The Workers of Nogales, Sonora

When NAFTA was passed under the Clinton Administration, it was heralded as ending the need for migration.  Instead it increased the desparation of people because the USA government in order to have NAFTA approved, demanded that Article 27, the heart of the Mexican constitution for which the Mexican Revolution was fought over, be eliminated.  Article 27 states that land would be held by the people, it could not be sold, but was to be held in common so there would be land for sustaining the Mexican people with food.  NAFTA also insisted that USA corn and other crops would continue to receive subsidies, keeping the cost of USA corn falsely low.   THis corn would be sold in Mexico at prices that Mexican farmers, the small one and two acre farmers could not even grow it at  forcing them to leave their farms. Because the land could no longer provide them with the means of a modest living.  Where would they go?

Along the borders were the building of Maquilas, the NAFTA induced factories.  Here workers were being hired at an equivalency of $8 a day for an 8 hour day, six days a week.  Our delegation visited the workers of one Maquila, The Legacy Imaging plant, in Nogales, Sonora.  One day this past February 2013,  the workers came to work only to find the doors locked.  THe factory had closed shop and had not told the employees nor had it paid them the required severance pay under Mexican Labor Law–which is 90 days.  THe workers told us this happens quite frequently in Nogales.  They have attempted to contact the employers based in Denver, CO and have received no response.  THey have filed a lawsuit but it is doubtful anything will come of it because Mexican law has little sway over USA corporations.  THe workers therefore have taken to a 24/7 vigil at the plant to ensure the equipment is not taken out of the factory in the hopes they will be given the authority to sell it and divide the money amongst the 134 employees of this plant.  The company has not answered inquiries from the Mexican Lawyers.

A few miles away on top of a hill is the Old Nogales Dump.  Here there are about a dozen families living in make shift hovels of furniture pushed together with tarps and scraps of tin.  These families harvest the dump for aluminum, copper, plastic, and cardboard to sell.  THey scour the site for these tidbits and place them into huge sacks that are weighed and sold by the kilo.  A days earnings might be equivalent to 8 or 9 Dollars  a day.  The same amount of money the factory workers are paid.  The difference is these families are not paying rent for their hovel,  they are not paying utilities.   So which of these workers, the factory workers or dump dwellers, are the poorest of Mexico?

We met with one family at the dump.   A grandmother, her son and daughter -in- law and grandchildren;  all work the dump every day.  She plays an important role.  She is the keeper of herbal remedies for medical needs, she tends the children, and she will cook the food.  She makes tortillas on a small grill outside of her hut.  SHe is quite pleased with her living arrangements. WIth furniture, tires, car bumpers, tarps and blankets; she has created a three room space, a bedroom for three people, a living room that also serves as a bedroom, and an eating area.    She has lived at the dump since she was 15 years of age.  SHe has a grandson who lives away who will be coming to visit them on vacation. She is excited at the possibility of seeing him.

One of the workers at the dump lived in the USA from age 13 until he was deported a few years ago.  He has a wife and two daughters in Iowa.  He worked in construction, in a meat cold storage plant, and in Chinese restaurants as a cook through out the USA and Vancouver, Canada.  For a few years he lived in Albertville, AL and had visited Tuscaloosa, where I currently live.  He misses his wife and daughters.  He does not get to speak to them often and he says his daughters do not speak Spanish.  He hopes to return to the USA to be with his family. He has a better chance of earning and saving the money needed by scouring the dump than by working in a factory.   I listen but do not tell him that crossing this time around will be vastly different than when he was 13 and crossed over at San Diego.  He was fortunate then.  Kindness of strangers took him across and kindness of other strangers then drove him to Los Angeles.  The strangers  today do not seem to be so kind to others.

Published in: on May 27, 2013 at 11:48 am  Comments Off on The Workers of Nogales, Sonora  
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No More Deaths: Hiking the migrant trail

Our Delegation on Wednesday went to Arivaca where No More Deaths has a Humanitarian Aid Station  to provide resources and help for the residents and the migrants they may find on their property.  Two people die a day in the Tucson sector.  We drove out to Arivaca Lake a man made lake developed from the run off from the mines near by.  THe lake water is not safe to drink  nor are the fish in the lake safe to eat because of the high concentration of mercury.  In a desert, water is precious and when it might be found, it is suspect of being contaminated by mercury or amoebas that will cause death causing dehydration.   We hiked from Arivaca across the public land to the migrant trail carrying gallon jugs filled with safe drinking water.  THe terrain was steep.  Even with our rugged hiking shoes, many of us slipped on the soft dusty soil and rocks beneath us. Most migrants do not walk the trails in the day time. The sun is simply way too hot.  Along the canyon floor of a dry river bed the temps can quickly reachover 110 degrees with humidity in the low single digits.  After walking about 3/4 miles along the canyon floor in the river bed, we reached the migrant trail also a river bed that was dry.  A flash flood could well up with out a moments notice from a rain storm further away, causing the water level to rise suddenly from nothing to 2 or more feet.

