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.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

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.

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