semantics game and talk about root causes. This post from feministing.com encourages you to contact the AP Style Book and lobby them to use "undocumented immigrant". You can email them here: info@apbookstore.com. And if you want to read about root causes, check out the rest of the blog :)

David Cho Speaks about the need for the Dream Act

This is a brave and inspiring speech from a UCLA student who is currently organizing support for the Dream Act. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hearing the Narrative (Ignorance, Part II)

They call it "blind" ignorance sometimes.

For a while this summer, my ignorance blinded me, made me forgetful of the fact that immigration laws should not be about fear and hiding in the shadows, but about having the courage to ensure that those who harm others are brought to justice, no matter the consequences.

A few weeks ago, a man "with papers" attacked one without. The result was physical and psychological harm, not to mention fear. I tried to give what advice I could, consulting people with more knowledge than I, and came to the conclusion that testifying was out of the question. Better to stay hidden.

"He [the attacker] will be released, though," I was told urgently. My mind wasn't changed.

They say ignorance is blind, but I've got news for you: it can be deaf, too.

In a recent, fluffy speech on immigration and SB 1070, President Obama reasoned that, "Among other things, [1070] puts pressure on police officers to enforce rules that are "unenforceable" while making communities less safe -- in part, by making people more reluctant to report crimes.

If only he knew. If only he'd lend us an ear.

Ultimately, my and the lawyers' advice were not followed, and I'm glad of it. It was discovered that the police–though sometimes easily painted as the persecutors and those empowered by 1070–wanted justice to be done, too.

After all, what kind of society would we have if a few pieces of paper could keep a good, hardworking person in fear for himself and his family, and at the same time keep a violent one on the streets?

That's the kind of society that already lives and breathes in Arizona and many other parts of country. If only Obama could see that. I'm fortunate to have learned that in my time here.

In many ways, papers give you a voice in this country and you're totally disempowered without them. If you're mistreated, denied wages, denied water and basic human rights, very few bother to listen.

That's a shame for countless reasons, but one is that what nearly all the people I've worked with at the Day Labor Center--no matter their status--have to say is so crucial to the immigration debate, not to mention damn interesting. Their voices are the ones so often missing. The result of our own policies, by the way. In the way that the deaths of the less fortunate migrants are on our hands, and the abuses that continue to go unheeded fall to us to resolve, though resolve them we won't.

All because we don't want to hear, or just don't know what to listen for.

Before coming to Arizona, I never thought I could have felt so strongly about amnesty. But if there is no pathway to citizenship for those 11 million+ living in silence, their opinions and voices go on muted. The wrongs, real crimes that certainly trump an offense that is nothing more or less than trespassing, will continue.

And the narrative, though it's being spoken, whispered in every corner of our country, goes unheard.

Part 1: Putting a Price Tag on the Border Wall

The wall captured in the image above is made of pieces of metal once used as landing strips at bases in Iraq. It costs roughly $12 million per mile to construct and $6 million per mile, per year to maintain. And it is only one of 647 miles of already existing border wall.

Construction on the border wall between the US and Mexico began in 1994 shortly after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to a long time resident of Nogales, Mexico, before 1994 there was merely a chain link fence marking the US-Mexico border.. At other points, barbed wire fence marked the border. In others, only the occasional geological marker showed where one country ended and the other began. The cost of building and maintaining the border was little to nothing.

Today the wall is made of everything from landing strip walls to barbed wire fences to vehicle barriers to metal bars to nothing. The cheapest segment of wall costs $431,000 per mile to build. The most expensive, $12 million per mile. As of today, roughly $2.4 billion dollars has been spent on wall construction. That is roughly $6.5 million dollars per day.

In addition to basic construction, though, any calculation of the cost of the border wall must consider the cost of land acquisition. Customs and Border Patrol estimates this cost at at $.8 million per mile. Environmental mitigation costs roughly $50 million a year. The constantly changing costs of fuel, labor, and materials are not measurable, but could raise the price of wall construction even further. Wall maintenance ranges from $5 to $8 million per mile per year. In seven years, the cost of maintaining the fence will have exceeded the cost of primary construction.