The walk to this point had been despite its steep terrain a fairly easy walk.  But now the walk began to become difficult with low hanging trees to crawl under, barbed wire fences beckoning us to do the limbo dance.  The river bed became part of a steep canyon on either side. The trees over the river bent lower and lower over the dry river bed and there were increasing larger rocks to step up on.  We came to a very narrow part of the river bed,  The rocks were jagged.  There we found a water bottle but our tour guide Steve from No More Deaths noted there was an orange residue inside indicating amoebas.  He said the migrant who drank this water would have gotten sick and probably got the water from a cow cistern.  He dumped the water and crushed the bottled. We dropped a few bottles here in the middle of the trail.  Moonlight would cause the bottles to glow so they would be seen.  A full moon would be the only way, unless they had flashlights,  but flashlights might alert the border patrol, to maneuver these trails at night.  The rocks and trees could easily snare or cause an ankle to break.  A migrant with a broken ankle or leg would be left behind by the coyote guides.  We pushed further up stream. At this location  we also found a burlap bag that would have held about 40 kilos of marijuana.  Many coyotes force migrants to carry drugs through the desert.

We came to an apparent dead end. Ahead of us was a 10 to 12 foot cliff and we were told the migrantsclimb down this cliff.  We were going to climb up it. There were foot and hand holds to do so relatively easily but being a tad acrophobic, this was a challenge for me.  We spotted each other going up. Passing up to those on top water bottles to carry to the last dropping stop. The river bed here was not as narrow as below but it still had the challenge of low overhangs and then there was a cliff on the leeft side and a tree in the middle of the river bed.  A hollow in the cliff was adorned with many objects, rosaries, prayer cards, votive candles to saints, a crucifix.  And there were names, Anof those who had died en route.  We wrote on the bottles with the date and a phrase.  I wrote ‘ vaya con Dios –go with god. ‘

Tonight as I write these words there is a full moon.  I am aware that this is a perfect night for moving along the trail towards an unknown future. The stories of those women migrants that I met today haunt me.  The woman who was told the walk across the desert was only 1.5 hours and four days later she is still in the desert. Her water is gone, Her food is gone. She speaks up about her thirst and the coyote taunts her, drags her across the river beds by her hair, pushes her near steep drops of ravines. She says she thought he was going to push her off.  She wants to succeed and make it into the country, but her thirst is too strong and despite the coyotes taunts to keep going, she stops. Seven others stop with her.  They look for the border patrols.  They light fires at night and the helicopters fly over head and they try towave them down. They are ignored. THe border patrol jeeps drive pass them and still they are ignored.  They make it to a highway.  A border patrol vehicle approaches and appears that it too will pass them by but they wave it down.  The Border patrol give them water, give them food, give them first aid.  Ask where they are headed.  To Phoenix, they reply.  The border patrol says they will drive them there, both knowing that there,  is to deportation.  But this woman is grateful that she is alive.  The desert was too harrowing, the coyotes too abusive.

Another woman tells a story where the coyotes were most helpful and the border patrol were abusive.  Her family were in New York City for many years. Her husband’s mother and brother died  so they returned to Mexico and they stayed for ayear. But their two children, one born in the US and one born in Mexico do not know this foriegn land. They do not speak Spanish.  They miss home.  And so the family decides to return to New York.  The child born in NY boards a plane.  The father passes through the desert  and on to NYC apparently uneventfully.  She with her 13 year old son attempt to cross as well.  They have to pay the mafia in order to cross.  If they do not pay, they will not be allowed to enter the desert.  They are caught by the Border Patrol.  The border patrol show disgust to the migrants.  The son who speaks only english hears the  border patrol say, “these people are really stupid.  They got caught.”  Her son and she are deported back to Nogales.  She enters the woman’s shelter, run by the Kino Border Intitiative, where I meet her.  Shehas paid a coyote $3800 to take her son by car to New York City.  She is happy, she hears that he has made it into the states and is on his way back to NYC to be with his dad and brother.  She says she will do what ever it takes to be with her family.

