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.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sheriff Arpaio's Crime Sweep Stops

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, “the toughest sheriff in the world,” promotes the idea that all undocumented immigrants are criminals. He brags about the his raids and the many criminals he catches on his raids and crime sweep stops. Sheriff Arpaio sends his troop to Latino neighborhoods and has his officers pull over Latinos for any chance they got. Are all of the undocumented Latinos that he catches criminals? The majority aren’t. This past week at work, I analyzed data of Sheriff Arpaio’s crime sweep stops that was published in a Phoenix newspaper. Out of 392 crime sweep stops, the most frequent way that people were caught were for being passengers in a car that was pulled over. When a cop pulls over the car, they only have the right to question the driver. Even then, they do not have the right to ask the driver, or any passenger, their immigration status. These 63 passengers that Arpaio’s troops caught were caught because the officers violated the law in asking them their status and the individuals did not know their rights and responded. The most frequent reason for being stopped was having a cracked windshield (46 of 392) and the next was speeding (43 of 392), not criminal speeding. The rest of the probable causes for being stopped were petty things such as having a headlight or a tail light out, expired registration, unreadable license plate, running a stop sign, etc. Contrastingly, there was one open container, one subject with a gun, two criminal littering, two domestic fighting, four criminal speeding and fourteen unspecified warrants. Certainly, the latter are crimes but they hardly make up the majority of the causes for being stopped. United States citizens commit crimes as well. As a matter of fact, due to Sheriff Arpaio’s obsession with tracking down undocumented immigrants, there are 38,000 warrants that haven’t been served in Maricopa County. With SB1070 allowing any Arizona resident to sue if he/she believes that an officer or agency isn’t making enough of an effort to impose or is impeding Federal Immigration Laws, it is quite possible that other police forces throughout the state will become focused on undocumented immigrants as Sheriff Arpaio’s troops. Is it really in our best interest or safety to have police troops tracking down cracked windshields or no headlights rather than go after actual criminals?

A Proactive Rally

This past Saturday, there was a pro-SB 1070 protest outside of Congressman Grijalva’s congressional office. In response, therewas an anti-1070 rally at his campaign office. That morning, Anna, Shaoli and I went to Congressman Grijalva’s campaign office, just a couple blocks away from Borderlinks. When we got there, we were very surprised at what we found. There was a speaker talking about Grijalva and all around, there were families and people of all ages and races. This gathering was completely different from the pro-SB 1070 rally, Phoenix Rising, which a few of us had attended in Phoenix on June 5th. Phoenix Rising had involved hateful speeches, yelling, and gun-carrying. At Congressman Grijalva’s campaign office, people were gathered eating breakfast, listening to speakers. Afterward, some people went into the surrounding neighborhoods to register people to vote. Meanwhile, others made phone calls to recruit volunteers and ask for contributions on behalf of Grijalva and Vince Rabago, the Attorney General candidate sponsored by Grijalva. Shaoli, Anna and I made phone calls for Vince Rabago for about an hour. Around lunch time, there was a BBQ for the participants.Not only was the atmosphere calm and pleasant, the gathering was productive. Instead of simply cheering on speakers, the attendees were proactive and took action to support their cause.

Dura lex, sed lex?

Last week, we had a community dinner with Kathryn Ferguson from the Samaritans, the immigrant-aid organization. Sharing kabab and rice, and Sarah’s-unforgettably-delicious chocolate chip cookies, we also shared her stories and thoughts which have enabled her to help lots of immigrants. Hearing first-hand experiences from one who spends most of her time in the dessert was interesting.

However, for me, the basic ideology of the Samaritans was somewhat more interesting – they try to help the immigrants as much as possible, in so far as their deeds do not break the law.

One of the questions that keep bothering me is whether it is appropriate to help the immigrants for the sake of humanitarianism when the law prohibits it. Many people we met during our one week delegation period said it is. Yet personally, I cannot totally agree with them. Though I know we should treat them not as ‘undocumented immigrants’ but as ‘people dying,’ I still wander between being a humanitarianist and being a politician.

Thus the Samaritans’ activity attracted my attention. Kathryn of course deeply sympathizes with the immigrants she meets in the dessert and tries to help them from the heart. However, she does not give them a ride to cross the dessert or take them to the hospital, since it is unlawful to do those things.

Some people might say it is too harsh to meet an exhausted immigrant, give them some water and food, and leave them without any further help. They are so vulnerable. As she herself mentioned, nobody knows what will happen to them within the next half an hour; the heat of the dessert, border patrols, dehydration, etc. – basically anything can happen, and the chance of something good happening is sadly low.

I believe, however, their behaviors are justifiable. It will be dangerous, though not as dangerous as the dessert is to the immigrants, for them to do something unlawful, especially in Arizona where so many people are eager to be harsh against immigration issues. They can end up in jail if they do – Kathryn gave us some examples of people being caught and spending some time in jail. And it will not help to ameliorate the situation of immigrants, for it means that the number of people willing to help the immigrants decreases and it may give more incentives to the border patrols and other anti-immigration factions to enforce their law more strictly.