And all this cost is to what end?

The Border Patrol admits that the wall slows migrants down by an average of only five minutes. Without a ladder, it may take a few more. Is five minutes worth 2.4 billion dollars?

The wall is supposed to keep out terrorists and drug runners. If an average migrant is slowed by only 5 minutes, is a trained terrorist or a drug runner really going to be hindered?

Data shows that there has been a drop in immigration over the past few years, but can this drop in immigration be attributed to the wall or the economy? At Southside Day Labor Center in Tucson, AZ seventy to eighty men used to be picked up for work each day. This summer, we are lucky to see eight men go out. Some days, only two leave. There is no work. Is the bad economy the real wall?

The border wall comes at a high monetary cost. What if this money were spent on employing US citizens, teaching our children, opening rest stops, or repairing roads instead? What if it were spent on supporting local economies in Mexico so people didn’t need to migrate? $2.4 billion dollars can go a long way. Five minutes does not seem worth the cost.

Obama Administration's Lawsuit Against SB1070

At work, I have been documenting the various resolutions to SB1070. To date, there are 28 entities that have passed resolutions in favor of the bill and 107 entities that have passed resolutions against the bill and/or boycotted AZ. Moreover, there are five lawsuits that have been filed against the bill. BAN is a plaintiff of on of the lawsuits. Just last week, all of the lawsuits were moved under one judge so that there will be one overall decision.

Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton stated that the Department of Justice would be filing a lawsuit against SB1070 as well. There was much speculation as time passed and the federal government didn’t take action. Yesterday, the Obama administration finally filed a lawsuit against SB1070. The result of this lawsuit will determine whether or not other states will be able to pass laws similar to SB1070. Hopefully, this will end racist measures against immigration because copycat bills are already in the works in several states including Utah and Florida.

The lawsuit itself can be downloaded from here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Didn't You Know?

From outcries that the White House is undermining national security and "what about the drug mules" to accusations of racism and human rights abuse, the immigration debate has set the stage for so much finger pointing I'm scared to lose an eye.

But there's one wrong that's the most common and most dangerous of all, and that's ignorance.

The truth is, most people wouldn't know border politics and life if it slapped them in the face. In fact, most "border issues" (including Jan Brewer), are built upon this concept of not knowing. And that's a devastating evil, if only because it can be easily avoided.

So, without further ado, didja know...

...that since 1994—the year NAFTA was signed—the bodies of 5,600 people have been found along the border, with thousands on U.S. soil?

Did you know that in your country, people trying to keep other people from dying in the desert is considered a crime? Groups like the Samaritans and No More Deaths struggle through loopholes and lawsuits, because according to our laws, setting out water for a man collapsing of a heat stroke is "littering," and ensuring that an injured person gets medical attention is "aiding and abetting."

Did you know the Border Patrol (now with 1200 more shipped to this area!) and others are often responsible for slashing, shooting, driving over, emptying, and vandalizing water bottles set out to prevent those deaths?

That many a migrant has been detained by the Border Patrol and been abused, physically and/or verbally, denied food and often water, and their wounds never treated?

After all, a cactus spine in the eye isn't worth the tax payer's money.

Did you know that the company contracted to build the All-American Canal—a border canal and the site of at least 550 migrant deaths—refuses to string rope along the canal to save the lives of those doomed to drown should they fall in? That the walls were purposefully made dangerously steep, making it impossible to climb out even if the canal were bone dry?

Did you know the border area is the one and only site in the country where it's legal to try 35 people en masse for the same crime in the span of an hour or so?

I don't blame people for not knowing what's going on. I've lived on the border most of my life, and didn't know the half of it until this program. But I do blame you if you don't try to amend it and learn the facts—and come to your own conclusions.