Sister Engracia who works at the shelter has never seen so much violence at the border in all of her 51 years of religious life. SHe is 68.  Everything is controlled by the mafia. One cannot leave the border either north or south without paying the mafia. She tells the story of two men who tried to cross on their own.  They get to the  wall and they have some trouble going over it.  A man comes along and seems to be a humble and good man.  They think he is going to help them.  He talks on a radio and a truck pulls up.  Mencome out and asks the two men some questions.  Who have they paid to cross the border. No one. They are told they are not going to leave. More questions are asked and thenthe men are taken by force, ducktap is placed over their eyes and mouth. They are handcuffed with tape. Their ankles are taped together and then thrown into the truck.  They drive somewhere, they do not know where.  They hear chickens and sheep in the back ground.  They are placed in a small house and kept there for several days.  More questions.  They are beaten with plastic pipes.  They show the sister the bruises. Pistols are held to their heads and the trigger is pulled but no bullets.  Their fear is palpable.  Another vehicle pulls up.  These are the Mafia bosses.  THey demand to know who sent them to cross here. This is their territory, no one crosses without their say so.  They insist they are alone.  They are told they are lying.  They will bring in their coyotes and if one of the coyotes knows them, they will be killed.  The coyotes come andthey do not know them.  So the two men are taken out of the house and dropped off somewhere.  THey try to get help from the Mexican Police, who ignore them.  Finally, a kind stranger comes along and convinces the police to take them to the hospital. They are treated and lived to tell their tale to Sister Engracia.  She documents all of these stories and sends thme to the Jesuits in DC who are collecting this data.

THe government and the mafia are in alliance with one another here along the border. But as one Honduran, fleeing the recent coup by School of America’s trained militia,  recently told Sister Engracia, “If I am going to die in Honduras of hunger then I would rather die struggling to have life.”

These are the stories of desparate people who feel they have no other options for their life but to cross where they may find work and perhaps, just perhaps some piece of their dream.  They walk along the dry river beds like the one I helped seed with clean water.  And I pray they cross under the full moon so they will have at least one celestial body guiding their path.

Published in: on May 25, 2013 at 12:21 am  Comments Off on No More Deaths: Hiking the migrant trail  
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Casa Mariposa: Solace for the spirit

THere is in the midst of the pain and desparation that migrants face a place where migrants can receive solace for their spirits.  Casa Mariposa is an intentional religious  community made up of a variety of faith perspectives.   The American Friends or Quakers purchased the home so the residents do not have to worry about rent. Once a week there is a Quaker Meeting where people can gather and receive solace for their spirits.

This is a place for those migrants being released.  So many of them need to have an address of where they will be after their release and Casa Mariposa provides this address. There are two small houses on this piece of property, one for men and one for women. Although there was recently a single mother with several daughters, one son and grandchildren.  The guests stay here for as long as they need to before either returning to their home country or going on to reconnect with their families.

One of their current guests shared his story. It was a horrendous story of indignities and abuse.  Pedro (name changed) lived in Guatemala.  His country has become increasingly violent.  He decided to flee his home country after his family were masacred.  He has traveled out of Guatemala to escape hundreds of times and has been able to enter the United States 9 times.  He has been deported 8 times and flown back to Guatemala. But he cannot remain there.  THe last time he was returned he walked out of the cuntry the very next day. His experience with ICE and with Border Patrol has not been much better.  His last time in detention the detainees were placed in a cold freezer. They were given plastic for blankets, cold juice to drink, and the agents threw bread at them but not enough to feed them all.  The agents wanted to watch them fight over the bread. One day he told the guards that they would get get further if they spoke in Spanish with them.  The guards said, this is our country, you will speak english.  If they spoke English the guards would turn their backs on them.  If they spoke Spanish, they would call me a rat. They would treat him and others with a lot of humiliation.  They would check to see where they might have family and then make sure that the dentention center they were sent to was far away from family. “Several people would cry out, don’t deport me, I don’t have any family there. They are all here.”

This time, he has received an identification card.  It is good for a year.  On the back it says he cannot work, if he does he will be deported.  He has asked for asylum because themajority of  this family has been massacred.  But the courts here say, that does not matter because that was a long time ago. He does not mind dying buthe knows if he is returned Guatemala he will be first kidnapped, tortured before being killed. If he cannot remain in the US then he must find another country in which to have refugee status.

Listening to his harrowing story, I was struck by the lack of anger and bitterness in his voice.  So I said that he told his story with such fullness heart and without malice towards these agents or these experiences.  I asked how did he manage to keep from having his heart become bitter.  He pondered a bit then said, if God’s son could endure the ravages and sufferings of the world and still love others, these experiences do not even compare to that so he gathers strength knowing that Jesus had endured worse and still loved.  I was awed that his faith was strong in the face of such experiences and such desperation.

He added that knowing that this house and the people who staff it are there for him has made it easier for him to forgive others.  This house has provided him a loving presence and for that he is most grateful.

Published in: on May 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm  Comments Off on Casa Mariposa: Solace for the spirit  
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Operation Streamline: An American Obscenity

I am not sure I can even begin to describe this obscene method of handling border crossings.  Understand the militarization of the border was to prevent the crossing of terrorists into the USA.  Since 9/11 there have been zero terrorists apprehended through the border.  But the process of closing the border has increased militarization, spawned the development of the drug Cartels and Mexican mafia that have made the border dangerous. 17.9 Billion dollars is spent on immigration in this country, more than any other law enforcement budget combined in this country.