Dura lex, sed lex. I used to debate this statement with my father. I agreed on the statement, while he did not. We both do not know the right answer yet – or there is none. Whenever I look to ways of dealing with the undocumented immigrants issue these days, this statement comes across my mind. What is right and what is wrong? Of course the law is seriously wrong, but which one is worse: following the skewed law just now and trying to change it or breaking the law and helping as many people as possible right now? Well, though I should admit that I am slightly lopsided toward the former, I cannot make up my mind firmly just yet. Maybe, this is the most difficult question I should work on during, and also after, the month lying ahead of me.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Isn't Migration Natural?

I spent last weekend spooning with members of the group as we tried to stay warm in our tiny tent parked in the Grand Canyon National Forest’s Mather Campgrounds. We took the trip hoping to chronicle immigration issues on our way to one of the nation’s most astounding natural wonders. We stopped by “Montezuma’s Castle”, an old native ruin, on our way to the canyon. The ruin was a multiple story building “nestled” into the side of a cliff. I say “nestled” because to me, it looked like it was hanging on for dear life. The structure itself was amazing. The sheer fact that an architecturally sound structure could be built into the side of a cliff in 1100 A.D. was incredible. The intellect, skill, and liveliness of this village construction amazed me and changed my perspective on the native concept of community.

Many of the signs in the national park, though usually loaded with mundane information, mentioned that this particular tribe, the Sinaguas, disappeared without reason. The signs asked, “Did they flee overpopulation? Fire? Famine? Lack of water? Invaders?” Who really knows? Perhaps they fled their river valley for all of the above. Human nature is to flee what is hurting us, what is not working out. I began realizing that migration and change is natural. My ancestors fled Ireland to come to the United States. My parents fled the North and the Midwest for education. My grandparents flee the harsh New York winters and retreat to Florida every year. Migration and movement is perfectly normal and often even encouraged in the United States. Although our hunting and gathering ways are long gone, the human race still moves and migrates between different sedentary lifestyles.

The weekend passed by quickly and the backdrop of Grand Canyon sunrises, and the cheesiest Imax I’ve ever seen, left me time to ponder the concept of migration. Before I knew it, it was time to return to the desert heat of Tucson. On our way back we stopped by the remnants of a Japanese internment camp close to Phoenix. The internment camp was located on a local tribal reservation. We did not have permission from the tribal council to visit it, so we resorted to viewing a small memorial dedicated to those who had lived there. The memorial told of the hasty construction of the camp in just two months, the presence of two high schools, and the population that lived there. It also told of the Native American’s reluctance and disagreement to the presence of the camp on their land. The sign remarked that we should learn history so as it will never be repeated and the travesties that were Japanese internment camps shall never be again.

This thought, my visits over the weekend, and the current situation in Arizona started to come together. America has a history of embarrassingly sporting blemishes in places where we before had so proudly boasted triumph – the trail of tears, reservations, Japanese internment camps. We are that awkward middle school tween relishing in our own beauty only to awake the next morning to find a serious bout of acne. We boast of causes because they are “right”, because they are “American”. The Native Americans threatened our land, our superior traditions, so we fenced them in reservations out west and kept them from their ancestral homes. We condemned the Japanese, boasted superior morals, superior military power and confined them to desert internment camps.

There is a clear trend here. America, though I love her, builds walls, fences, camps, reservations to keep people out. To lock people up, only to later regret and publicly apologize for her naïve decisions. In some ways that is what is happening on the border here. We are preventing a natural migration process – a process that many of us take advantage of in the United States. We are shaming it, condemning it. We are keeping people out, but also keeping them in. We are not only preventing natural migration to the United States, but we are preventing travel from the United States as well. Why do we feel the incessant need to prevent something that is so human? Why do we condemn something so natural as being so wrong? Why are people no longer allowed to flee depression and desolate conditions? Why do we see it our duty to establish permanency?

These are questions I have been struggling to address for the past couple of days. It is hard for me to think that migrating 2,000 miles to Tucson, AZ is an acceptable path for me to choose. It is harder for me to think that migrating one mile from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico to Nogales, AZ for a day trip without a visa. What dictates one as acceptable and the other as not? What makes one encouraged and the other criminal?

Soundstrike and Hollywood's Campaign Against Arizona

Earlier this year Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack De La Rocha
organized the Sound Strike as a direct result of Governor Brewer's signing
of SB1070. De La Rocha explains, "Fans of our music, our stories, our films
and our words can be pulled over and harassed every day because they are
brown or black, or for the way they speak, or for the music they listen to."
The movement has enlisted big names like Kanye West and Nine Inch Nails to
boycott Arizona. The movment's most recent news is the release of a song by
Bright Eyes to speak out against SB1070. Will big name Hollywood bring
attention to this issue and spark a mainstream pop movement against the
discriminatory bill? Only time will tell.