Federal Gov. to Sue Arizona over 1070

Justice Department to file lawsuit against 1070

Monday, July 5, 2010

Video: Mexico Trip 2010

This is a short slideshow of our experiences in Sasabe, Nogales, and Altar, Mexico. I hope this sheds light on the people who live in Mexico, the walls that separate us, and the risks they take to come to the U.S.

A New Kind of Patriotism

I am white. I am female. I am brunette. I am heterosexual. I am American.

All of these statements characterize me in one way or another – my physical appearance, my personality, my privilege. Being brunette has enabled me never to be characterized as a “dumb blonde”. Being heterosexual has provided armor against hate slurs that many gays and lesbians face on a daily basis. Likewise, being female has left me vulnerable to objectification and occasional marginalization. I, luckily, have been born with more privilege than most, though it is often hard to recognize.

I have always been fairly patriotic, always singing along to the national anthem and tearing up during pre-match fly overs (a trait I inherited from my rarely-teary-eyed mother). However, this Independence Day I’m forced to look at my country through a different lens – the perspective of the less privileged. Perhaps the most difficult part of my American identity is admitting that simply being born white and on American soil has afforded me most of my successes in life. I attended a public high school for free. I had an opportunity to go to college. I live in a house with four walls, running water, and electricity.

We have spent all summer in Mexico and Arizona looking at our country, our government, our society in a different light. I will be the first to admit that it isn’t easy. The intensely patriotic part of me finds myself skeptical of those criticizing the United States. The humanitarian in me finds myself questioning our country, our policies, and what it means to be American. For the first 20 years of my life being American meant being fortunate, being moral, being open, and being able to help. Coming to the border has meant packing many of these ideals into a cocoon of experiences, nervous and skeptical of what America meant after the metamorphosis that is this summer.

I have come to recognize that to be American is an assortment of oxymorons. To be American is to be unconsciously conscious of what’s really happening in American politics. Reading the newspaper, following C-SPAN, watching the nightly news provides a naïve consciousness of politics that will never give white America the experience of living the consequences of failed public policy.

I was recently asked to examine my self-interest in studying the border. Was it résumé padding? An insatiable intellectual appetite? The chance to stand on a soapbox of sorts? No. I don’t think it was any of these. I think my self-interest in studying border politics is patriotism. It’s knowing that I can question my government’s policies. It’s being able to speak the truth of people dying in the desert. It’s my desire to keep America’s good name reputable and respectable. Being American is the privilege to travel, to be educated, to be provided for. Being American means recognizing change and refusing to settle for the status quo. I cannot say this metamorphosis and recognition of change has left me empty or pessimistic. It hasn’t. Patriotism has become more hopeful, more optimistic because I know now that I have the power and the privilege to change what is so obviously broken.

Another Brick in the Wall

Throughout this trip, I have constantly been reminded about how little the average person knows about borders issues. Most people I have talked to have no idea what ‘Operation Streamline’ is or about the massive numbers of immigrant deaths in the desert. I don’t mean this in a condescending way. The government and the media have a large role to play in the lack of information people have on the issue. These sources have not considered many aspects of immigration worthy of highlighting. Though, one notable area of the immigration issue that nearly everyone knows about is the border wall separating Mexico in the United States. While most people do not realize the full implications of the wall, they have heard it being discussed and have some sort of opinion on it.

The wall was started soon after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and has been continued by the Bush and Obama administrations. So this is not just a Democrat or Republican thing but has significant bipartisan support. Many people I have spoken to favor the wall as a way to limit undocumented immigration into the United States. I think a closer look at what impacts the wall is having is important so that people know exactly what they are supporting.