Operation Streamline is a tribunal under the Department of homeland Security and not the Department of Justice. It is used in 6 of the 9 sectors that border the Mexican border.  Currently, California is the only state that does not utilize Operation Streamline.   But the name Operation Streamline itself is a misnomer.  There  is nothing streamlined in the process. Each sector does the process differently.  We visited the Tucson tribunal where up to seventy undocumented individuals are processed in a mass manner.  There is one public defender for these individuals.  So to handle the caseload, the federal government contracts attorneys at $125 an hour.  The tribunal we witnessed processed 65 people, with a total of 1 public defender and 12 contracted attorneys.

As of January 1st all of the people being processed were being charged with illegal entry (code 1325) and illegal reentry (code 1326) Illegal entry is a misdemeanor with a maximum of 6 months sentence, $5,000 fine, and a ten dollars court fee.  Illegal reentry is a felony charge with a maximum sentence of 10 years. Both of these codes have been on the books since 1952 but only in recent years have they been enforced.  In Tucson, 70,000 people have been processed since Operation Streamline’s beginning in July 2008.  This number represents 13% of the 120K in FY 2012 apprehended in the Tucson Sector.  In 2008, 70% of people were deported with time served.  Today, 80% receive a sentence.  It is the decision of Border Patrol agents who goes to Operation Streamline.  First time crossers are simply deported after receiving their vital information.  Borderwide about 1/3rd of all apprehensions are streamlined.

Streamline has overwhelmed the federal courts.  Over half of all cases heard since 2008 are immigration cases for immigration violations.  80% of these are for petty immigration violations. This means the federal courts are not pursuing serious crimes such as drug prosecutions, human sex trafficking.  These cases are no longer being tried because petty immigrtion violations have become the priority.

THere is a violation of due process rights of migrants.  A study by the University of Arizona revealed that most lawyers in part because of the overwhelming case load of up to 70 defendents in one tribunal, that 40% of the lawyers stated to just sign form and not fight charge; 7% said they did notunderstand the charge, 2% were told t report abuse and less than 1% had their legal status checked.  There have been cases of US citizens deported because they did not speak English and no one asked them if they were citizen or here legally.

There is no apparent rhyme or reason for the sentences. THe Border Patrol Agents determine the sentence based on some formula but it is apparent that it is inconsistently applied.  So some people are sentenced to 30 days, some 75 days, some 105 days, and some the full 180 days.  All of those seen through Operation Streamline are charged on two counts, 1325 and 1326.  They are read their rights and asked if they plead guilty to illegal entry then the felony charge of 1326 will be dropped.  Many choose, without fully understanding what is happening.

There is tremendous cost in these proceedings.  The tribunal that we saw the average sentence was 92 days.  In the 2.5 hours in which 65 people were processed, the estimated cost was $987,000.  THis average cost occurs every day, Monday through Friday. This does not include the private lawyers that are contracted.  It begins in the morning with the attorneys meeting for the first time the defendents, a maximum of ten minutes because of the number of cases. Each private attorney receives about $800 ad day for their services.

We spoke with Juan Rocha, a public defender after the tribunal who explained to us there are 30 public defenders at the federal court.  Currently one public defender is assigned to Streamline daily and the rest are privately contracted by the federal government.  Because of Sequester, beginning July 1, the public defenders wil be on a rotation of only serving Streamline twice a year instead of once a week. This means the Federal government because of federal law that everyone is entitled to an attorney to represent them, that more money will be spent on the privately contracted attorneys.  It is a money maker.  One lawyer or Criminal Justice Act Attorneys as they are called bragged that his work with Operation Streamline yielded him a salary of $100,000.  He did not need to any other form of law.

It is estimated that the Tucson sector spends 96 million annually tho the exact cost has not been determined.

Does Operation Streamline work?  The intended purpose is to make the migrants experience of entering illegally so horrendous that he or she will not attempt this again.  A University of Arizona study revealed however, that while there was a short term deterance in crossing, the long term deterance was not evident.  Interviews showed that 50% of those individuals would be returning.  THe report concluded that ” If dying in the desert is not a deterant, it’s hard to imagine why spending no or little time in a federal prison and being returned to your home country is a deterant– Miller”

Next, stories of abuse …

Southside Presbyterian Church: Transforming the Heart of America Part II

In 2009 there were some anecdotal stories surfacing of water bottles being vandalized and border patrol agents shooting holes in the bottles.  THe government stated this was not true and it was all anecdotal anyway. SO the University of Arizona did some research and documented the findings substantiating the evidence.  THey produced a report in 2011 entitled Culture of Cruelty.  It can be found online but the government keeps infecting the site with viruses.