"When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, they arrested her. As a result, people got together and said we are not going to ride the bus until they change the law. It was this courageous action that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. What if we got together, signed a collective letter saying, 'we're not going to ride the bus,' saying we are not going to comply. We are not going to play in Arizona. We are going to boycott Arizona! "
- Zach De La Rocha, http://www.thesoundstrike.net/

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Immigrant farm workers' challenge: Take our jobs

Stephen ColbertAP – FILE - In this April 9, 2008 file photo, Stephen Colbert is photographed at his office in New York. …

SAN FRANCISCO – In a tongue-in-cheek call for immigration reform, farm workers are teaming up with comedian Stephen Colbert to challenge unemployed Americans: Come on, take our jobs.

Farm workers are tired of being blamed by politicians and anti-immigrant activists for taking work that should go to Americans and dragging down the economy, said Arturo Rodriguez, the president of the United Farm Workers of America.

So the group is encouraging the unemployed — and any Washington pundits or anti-immigrant activists who want to join them — to apply for the some of thousands of agricultural jobs being posted with state agencies as harvest season begins.

All applicants need to do is fill out an online form under the banner "I want to be a farm worker" athttp://www.takeourjobs.org, and experienced field hands will train them and connect them to farms.

According to the Labor Department, three out of four farm workers were born abroad, and more than half are illegal immigrants.

Proponents of tougher immigration laws have argued that farmers have become used to cheap labor and don't want to raise wages enough to draw in other workers.

Those who have done the job have some words of advice for applicants: First, dress appropriately.

During summer, when the harvest of fruits and vegetables is in full swing in California's Central Valley, temperatures hover in the triple digits. Heat exhaustion is one of the reasons farm labor consistently makes the Bureau of Labor Statistics' top ten list of the nation's most dangerous jobs.

Second, expect long days. Growers have a small window to pick fruit before it is overripe.

And don't count on a big paycheck. Farm workers are excluded from federal overtime provisions, and small farms don't even have to pay the minimum wage. Fifteen states don't require farm labor to be covered by workers compensation laws.

Any takers?

"The reality is farmworkers who are here today aren't taking any American jobs away. They work in often unbearable situations," Rodriguez said. "I don't think there will be many takers, but the offer is being made. Let's see what happens."

To highlight how unlikely the prospect of Americans lining up to pick strawberries or grapes, Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" plans to feature the "Take Our Jobs" campaign on July 8.

The campaign is being played for jokes, but the need to secure the right to work for immigrants who are here is serious business, said Michael Rubio, supervisor in Kern County, one of the biggest ag producing counties in the nation.

"Our county, our economy, rely heavily on the work of immigrant and unauthorized workers," he said. "I would encourage all our national leaders to come visit Kern County and to spend one day, or even half a day, in the shoes of these farm workers."

Hopefully, the message will go down easier with some laughs, said Manuel Cunha, president of the California grower association Nisei Farmers League, who was not a part of the campaign.

"If you don't add some humor to this, it's enough to get you drinking, and I don't mean Pepsi," Cunha said, dismissing the idea that Americans would take up the farm workers' offer.

California's agriculture industry launched a similar campaign in 1998, hoping to recruit welfare recipients andunemployed workers to work on farms, he said. Three people showed up.

"Give us a legal, qualified work force. Right now, farmers don't know from day to day if they're going to get hammered by ICE," he said, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "What happens to my labor pool?"

His organization supports AgJobs, a bill currently in the Senate which would allow those who have worked in U.S. agriculture for at least 150 days in the previous two years to get legal status.

The bill has been proposed in various forms since the late 1990s, with backing from the United Farm Workers of America and other farming groups, but has never passed.


On the Net:


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nice to know Brewer's in the know...

Border Patrol Union Disputes Gov. Brewer's Comment: "Most Illegal Immigrants are Drug Mules"

Migrant Walk Ceremony

On Sunday, June 6th, our group went to the Migrant Walk Ceremony. The Migrant Walk was organized by Kat from Coalición de Derechos Humanos. Volunteers walk 75 miles in the desert from Sásabe, Sonora to Tucson, AZ. They walk in the intense heat for a week to pay tribute to the migrants. On Sunday, we joined in the ceremony to welcome them back from their journey. Fresh off the desert, they came exhausted. The majority of the walker were crying, having been moved so deeply by their experience. The ceremony was very moving- there bands and various speakers explaining the importance of the walk and the need for immigration reform. To view some of the highlights from the ceremony, check out the clips below.

Clip of Pablo Peregrina's music

Clip from Kat's Speech

Tom, a walker and member of Coloradans for Immigrant Rights

Friday, June 25, 2010

NY times op-ed

Arizona seeks to deny citizenship to those born in the state to parents who cannot prove their legal status

Southside Day Labor Center

91 minutes. 0-0. 25 day laborers and 3 students. The US scores the winning goal against Algeria in the first round of the World Cup allowing them to advance in to the next round. The room explodes in to noise.

Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ houses the Southside Day Labor Center. Its mission is:

“To provide a safe place for workers and employers to negotiate employment while maintaining a healthy relationship with the surrounding neighborhood. Employers in need of workers with a variety of skills are able to come to the center where a volunteer is available to help negotiate the hiring of a worker.”

At six in the morning every day Monday to Saturday, twenty to thirty men ranging in age from 16 to 60 congregate outside the church located at the corner of West 22nd and S. 10th Avenue. They toss their Center issued ID cards in to a pile and drop their raffle ticket in to a bucket. They wait for their number to be called. They hope they will be one of the first numbers drawn. Anybody past the ninth or tenth person on the list probably won’t get work that day. I haven’t seen more than eight men get picked up each day. The last two days only two men have gone to work. The state of the economy is being felt here too.

The men sign a contract when they join the program. They agree to not accept less than eight dollars an hour for work. Really, though, any amount is better than nothing. I talked to a father of three today. He said with 50 dollars a week he can feed his three daughters at home in Mexico. But he won’t find work if no one is hiring. And no one has been hiring. As the laborers wait, they sit inside the church or out in the parking lot. Patiently, hopefully, these days, watching the World Cup, cheering for the US.

The men come from all walks of life. Many of them have lived in the US for a majority of their lives and have families here. Others have recently arrived. Some are here on tourist visas, others are residents, others citizens, others are without “legal” documentation. We don’t really know. We aren’t allowed to ask. And it doesn’t matter. Many have held permanent jobs for extended periods of time in the US. Others haven’t. Some speak perfect English. Others are learning. Some don’t plan on leaving Tucson. Others are willing to hop on the next bus to anywhere if there is work there. All they want is to work and unfortunately, there just isn’t much work around.

So, to fill the hours of waiting between 6:30 when the raffle starts and 11 am when the center shuts down, two other volunteers and I are trying to give them something to do. For now, this mostly entails watching the World Cup from 7 to 9. After the morning game ends, we have provided English classes and computer classes. In the next few weeks, we hope to continue these classes as well as to do Know Your Rights sessions, health workshops, a soccer tournament, and workshops on SB1070. While doing so, I hope we can listen to these men and learn from their stories.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Doin' Work

My work with the day labor center at Southside Church has provided me with greater knowledge of the working conditions for many immigrants coming into the U.S. I should mention that although some of the participants in the in the day labor program have immigrated into the U.S., others have lived in the U.S. for most or all of their lives.

Specifically, I have been learning about the problems these workers face. On many days, the participants are unable to find work. It seems like only one out of every four or five people there find work through the center each day. Even when they do find work, many of the patrones do not pay them well or sometimes do not pay them at all. Due to the informal nature of the jobs, the workers are virtually powerless in these types of situations.

These problems are especially disheartening because many of these workers are here to earn money for their families that still live in their country of origin. These men left everything behind to support their families and because of the recession and abusive patrones, they make very little money.

I realize that some people may question whether day labor centers should exist that help undocumented laborers, in addition to documented laborers, to find work. Won’t this just encourage more undocumented immigrants? While some people may not find this particularly objectionable I claim that even for those that do not want fewer undocumented immigrants should still favor the creation of more day labor centers like the one at Southside. That is, I think that such centers should be promoted by people on both sides of the issue. This is an important distinction to make since I recognize that many people object to undocumented immigrants, but they realize that people will come regardless and humane measures should be taken.

My reasoning is that such day labor centers will do little to encourage further migration and will also increase safety for both the undocumented workers and the communities in which they live. The centers also require little resources to run and foster a sense of community among the laborers.

Day labor centers do not lead to significant increases in the number of immigrants coming into the U.S. People will immigrate into the U.S. as long as there are jobs that pay better than in the countries where they live. Most of the immigrants I have spoken to said that they have come to the U.S. for higher wages; these people are very desperate and are immigrating as a last resort because they cannot make sufficient money in their home countries. And jobs in the U.S. will pay better regardless of whether there are day labor centers. So immigrants will be entering the U.S. in roughly the same numbers either way.

I find this notion similar to the argument that more immigrants will cross because people put out water in the desert. The immigrants are going to cross either way, the water just serves to ensure their safety when crossing. Likewise, the day labor centers work to improve worker safety without actually causing more people to immigrate.

Day labor centers offer protection for the workers involved. Having some sort of organization allows them to share information on which patrones require workers to face dangerous conditions or pay unfair wages. Otherwise these abusive patrones would be able to get away with these kinds of practices and continuously hire new workers since stories of their practices would not circulate.

The centers also benefit the workers in other ways. At Southside and other labor centers there is a sense of community among the workers. They have group meetings and they are planning on having a party together. They are not competing directly for jobs because the order of who gets work first is determined by a raffle. If they were just out on the streets then they would be in direct competition with the other workers and there would be no sense of solidarity.