We recently had a speaker from the Sierra Club explain the environmental impact that the wall has had. One such impact is that the wall has prevented movement of animals including roadrunners, mountain lions, and snakes. Limiting their territory prevents these animals from finding food and water sources and reaching mates. Further, the wall often lies in the middle of locations where water flows through, which alters the water availability to plant and animal species and causes flooding, sometimes in populated areas. And the construction itself requires degrading the landscape because of the need to create new roads for construction vehicles and fill in canyons.

A disturbing aspect of the government’s construction of the border wall is that they are permitted to bypass local, state, and federal environmental laws for its construction. This, among other things, means the government does not have to run environmental impact studies before construction and often elects not to do so. Regardless of how someone feels about the immigration issue, we can all agree that the government should not be able to discard environmental protection laws so whimsically for the purpose of a non-emergency project. If there ever was a time for bringing up the argument of the federal government intruding into state and local affairs, I this is it.

The border wall is also a very powerful symbol with different meanings depending on where one stands on the immigration issue. For those that see immigration as a security threat the wall is a form of protection. It keeps the bad guys (drug smugglers and people with criminal records) from entering this country. These people are very afraid and want to feel safe. Whether or not the wall actually has this effect, the increase in perceived feeling of security cannot be completely discounted. Alternatively, the wall is a symbol of hate and animosity towards those migrating. For those trying to cross it is a message that saying “you are not welcome here”. Further, for those in the US favoring more open borders, the wall represents the inhumanity of the current US policy on immigration. The idea of shutting people seems like such a cruel action to take towards the majority of immigrants who just want a better life for themselves.

The wall also seems to have a negative impact the U.S.-Mexico relations. On the one hand, we are claiming to have a very close relationship with our neighbor to the South. NAFTA is supposedly a direct result of this alliance. But countries that are allies typically don’t need a wall and thousands of forces patrolling the border region. Also, one ally does not purposefully funnel migrants from the other into a dangerous area where a large percentage of them will die. Some of this strain between the two countries over the handling of the border issue is evident from President Felipe Calderon’s tense visit to the US in May. As long as the US continues to build the border wall, Mexicans are going to feel alienated and threatened and hence relations will suffer.
Construction of the wall is a very expensive project. According to the Government Accounting Office (GAO), the border wall has cost $2.4 billion so far and will cost an additional $6.5 billion over the next 20 years to maintain. $8.9 billion may not seem like much given the trillion dollar deficit and the costs of our social program. But in 2008 we only gave $551 million in foreign aid to Mexico. Arguably, the money for the border wall could have been better spent by helping Mexico to develop so that people would not feel the need to migrate into the US.

The last major impact the wall has is on migration. Assessing the outcome for this aspect more difficult than the other issues because we can’t imagine counter factually what the numbers of migrants and the success rate would have been if the wall was not there. However, we can observe that design of the wall itself makes its impact seem trivial: the wall is fragmented and so there are some places where you can simply walk a few miles to get around the wall. In those places where you cannot reach a gap in the wall you can either climb over it using footholds in the wall or carry a ladder.

Though, perhaps the wall slows the migrants down enough that Border Patrol is able to concentrate on locations near the wall as focal points for apprehending migrants. Specifically, I think the wall has cut down on migrants crossing in well-populated areas. The wall coupled with the Border Patrol strategy has been funneling migrants to cross in desolate areas in Arizona where the terrain is harsher but there is no wall; this effect results in many more deaths among migrants, which both sides would classify as a negative outcome. Also, much of the border wall is designed to prevent vehicular crossing and it may be successful in stopping such crossings in the area where it has been built.

Personally, I don’t think the border wall is worth the monetary and environmental costs as well as the damage to relations and local sovereignty. I can still understand how someone may support the project, but I think it is important that they understand the full ramifications.

The Power of the Latino Vote

Latinos Not Yet Flexing Political Muscle

Sunday, July 4, 2010


From an interview few weeks ago, I heard that the U.S.-Mexico border is just a "bandage for something that needs massive surgery."

That bandage turns out to be quite expensive. It has costed the U.S. government and the tax payers, more than $2.4 billion up to this date.