THe church did some agreements with the Sector Chief.  He promised not to place surveilence cameras at the water stations because saving lives were more important.  However, in 2005 the New sector Chief said all promises were off the table.  THis  reveals the policies of  the USA Government towards humanity and human rights.  Border Patrol has been destroying water sites and have been ordered to do so.

THere has been an increased of organized crime as a consequence of the militarized border.  In order to get through the desert one has to have Cartels to do it. Read the history of prohibition and you will begin to understand what has happened here.  THis has become an economic enforcement engine.  This region has a long history of an intercountry relationship that was also an economic relationship  that went beyond the border.  Families easily would go back and forth over the border.  THe Cartels have made crossing the border a business.

WHen volunteers would find someone needing emergency care they were able to take them to the hospital.  The  new Sector  Chief threatened to  arrest the providers of humanitarian aid.  In response signs went up all over Tucson declaring’  Humanitarian Aid is never a crime.

There is a belief that keeping humanitarian Aid out of the desert will be a deterence but when you are desparate crossing the desert will be done whether there is humanitarian aid available or not .  No More Deaths  has just arranged a cooperative agreement with the International Red Cross.  THey went and visited the No More Deaths camp, which is on private land.  The International Red Cross will aid in reconnecting families by offering phone services to let families know they are okay. this may seem like a small thing but for a person traveling through the desert, having family know they are okay is huge.

THere have been less border crossings but with the increase of border patrols have meant moving increasingly into more and more dangerous and hazardous terrain.  Violations of human rights by the US has also been increasing.

So what is the SOuthside Presbyterian Church doing now as part of their ministry?  THey have begun Southside WOrker Center.  In the 1980’s the immigrants were political refugees but now they are economic refugees.  THe center seeks to have workers, day laborers hired under fair wage and appropriate healthcare. Beginning at 6:30 AM  and in the summer it will be 5:30 AM, workers come to the church where it is a safe place for them to gather. They have a membership agreement with Community based values of solidarity.  There is a signed contract.

Forming this center was a natural of the congregation as the workers were already in the neighborhood but under shady circumstnces.  SO the church provided space for them to gather.  The volunteers gather contact information of the employers, type of work, number of hours and amount to be paid.  THey seek to have the employers pay a minimum of $8 an hour for unskilled labor but for skilled labor like plumbing, electrical, masonry, etc they seek 12-16 dollars an hour. They also will seek to ensure that wage theft does not happen.  When it does, the volunteers help to retrieve this money for the worker.

In addition to the work, they also have a monthly schedule of activities. THey use a form of popular education.  One example of this was they read the proposed immigration bill and hen analysed it to discover what it would mean for them.  It was from within their perspectives and opinions, it was not someone telling them what the bill was about. They will also havegender based anti-violence workshops and invite other members of the community to come in and provide trainings. THey will also host a leadership academy to grow leaders in the center and in the community at large.  THis also includes a four hour Know your Rights training.  Goal is to have the center community led.

There is a quote by Lila Watson, an indigenous Australian,  that has become an important aspect to the community values:  ” If you came here to help you are wasting your time, but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us work together.

I asked John Fife what has been transformative for him and his congregation.  He replied, it is nothing that he has done but  it is in the relationships developed at the border that have transformed the hearts of his congregation.

And in turn, relationships with the people who are oppressed will if we allow it, transform the heart of America.

Southside Presbyterian Church: Transforming the Heart of America Part 1

In the afternoon the SOAWatch Delegation went to Southside Presbyterian Church to hear Rev. John Fife, past minister of this congregation and Stephanie and Alejandro of the Southside Day Labor Center, a current ministry of the congregation.   THe church is built in the style of a 12th century Kiva of the indigenous people.  The archetecture is 180 degrees of Euro-centric theologic thought.  In Cathedrals everything points up towards heaven. THe art work is filled with Angels, those creatures that are inbetween this realm and heaven above.  Here in the Kiva, the indigenous people go down into the earth, because the earth is sacred.  THe art work is filled with snakes and lizards those creatures that exist in between the realms of this plain and the earth.  So the focus is different and this sets up a different perspective in how one relates with their world.

In the 1980’s the congregation began seeing people who  were fleeing from the US supported wars in El Salvador in 1980 and Guatemala in 1982.  The US refused to recognize them as refugees, to do so would have been to admit that the US was involved in what was happening. THe church tried to help people get political asylum.  THe courts refused even when they saw first hand those with the marks of torture on their bodies.

John Corbett, Quaker, began pointing to the history of those similarly oppressed and the response by people of conscience and the non-actions of the church.  THe Underground railroad of the abolition movement in the US and the refusal of the church to intervene in Europe preceding and during  World War II.  He told John Fife and others, If you are Christians you would understand this history and act on this issue.  So John Fife and Southside Presbyterian Church began smuggling people across the border.  THe US Government got word of this and warned the church to stop or be indicted. They decided to go public.  They thought if they were going to be indicted then they would need the support of the larger church.