Day labor centers also offer safety to the surrounding community. Since the workers are not allowed to show up under the influence or in possession of drugs or alcohol, they are discouraged from using these substances. When workers are disorganized and on the street looking for work most of the time, drugs and alcohol are a major temptation. Less use of these substances will translate into a safer community. Further, these workers realize that bad behavior will jeopardize their chances their chances of finding work. For instance, Southside imposes punishments that suspend the workers from participation in the program for a time in proportion to the offense. So the workers are especially concerned about maintaining good behavior to ensure continued participation in the program. Being on the streets in a disorganized manner also promotes violence and threatening behavior.

Lastly, these day labor centers require very little resources to run. At Southside, the workers mostly run the program themselves. Volunteers support their efforts, but they mostly take a backseat to the process of finding work; in my capacity as a volunteer I am providing services like computer and English classes. The main thing that is necessary for a day labor center is a site to host their operation. Southside would have the parking lot regardless of whether they had the day labor center. The only costs incurred by the church are providing basic supplies and the use of a small fraction of church officials’ time. So altogether, the operation is very inexpensive.

Together these points lead to the conclusion that day labor centers such as Southside provide an important service regardless of how you feel about undocumented immigration. Elimination of such centers would only make life worse for undocumented immigrants and communities as a whole.

CNN article on Train of Death

Migrants riding the "Train of Death" to the border

Durham Passes Ban Against SB1070

As various councils, cities, and states take a stance for or against SB1070, Durham has resolved to oppose the controversial bill.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Learning the reality from the game

Yesterday, I helped a group of students from Minnesota play the immigration simulation game. Each was given a role: Mexican family, farm owner, landowner, storeowner, factory employer, coyote, bus driver, border patrol, etc. Mexican families had to start from the Mexican countryside (which was the parking lot), move to the border city (which was the lounge), and finally migrate to the US (which was the kitchen). Other players had their own roles; for example, farm owner in Mexican countryside checked whether families worked hard enough and paid them accordingly. I was a timekeeper in the border city, telling people to buy food and pay the rent as every month, which was actually seven minutes, passed.

What interested me was that it was much more realistic than I had expected.

Mexican families in the countryside had to pick beans in the scorching sun for months to earn money just to pay off their debts and interests.
Mexican families in the border city barely made enough money to send some to families left in Mexico and to save some to pay coyotes for migrating to the US.
Some people had to cheat or steal others’ money just to make livings.
People had absolutely no power to resist even though landowners or storeowners priced unreasonably or discriminatorily.
People could not trust anyone except their own family members.
Though they had enough money to pay coyotes for themselves, most people rather chose to stay at the border city longer to wait for their other family members to come and join.
Though they end up working in the US, people had to live in fear of border patrols every day.
Coyotes did not earn that much money, which actually surprised me.

Of course, it was just a game played for about an hour. Still, it reflected the reality: it is not easy and desirable at all for people to migrate, especially without documents, to the US. Especially because I was in the border city, I could see people having difficulties even before they cross the border – they had to pay bus drivers to come to the border city, ask for factory owner’s mercy to get jobs, or deal with how to buy food, pay the rent, and send money back to family members in the countryside at the same time.

A Note on Religion, About Which I Know...Very Little

When I first began planning out my summer, I was pretty sure I knew where I'd be spending it. India. Naturally; definitely India so I could volunteer or at least visit my grandparents and virtually every other living relative I have.

More than six months after I did all that planning, I find myself spending my early mornings at a Presbyterian church in Tucson. Different than India? Oh my, yes. Unwanted? An unequivocal no.

As an aside, I didn't know what Presbyterian actually meant before I got here. And I'm about as religious as Bill Maher, so what was I supposed to do at a church, I wondered before coming here. Would I have to attend services and be expected to know what was going on? Would I have to cite passages from the Bible? Oh no, what if they made me lead prayers?

By now I've realized two things: one, I was being as ignorant and ridiculous as my personal image of a televangelist and two, I was thinking way too much about myself. Me, me, me, I, I, I. Even though I'm not very in tune with religion, I am devoted to the belief in humanity and helping people. I have those basic beliefs, and that's enough. The fact that this church has reached out to those in need on so many occasions, whether they be homeless or in need of work, bowls me over.

In my last post, I discussed the environment Mexican children grow up in, where news of drug cartel violence and addiction are a daily dose of life. I neglected to mention, though, that one anchor that seemed to keep these kids grounded to the good in the world was religion. Whether it was through songs of Jesus or interactions with the Casa's pastor and his wife, Catholicism is an everyday part of life, and I felt grateful for that.

When people cross the desert, they often carry a figure or charm of the Virgin of Guadalupe with them. When we were in Altar and met a man who'd tried to cross several times. He was in his fifties and had an infectious smile permanently affixed to his face. He ended many of his sentences with "Gracias a Dios" and confided that he enjoys reading his little Bible often.

