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, 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".

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