An event happened in California where a young teen, undocumented, ran into a local church afterbeing chased by federal agents.  He hid in a closet.  THe federal agents came in and found him.  THe pastor of the congregation asked the question ” why can’t a church be a sanctuary?”  And so on the anniverary of Oscar Romero’s assasination, Southside Presbyterian Church received a family into the congregation and expected to be indicted.  That did not happen.  The government thought if this was ignored it would go away.  However, the congregation thought  if we want to change public policy we have to go public.  And news reporters and tv producers such as 60 Minutes arrived to tell the story.  One cannot plan a movement but only prepare for one.  The purpose of going public was to protect themselves.

The evil policies of the US supported the death squads in Central America.  And the publicity that surrounded the sheltering of these refugees began to attract othercongregations to do the same.  By 1984 234 congregations were on public record as being sanctuary congregations.  17 cities became cities of sanctuary where thepolice and law enforcement were instructed to not arrest or harass immigrants seeking sanctuary. There were colleges and universities that did the same.  Many had placed those seeking sanctuary on their adjunct faculty and taught classes.

At this point the government moved against us. Undercover US federal agents moved in as volunteers in Tucson and in Mexico to spy on activities and secretly record conversations.  These agents infiltrated worship services recording them.  For the first time in US government  history, they acknowledged recording church services.

In 1985, the government indicted 15 people including John Fife.   A few days before the trial, the judge ruled they could not discuss the polictical situations in EL Salvador and Guatemala.  They could not bring in witnesses of or victims of torture, They could not talk about the foundation of their faith that called them to provide sanctuary.  Basically all of their defense argument was denied them.  So if they could not make the case in court, they would take their case to the media.

Duringthe trial the number of congregations offering sanctuary  more than doubled.  THe Judge received 10’s of thousands of letters from across the country and the world. Their pro-bono lawyers were challenged because some of the defendents would be delayed because they were out  transporting refugees and were detained in that process.

A Catholic Nun was to be sentenced first.  The  judge decided to be lenient and offered 5 years probation if she would promise to no longer participate in sanctuary work. The nun  responded, ‘ Judge you have not been listening to anything we have been saying.  I will go back and do sanctuary work because my faith commands me to.’   THe judge called recess and came back with a different sentence.  This was the criminal suit.

When it was over, the defendents sued the US government in a civil suit.  The government delayed the trial for three years but when the trial happened there were wins for changing policy regarding the refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala.  These reforms unfortunately  rolled back these gains with the 1996 legislation.

How many people came through the congregations?  The congregation did not keep records  because they did not want anything that could potentially be seized by the US government.  It is estimated that some 13-15,000 refugees passed through Southside Presbyterian.  Those at highest risk were sent on up towards Canada where they could receive political asylum. What was also important is this movement did not fit the norm for movements. There was no central charismatic leader who could be removed and the movement would stop.  THis movement had a lateral base not a pyramid structure.  The US government was therefore unable to stop its influence. The lesson here for social change is this lateral base.

What happens when there is a person on top is this person or group of persons alienate the base because they have to be or tend to be more radical than the base.  This is a fairly consistent result of pyramid structure.   When a movement is lateral across its base with its own leadership and its own policies, then the importance thread  that connects the movement is communication of what everyone else is doing.

The government tried to discredit the leaders from the congregations by stating they  were marxists or anarchists or some other leftist political group but the people knew the congregations and the statements made did not make sense. THis was the synagogue  that has been in the community for 150 years and they  support the poor and disabled. THe accusations did not make sense.

In 1995 the government began ramping up arrests along the California and Texas borders.  The government thought the Sonora desert would never be used as a coridor for migration , it was simply too dangerous.  The  government does not recognise the desperation of poverty.  So  in 1999, 37 bodies were found in the desert.  So the congregations and SOuthside began to  put water out.  A group called Humane Borders was developed and put out 55 gallondrums of water at 45 sites with Blue flags to mark them.   Baased on anecdotal evidence many lives were saved.  But the deaths continued in the desert.

In 2002,  a group sponsored by the church called Samaritans began.  These were volunteers with 4 wheel drives stuffed by doctors/EMTs with water and medical supplies.  They went in search of migrants in distress.  The most common distress was dehydration but just as common were feet blistering.  People wouldener the desert with the shoes that they had, flip flops, high heels and their feet would blister and become raw.   Eventually they would not be able to walk and keep up with their group. They would be abandoned.  Samaritan drivers would sometimes find them crawling on their hands and knees because they could no longer subject their feet to the terrain.  WOmen would be beaten and raped.  THey wouldbe impacted by desert environment health conditions such as heart attacks and strokes or injuries.  People would fall nad twist or break legs.  Risk of rattlesnake bites would also be realized.