2.4 billion dollars, when broken down into realities, can afford 37,500 students full 4-year tuition for colleges that average about $30,000 a year. For the past years, when the headlines of news underscored high schools cutting hours, programs, and even school days (such as 4-day schools) to cut the energy and resources that goes into public schools, the government has been increasing contracts with private companies to set up double fences in the border.

However, this bandage is not an effective one. It might even make the "wounds" worse, possibly an infection.

The border has not slowed people coming from the Mexico side. The migrants who are willing to come to U.S. are willing to risk their lives. They often sell their land and scrape all the money they've got in order to come here. They have nothing to lose. The border isn't going to stop them. The only reason for some decline of the number for Mexican migrants was the problems of the market U.S. is facing. The only reason was the U. S. economy, not the border.

Instead, the border made it harder for these people to get across for about 5 minutes. People use ladders to climb up the wall. Sometimes, the construction has spots where people can just climb up easily. However, by rushing, many fall or get injured. And with these injuries, they often suffer incredible amount of pain walking through the desert. If they are with a group, it's easy for them to fall behind and get lost. Many lead to death. After the border has been stacked with walls, the migrant death dramatically increased.

It is estimated that more people died passing through the Border area and the desert than the soldiers who died in Iraq War. In U.S. soil.

Humans are not the only thing this 2.4 billion bandage is affecting.

The border is hurting the wildlife and the environment much more than any migrant trash might. The border itself disrupts many animal's instinctual migratory flow and movement. It divides populations of the animals, and it's harming their ecosystem. This unnatural border also stresses out the animals due to a block that stops animals like jaguars or feline-related animals to freely move around the area. This stress, ends up killing these animals. Since the border wall, many diverse species of animals have lost the connectivity to vast areas of space they need in order to survive.

One additional detail that the public does not know so much is the injustices of the laws. The environmental acts, painstakingly created by people who have dedicated their lives to protection of the environment, has been totally and entirely waived.

Section 102 of the Real ID Act of 2005 says: "notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads."

So far, Department of Homeland Security has waived 36 federal laws, including:
National Environmental Policy Act
Endangered Species Act
Clean Water Act
National Historic Preservation Act
Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Clean Air Act

Outside of the U.S. soil, the border has put Mexican towns near border area in a great danger. To block people from coming to U.S. from drainage pipes, the DHS has also blocked the pipes. Also , towns like Nogales were immediately affected: "Nogales flood caused by CBP illegally walling off a drainage tunnel on the Mexican side of the border. The flood was made worse by the dam-like construction of the border wall, sinking downtown homes and businesses under five to seven feet of water! Two people lost their lives, and 578 homes and businesses and 45 cars were damaged or destroyed." (Sierra Club Borderlands presentation)

Personally, I don't exactly know what the best solution for the border is. However, after sessions with the Sierra Club , I came to realize that at least one fact is true. The border walls are definitely not a solution, only an expensive bandage that might make the wounds worse.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sierra Club on the Border Wall

This weekend we met with the Sierra Club to discuss border issues. They provided a unique mix between a humanitarian aid and environmental perspective. None of us realized just how detrimental the border wall is to our environment and desert ecosystem. Furthermore, we all found it shocking just how many federal laws the federal government has broken to build the wall. Here is a quick glimpse at environmental problems (flooding, endangered species, etc.) that have come about due to the construction of the border wall:

Wild Versus Wall (short version) from steev hise on Vimeo.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mexican gang gunfight near US border leaves 21 dead


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Obama Promotes Comprehensive Immigration reform

Today, Obama addressed immigration, encouraging comprehensive immigration reform.


Below are a selection of quotes I have heard or read in the last five weeks. Some are original quotes from people I have met, others are taken from pamphlets, others are cited from secondary sources.

“Nobody deserves to die in the desert for lack of a cup of water.”

“I want my voice back because you have criminalized me.”