Back to the present: Several things initially drew me to the church here, though, and part of it was certainly personal. That is, a need to work on a more intimate level with day laborers. Call it a bad version of white man's guilt, but I'll bet few of the modern buildings we've ever stood in, whether we're from NC or TX, would be there if not for the presence of immigrants and their families. Such is also the case with, as we saw in NC, the produce we consume. The labor center here gave me the opportunity to put a face to the construction work, the dry wall, the painting, the basic aspects of life we take for granted. And it's funny but probably good that when we talk to the guys, the tasks they carry out for the community, aren't on our minds. We're not thinking, "Oh, this is Carlos, the painter." We're thinking "Oh, it's Carlos, the guy from southern Mexico, the one who wants to get his GED, the one with two little daughters he sends money to, but rarely sees."

I asked one man what he does if he can't find work for the day--there is little work to be had for the 20+ men we see each day; only about five of them end up getting work.

Read, he said, all kinds of things. "I read the Bible a lot," he said and it was a novel feeling, but it just made me glad.

Just how long does it take?

Source: Forbes.com

Forbes Magazine Endorses Immigration

Forbes Magazine features immigration this week and endorses open borders, amnesty. Reconozing undocumented workers would stimulate investment and economic growth. See the full special report here: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0628/special-report-immigration-opening-borders-mexico-let-them-in.html

What Really Scares Me

When I wake up in the morning, I don’t remember that few people probably died in the desert yesterday. When I shower, I don’t think about how there are people out there in the desert who would be grateful to drink the water I’m showering with. When I wait for the bus just because I don’t want to walk 1.4 miles to work, I don’t think about how migrants walk days and nights without knowing that their destination might be Operation Streamline, shackled in shame. When I eat, I don’t think about how migrants only get orange peanut butter crackers to eat at the detention centers. When I do my devotional Quiet Times, I don’t think about migrants dropping Bibles because they are simply too heavy to carry. And before I sleep in my comfortable bed, I don’t think about how migrants are probably on the move about now, carefully stepping on the way to hide from the Border Patrols.

It only gets to me, three or four times a day, when I look at the death map at Humane Borders or when I hear certain stories of people. Stories where a man is begging for water and food, and Minute Men giving him food fingertip long.

And that’s what scares me.

I’m in Tucson, the ground zero of this immigration issue. I intern at Humane Borders, the place that puts out water stations for the migrants for the very purpose of preventing death. I’ve had two weeks of delegation with Border Links. I read books on immigration. I’ve talked to people in the streets in Tucson about SB1070. I’ve been to the Border, felt the wall, and walked the migrant trail.

And yet, I don’t think about them enough, because I’m busy getting up everyday, eating, reading, dressing up, getting on the bus, and thinking about ways to get back.

How can I expect other people to listen to me and be interested in this issue, when I, a person surrounded by stories and experiences, am too busy living my own life?

Of course, I intern at Humane Borders and I have very tangible results of helping the migrants to survive on the desert. Yet sometimes, the work seems so detached that I just forget.

I still have few more weeks, but I would still really like to find out how I can be a bigger help to this issue. I wonder what my role is in this issue. Or more so, how much of a role I’m willing to take. I just hope I’m never too busy living my own life to care more about the world around me. And to always be grateful for the blessings I have, and to never take them for granted.

Forbes Magazine Promoted Open Borders on its front cover. To read the article, click here.
More details on Mexico joining a lawsuit against SB1070

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mexico Jumps on Board the SB1070 Suit

According to CNN, Mexico has filed a brief in Federal Court against Arizona's tough new immigration enforcement law, SB 1070.
NY Times Timeline of Major Immigration Issues Since 2004

SB1070: What you don’t hear people discussing

This week I began my internship with Border Action Network. My first task is to translate SB1070 into Spanish. A translation can’t be found online; not even the Mexican Consulate has a translation. The fact that it hasn’t been translated for the people it targets blows my mind. After sitting through a talk on SB1070 with older white Tucson residents and then an educational conference with Latino residents of a wide age span from various regions in Arizona, I have learned that a lot of people are ignorant about the law. Here are some important points that many people do not talk about:

1. The law specifies that there are 4 types of identification that you can present to prove your legal status:

a. A government issued ID.

b. A driver’s license.

c. A tribal ID

d. A passport

However, not all states require proof of residency when obtaining a license and therefore driver’s license from Utah, New Mexico or Washington are not suffice to prove legal status. What about minors who do not have any of these forms of ID? Failure of anyone to provide one of the four IDs listed above will lead to an arrest. The individual will not be released until his/her immigration status is determined. Arizona will have a huge problem if legal citizens are arrested and then sue the state; the state can’t afford it.

2. It is unlawful for a motor vehicle to block or impede traffic in an attempt to hire or hire and pick up passengers, regardless of the driver’s immigrant status.

3. A legal citizen who is driving an undocumented passenger if the driver is ALSO violating a criminal offense.

4.Any legal resident of Arizona may file a complaint against an agency or official for not implementing Federal Immigration Law to the fullest extent. In order to avoid law suits, agencies and officials will have to devote a large amount of their time to implementing Federal Immigration Law, time which will take away from their time to crack down on crime and other responsibilities.