In 2004, No More Deaths established a permenant presence by setting up camps to provide water, food, blankets.  Several volunteers were arrested for littering with water filled bottles.

Stories begansurfacing about what happens when people are deported. THey aredropped off on the  other side of the border with no contacts, no resources there.  Many would  simply turn around and try to re-enter.  So in2006 an Aid station at the border was developed to provide resources and food.

To be continued:  Part 2

Isabel Garcia: Not About Papers

This morning the SOAWatch delegation met with Isabel Garcia, Coalicion de Dereche Humanas (Coalition of Human Rights)  and attorney here in Tucson.  This is a summary of her talk.

THere is a broader view of what is happening  here on the border and across the US than the need for immigration reform. The Gang of 8 who presented an immigration bill in congress is counting on the American people’s ignorance of their own history with Mexico which is a long and engaged history.  There are three things that are facing us regarding immigration reform:

1) ignorance

2) Fear

3) Arrogance– there is a white supremacy attached to Americans that even people of color attach themselves to as Americans that places them against their own interests.

In the center of Tucson there is an altar/ a shrine where for thirteen years every Thursday evening people gather to remember thedeaths of immigrants who died in the deserts.  It is estimated that since 1999 over 10 Thousand deaths; 6 thousand documented have occured by people desparate to find a new life.  The Medical Examiner has stated based on climate that it can take as short a period of time as 2 weeks for a body to be skeletized. There was a fourteen year old deported with no one knowing who was identified by the ring on her skeletal finger.  The father said this could not be because she was only missing for less than 3 weeks but her ring found on her skeletal finger told the story otherwise.

This is a story that begins in the early 1900’s with the mistreatment of the Chinese.  To find workers, industry and the government have encouraged Mexicans to enter unlawfully and the businesses wanted them.  Around 1916/1918, There was a head tax place on employers hiring foriegn workers. If a company wanted to hire a foreigner to work there was a head tax placed.  THis arrangement was with the Department of Treasury.  By departmental order this head tax was waived for Mexican workers.

In the 1930’s the “Mexican repatriation” occurrred with over 500K Mexicans deported.  But at the start of World War II the need for Mexican agricultural workers were needed.   This was later codified into the Bracero program.  There was instituionalized into our labor department a pattern of repulsion and attraction.  When ever the population began asking questions like, ‘ Why am I losing my job?  Why am I losing my home?  The answer was immediately it is the immigrant.

It was said that the Bracero Program provided the railroad and aggricultural soldiers of the war effort.  Come to the US we have jobs here… now leave we are done with you here.  So there is in the United States a pattern of repulsion and attraction when it comes to labor south of the border.

In the 1990’s there was a promise that NAFTA (North American Fair Trade Aggreement) was going to end the need of migration. With NAFTA was the beginning of the building of a military type border for the first time.  But NAFTA did not end the need of migration instead there were over 6 million jobs have been lost throughout Latin America because of US businesses under cutting costs of Mexican and other Central American countries businesses.

As has been predicted by human rights organizations in the 1990’s everything done to immigrants is being extended to the rest of the population with increased use of drones and surveillance.  Private Military contractors are here at the border.  These for profit contractors were the ones that were in Afghanistan and Iraq. So they provide  lots of technical expertise.

The Correction Corporation of America (CCA) in Tucson, the for proift prison received $17 million per month to simply incarcerate the immigrants who are sentenced through the courts Operation Streamline.  There have been 2 suicides in a CCA facility a month ago.  These detention camps are a form of Torture.  Operation Streamline began here in July 2008.  Who benefits from those who are criminalized?  Up to 70 people are processed a day.  The immigration bill proposed in Congress will increase the ability to process up to 200 a day.  THe process in quick fashion is initial appearance, waiver of constitutional rights, and guilty charge.  THis takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on the judge.  The immigrants facing deportation are all chained en masse at the ankles and waists. The fastest growing felony is being found guilty of re-entry after the initial deportation.  In 2009 it cost taxpayers  $22 million a month to run the streamline court.

Contrast these two costs with the closure of the Pima County Post Office because of lack of funds.  THe post office which ensures that people in rural Pima County have access to medications by mail, have the ability to receive and send packages and costs $14 million a year to run.  The state is cutting education because of lack of funds.  Yet $39 million dollars a month is required to build an economic system around incarceration of immigrants. A new Chicano middleclass is being created by the Border Patrol Industry offering as of 2009 salaries at $83K.  Operation Stone Garden increases funds to local enforcement thereby increasing buy in by the community. THere are currently 4200 Border Patrol Agents and the number of those crossing the border is down drastically.  What happens if there is no need for their jobs?