“Mass migration reflects real problems […] people have a right not to migrate just as they have a right to migrate.”—Isabel Garcia

“I think there is no harder thing in the world than seeing your kids crying from hunger and having nothing to give them.”—Polita

“Give everything for what you have—your family.”—Polita

“Walls turned on their sides become bridges.”—Border Wall quote

“Walls are scars on this earth.”—Border Wall quote

“It is just as false to say, ‘I know nothing’ as to say, ‘I know everything.’”

“None of us is an expert, none of us is ignorant.”

“Are you going to try and cross back in to the US?”
“Yes.”—Man tried in a Streamline Trial, charged with a felony, and deported to Nogales. Streamline trials are meant to deter migrants from attempting initial entry and reentry to the US.

“I am sorry for entering the US illegally. I promise I will not try it again.”—man being tried in a Streamline trial for illegal entry in to the US.

“No human being is illegal.”—Derechos Humanos pamphlet

“But now the Bracelets’ upturned noses suggested there was another America to which we [immigrants] would never gain admittance. All of a sudden America wasn’t about hamburgers and hot rods anymore. It was about the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock. It was about something that had happened two minutes four hundred years ago, instead of everything that had happened since. Instead of everything that was happening now!”— Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, pages 298-299

“In December 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Operation Streamline’s group hearings in Tucson violate Federal law.”—Joanna Lydgate from the Warren Institute on Operation Streamline, for full article see:

“None of us is free if one of us is chained.”

Russian Dolls and Human Rights

Nowadays, when I see a picture of Arizona on the map, I see one of those Russian matryoshka dolls, the ones that open to reveal another doll then another then another...except instead of appearing as a giant doll, AZ seems to me just a giant struggle, a giant problem that, no matter how you open it, it goes on to reveal another challenge.

Right now we're at the day labor center at Southside, one of those last dolls, a microcosm of the greater immigration issue. This is where so many of the aspects of this one "national issue" are brought home. We work with a relatively small group of day laborers who struggle to get paid for their hard labor, struggle to learn English (if they show an interest in it), struggle to get work in the first place. Labor, language, human rights, worker law, employer sanctions, national security, aiding and abetting, culpable, education, economy...who knew that there were so many issues centering around just "one" problem?

I know that I've been blessed in that I never had to worry where my next meal would come from or if my family would be able to pay rent. And if we moved out of the state, it wasn't to flee persecution or the shadow of a contested law.

That shadow is certainly looming down on us here, and more so on the community. The worst is that although the rest of world doesn't seem to know it, 1070 is already in effect. Sheriff Joe Arpaio spends more time and state money launching police raids—on sites where undocumented workers may or may not be working—than he does on trying to catch killers and fugitives with outstanding arrests. Not to mention that he says he plans to house detainees in war tents in the desert in lieu of prisons.

1070's in effect when you go through border checkpoints set up miles from the border itself. Policemen and BP alike are already demanding people's papers though they don't technically have the right to do so. Many policemen have already elected themselves federal immigration agents, getting people deported on pretexts like "even though you're a passenger, the driver's headlight is broken so you're under arrest and a criminal."

I think what makes me feel so helpless about all this is that the smallest tasks we try to accomplish for the center seem hard enough. Garnering interest, funds, fighting the small fights. What can an intern, an army of interns, an army of organizations do against all this?

I am a little comforted, though, by something said by Kat Rodriguez the other day at a Derechos Humanos training. In labor law, at least, the law is on our side, she said. That's where we can win. We intend to work with Derechos Humanos to help document human rights abuse, whether it be failure to pay wages or law enforcement abuse. There at least, we know we can make a little dent of a difference for our workers at Southside.