5. SB1070 is based on a statute that the US Government has gone on record to say that it is not enforced and needs to be revised.

I did not know these specifics until I read the law. Several people have strongly made up their minds, one way or another, about SB1070 but many people do not understand everything it entails. It’s crucial for everyone to be well informed about the policies affecting them. At the BAN educational conference I attended this past weekend, I was inspired by the BAN committee leaders. The leaders were all Latino men and women, low-income homes. Every single one of them had the passion to learn about the issues affecting their communities and passing on that education to the people around them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Governor Brewer is apparently shocked at the thought of Obama challenging Arizona's SB1070

Into the Streets of Tucson

While half of the group was in Mexico, Ann, Anna and I went to various locations in Tucson to ask people about immigration and SB1070. In total, we interviewed thirteen people. We began our interviews on 4th Avenue, an eclectic part of town. There we were able to interview five white women, two of which were older. One of the four women supported the bill. Downtown, we spoke with one older white man who stated that he didn’t know enough to have an opinion. Finally, we went to the Tucson Mall in an attempt to get a more conservative opinion. An elderly white man and one younger Asian woman claimed that they didn’t know enough about the issue; five Latinos strongly opposed the bill. In total, one individual supported SB1070; three individuals stated that they didn’t know enough about the bill to have an informed opinion; ten individuals opposed the bill. No one had read the entire bill, but several people were able to summarize the main points. No one knew what Operation Streamline was but one person hadheard the term before. I was very surprised that we didn’t find more support for SB1070. I was also surprised that people did not know what Operation Streamline is, given the fact that it occurs right in their city. I wish that we could have interviewed more people and spoken to a more diverse sample of people.

There were general concerns about crime and drug trafficking. Several people pointed out that US is supposed to be a free land made up of immigrants. However, immigration is not solely a US problem. As Julie (interviewed at 4th Avenue) pointed out, Mexico encourages immigration to the USmeanwhile prohibiting Central Americans and others from migrating to its own land. Robert noted that immigration is a natural process of individuals from poor countries migrating torich countries. He mentioned Africans migrating to Europe, Central Americans migrating to the US, among other migration patterns.

"People forget that they're dealing with humans, not objects."- Julie, 4th Avenue

Support for SB1070

Terry was the only person that we interviewed who supported the bill. She has a son who works as a Border Patrol Agent and is concerned about the drug trafficking and crime. Terry was very adamant about how SB1070 should be followed on the simple principle that it is the law, end of story.

Racial Profiling

There were several concerns of SB1070 leading to racial profiling. People disliked the fact that the bill seemed to be aimed at a specific population. Julie (interviewed at 4th Avenue) compared the law to George Orwell’s 1984. Valerie, Missy and Eddy believed that police officers would target their race. Missy stated, “It needs to be mandatory to ask everyone.” Valerie noted that perhaps there would have been a different reaction to the bill if Governor Brewer had presented it differently, more positively.

The Economy

The boycotting of Arizona in responseto SB1070 was deemed unfair because it hurts everyone. Eddy, Valerie, and Missy noted that several celebrities have cancelled concerts in Arizona. Moreover, Rafael noted that the majority of the people crossing the border come here to work- for their families, food, and better lives. He believes, “There are so many jobs in the US, no one can do them all. We need people to come and work…look at the mall, we work in every store!” Julie (interviewed at the mall) doesn’t see the problem with people here to work, but perhaps Arizona is tired of the influx of people. Finally, Rafael brought up a common argument about immigration law unfairly separating families: “Where do the kids go? They can’t work!” He emphasized the fact that taking care of these orphaned children hurts our economy. Keeping families together could eliminate this huge expense.

Border Patrol

Missy, Valerie and Eddy are from the US border town of Nogales. They grew up around Border Patrol agents and therefore view their presence as an everyday norm. They did not seem to have an issue with Border Patrol checkpoints, which have existed for years. Their main concerns were with racial profiling due to SB1070.

Possible Solutions?

1. It was unanimous that the wall is not effective and a huge waste of money. Rafael noted that the wall does not stop terrorism because terrorists enter the country legally.

Bethany, who opposed the bill, mentioned, “The wall is a bandage for something that needs massive surgery.”

2. More attention needs to be spent on serious crimes.

3. Eddy believes that while SB1070might be the first step to resolving immigration, it won’t solve everything.

4. Rafael believes that the people crossing the border can’t be stopped because “it’s human instinct to find a better life.”

5. Missy proposed making the legal immigration progress more accessible. She understands from her mother’s experience that the legal process is tedious and expensive.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Death in the Desert

Ann and I began our first day of work with Humane Borders today. Humane Borders is an organization that focuses on supplying water to migrants in the desert in the hopes of preventing deaths. They maintain water stations throughout Arizona, each marked with a blue flag signalling the presence of water. However, upon my return from work I couldn't help but notice a twitter post by CNN. It states that 18 people have died in a flash flood in France, as seen below.