Through all this, I know I give the (strong) indication that I don't have much faith in the law, in police, in everything that we usually label as unequivocally right here in the U.S. That's because for once in my life, I've lost faith in the law. I don't feel that police officers nor Border Patrol agents are bad people out to get us, or waiting to pounce once July 29 comes around. I know they're just doing their job, or what they believe their job to be. But people tend to forget that all the people working hard in Arizona, whether they be green card holders, citizens, undocumented or what have you, are just doing their job, too. Keeping their families healthy and alive. Since when is that wrong?

I may have lost a little faith in the law, but corny as it may sound, I do still trust in people. I still hope that instead of touting Southside as the site of the 1980' Sanctuary Movement–when the church was in its "heyday" and fought for social justice even though it was deemed "illegal" (click here for more info)—people will start seeing the people in the parking lot as...people. People with rights just like the rest of us.

Hopefully that's not me thinking too big. One doll at a time.


At the beginning of any new experience I have always faced challenges that I must overcome. My time so far interning with Southside’s day labor program has been no different. I admit that my work there so far has been very frustrating at times.

But I have also found that these struggles teach me something useful about myself and the world around me. Rather than just staying frustrated and upset when we encounter such experiences, we need to reflect on these issues so we can learn from them and become more developed people. What does not kill me makes me stronger.

One of the main problems I have had so far is teaching the classes. While it may seem straightforward enough for someone who is fluent in English to teach the language, I have not found this to be the case. Our attempts at a systematic effort have not been particularly successful due to lack of interest and discontinuity of which people come which days, and lack of teaching experience. We have not completely failed in our efforts; we have produced documents that they can study from and we have helped teach some of the men basic phrases. However, I don’t think we envisioned the progress being as slow as it is.

Our computer classes have gone a little better and we have successfully helped some of the guys to set up email accounts. However, the classes mostly consist of answering questions the men have about computers and the internet. We were originally hoping to have a systematic approach, but this has largely been abandoned.

Another problem we have been having is the ambiguous instruction we have been receiving from our superiors. We do not really have any superiors we have to report to directly. There are various interns and a few people from the church involved, but no one that effectively oversees the program on a day to day basis and ensures that everything that needs to be done gets done well and in a timely fashion. The program is very democratic and the men and all volunteers give input in nearly all decisions. All this amounts to very different guidance that often conflicts and ideas that are unrealistic.

This is not to say that the experience so far has been a bad one. We have built good relationships with many of the day laborers. Also, we have been bonding while watching the world cup together and some of the guys now give me fist bumps when they see me. I thought it would be much harder to establish this kind of connection with the men.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, there is always something important to gain from these struggles and this case is no different. I can personally say that some of my thoughts and goals that I had coming into the program were idealistic and a bit naive. For instance, I thought that the day laborers would be extremely eager to come to our classes to better themselves instead of waiting outside in the sun just chatting with each other. But I have to acknowledge that very few people enjoy taking classes (often including myself), especially from teachers with little experience in making the material interesting. I wouldn’t call myself a horrible teacher, but realistically this is the first time I have tried it I still have a lot to learn. I should not have just assumed that I could jump right into teaching and be great at it. Also, the day laborers are there to get work; they are struggling to make a living and so learning English or computing skills are not priorities for them. I now understand that I need to listen to what the men want instead of trying to force my vision of how things should upon them. I have adjusted my expectations as to what I can do as a teacher and determined what skills I need to improve on to be of more help. Redesigning the computer classes to make them more loosely structured is a good example of reevaluating the situation and making the changes that better reflect the needs and desires of the day laborers. I am also better able to appreciate the perspective of the day laborers and the reasons they might have for not attending the classes.

I have also learned a lot about how organizational structures work for programs like the day labor center and the problems they face. One common issue I am seeing is that there are many different visions among the different volunteers. I think the program would work more effectively if there was one consistent vision that everyone was working towards. It feels like we have been confused because we don’t know which direction to branch into because of these conflicting messages from our many superiors. I don’t know if this is an inherent problem with organizations that emphasize having everyone’s opinion count equally. Perhaps there needs to be someone making the final decision on which direction the program is headed.