I was a little taken aback, and slightly disgusted. Here, an American media source is covering deaths in a French flash flood, yet many people still remain unaware of the 128 deaths along the Arizona border in the past 8 months alone. The artifacts of these deaths -- dolls, strollers, bicycles, backpacks, clothes, cigarettes, poems, perfume bottles -- are scattered throughout the Humane Borders office. The struggle for me, though, does not lie in the lack of media coverage and education surrounding migrant deaths. This can always be changed. What strikes me is the hypocrisy surrounding water stations and attempts to save migrants' lives. Many water barrels are shot, slashed, graffitied, or otherwise vandalized. Aren't these people still human? Don't they deserve to live, even if only to be detained by Border Patrol? Maybe we should reconsider as a nation what it means to be open, to be loving, to be supportive. Regardless of your take on the border dispute, I think we all should agree that no human being should perish in the desert -- not even the 1,138 that already have.

map of deaths: www.humaneborders.org/news/documents/cumulativemap20002007.pdf


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A couple of the members of our group went to an SB1070 rally on June 5 to explore the other side of the issue. We encountered a variety of patriotic clothing, patriotic anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a highly politically charged atmosphere. Above is a photo collage of what we encountered: political posters, anti-Obama merchandise, a Tea Party advertisement, and a couple of children holding signs in support of SB 1070.
Posted by Picasa

Culture of Fear

Last week I found myself kissing the feet of my merciless cell phone company once more, as I was coerced into paying high rates and fees for international phone service. My dad had been bugging me for weeks on end to “check into it” and encouraged me to spend a portion of my summer stipend on 50 cent text messages and $1.00 per minute phone conversations. All of his bickering, bugging, constant phone conversations, and multiple texts culminated in my reluctant agreement to the plan. I was to call every other day at precisely 4:30pm, text my dad every night, and give morning updates of my activity. I felt as if I was being sent to war, deployed to some place far, far away with constant attempts on my life. My mom maternally justified his actions with a, “He just loves you.” In reality I was not getting shipped off to Iraq or Afghanistan, I was merely traveling an hour away – to the Mexican border.

All of my father’s insistence on cell phone service made me wonder why he was so worried and if I should be worried too. Should I be fearful? Nervous? Anxious? Doubtful? I was questioning whether going to Mexico was worth what I would learn by being there. Perhaps I really was embarking on a trip to Nogales, Mexico because, as a friend once exclaimed, “it is the cool thing to do,” cool to travel to a dangerous foreign country. I felt myself overcome by an inexplicable fear. Yes, Nogales had been home to some questionable drug related activity in the past months, but so had my hometown, Durham, and even Tucson. I was struggling with extreme nervousness, but I was also struggling to justify my anxiety. Was Nogales even more dangerous than living in a big city in the US?

We loaded a 15 passenger van Sunday evening to head down to the border. Some of us were grappling with the same nerves I was, others were imagining it like casual as a trip to Grandma’s. We easily slipped through Mexican customs and met our Mexican leader, Polita, on the other side of the border. Nogales appeared to be a midsized city, comparable to Durham or Chapel Hill. I was afraid of this. I was afraid of crowded highway overpasses, a downtown full of tiendas, historical statues and, of course, Wal-Mart and Burger King. There was no apparent danger. Everyone seemed to notice I was a gringa but nobody wanted to harm me.

We spent the week being shuttled around town, to and from grocery stores and appointments with non-profits. We also worked at a local community center running a kids’ camp. These kids were latchkey kids. Nogales has experienced such an influx in population from the internal immigration that ensued after NAFTA passed that they do not have enough schools and teachers to accommodate all of the children who live in the city. Thus, each kid can only attend public school for half a day (either the morning or afternoon) and spends the rest of the day at home alone while their parents work.

Many of the kids lived in squatter homes surrounding the community center with minimal plumbing and very little water supplied to them throughout the day. The kids often arrived without water bottles for after futbol refreshments, and many times a seven year-old would show up babysitting her three year-old brother. These kids, however, did show up wearing the biggest smiles you have ever seen. I have spent the past few summers as a camp counselor, and holding a day camp for these kids was nothing compared to watching middle class American children. They were happy with minimalist supplies and materials, a half broken playground, bean soup for lunch every day, paper plate masks, and makeshift maracas. In fact, I even befriended TWO seven year-olds in the course of a few days.

Throughout the week I found myself thinking even harder about my fear upon entering Nogales. Every overpriced phone call and text message was rather mundane and told of no surprise kidnappings or killings. Where did my fear come from? Why are Americans so afraid of Mexico, so afraid of the border? Why has our media, government, and society created such a culture of fear toward Mexico? I spent the week pondering these questions and came up with subpar answers. Mexican life is more dangerous than life in America, but only marginally so. They have drugs, gangs, and corruption – but what city in the U.S. doesn’t? If I could tell everyone one thing about my experience in Mexico it would be this: Our fear of the Mexican border is partly real, but mostly imagined. The people in Mexico hold more life, gratitude, and love than most of our American counterparts.