To secure the new economy, individual risk assessments are being done which increases the process to maintain those in detention.  There is an avatar that has been created by a University to detect lying.  THere are 15 bio metric systems the avatar checks for and there is only the  human capacity to control three of them.  THis is currently being used on US visitors for background checks and border crossing visas. Check points are in violation of the 4th ammendment.  THe Supreme court upheld this but  they are wrong in doing so.

The Immigration bill as proposed will remove the family basis preference for immigration in favor of a merit basis.  If a brother or siser is a US citizen there will still be the possibility of citizenship but the wait is an automatic 12 years.  Currently, If you enter the country lawfully but your visa lapses for six months you are banned from applying for citizenship for 3 years.  If you entered the country lawfully but your visa lapsed for a year or more the ban is automatically 10 years. The immigration bill will increase more check points, increase surveilence, and extend the militarized border 100 miles in from the border. There are 37 federal laws that will be violated by this act.

The proposed immigration bill is very limited. It includes 100% surveilence and it conditions it on E-verify.  It will require a bio-metric card.  All DMV records will be accessible by Homeland Security. It will not be fully implemented unless there is a 90% success rate of apprehensions at the border, the house version requires 95% success. How does one measure success of an unknown?

This is not about having papers, the fight for immigrant rights is about being free from harassment by Law Enforcement. It is not about Papers!!!

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 11:38 pm  Comments Off on Isabel Garcia: Not About Papers  
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School of America’s Watch Delegation

I will be posting my experiences of the School of America’s Delegation this week along the Militarized border of Arizona and Nogales.

A brief introduction:  School of America’s Watch is a non-profit organization whose goal is to close the School of Americas located at Fort Benning, GA.  The School of Americas trains military and police from Latin American countries which then have used the training against their own people.  You may remember the Iran-Contra Affair in the 1980’s under Reagan where in exchange of weapons sold to Iran, hostages held in Iran would be freed and the money would allow US Intelligence Agencies to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.  The Contras were trained by the School of Americas.

This trip by SOA Watch is to learn about the militarization that is happening at unprecedented rates at the border. The first few days will be with Borderlinks, an organization that grew up out of the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980’s.  The Sanctuary Movement  provided shelter within congregations to refugees from Nicaragua and El Salvador where violence caused by the trained personell of the school of Americas.  To provide asylum to these refugees would have implicated the US in their participation in the violence in these countries.  In the years since,the passage of NAFTA displaced another 6 million people who lost their source of income.  Many of these individuals came north to seek employment.

Today’s schedule inccludes a discussion with Isabel Garcia, co-chair of the Coalicion de Derechos Humanas, a grassroots organization that promotes respect for human and civil rights and fights the militarization of the border region in the American Southwest.  She is also the legal defender of Pima County, Arizona.  After Lunch we will meet with John Fife at Southside Presyterian Church.  He was convicted in 1986, along with others, of a felony for aiding the illegal entrance of migrants into the US.  We will also meet with Stephanie Quintana of the Southside Day Labor Center.

Tomorrow we will meet with Matt Lowen and Murphy Woodhouse about the criminalization of migration.  And in the afternoon, attend a hearing of Operation Streamline which began in 2008.  This is a zero tolerance program targeting illegal entrants apprehended along the Arizona border with Mexico.  They currrently process 70 -100 immigrants a day and with the passage of the current Immigration bill proposed in Congress will have their funding increased to process over 200 immigrants a day.  On Wednesday, our last day in Tucson we will go on a hike with No More Deaths.  A deverse coalition of individuals, faith communities, human rights advocates who provide humanitarian aid along the desert.

More to come…

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm  Comments Off on School of America’s Watch Delegation  
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Welcoming Tsarnaev home

People are quite adamant that the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev not be given a burial ground.  Even people within my faith community are questioning why any Unitarian Universalist might offer a grave site to this man who caused so much pain in his last few weeks of life.  Here is my response.  It will not be a popular one, I am sure.

Unitarian Universalists ever since the shooting within one of our congregations in Knoxville have redoubled our  insistence to respond with love.  A whole new movement sprung up within our faith about Standing on the Side of Love and not allowing hatred or violence against us thwart us in our pursuit for justice. And so the reasons for that shooting became the motivation for us to be even more public in our support for equal marriage rights, immigration reform, and reproductive rights.

Being on the side of love, however, does not mean doing the popular thing or even the feel good thing. It does not mean doing the thing that will win the cheers of people the world over.  Being on the side of love means doing the hard thing, the thing that is right because we believe as our Universalist heritage teaches us that all people are loved, that all people are received back into their eternal home.  Yes, even mass murderers are welcomed home to god.  We all return to that which we were before. And being on the side of love recognizes this.  All people are saved.  All people are loved and embraced by god. All people go to heaven. Love wins. That is what our Universalist forebears taught.  And so to respond with compassion for a body, to grieve for the unseen unrealized potential of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and provide him with a burial ground is very much in line with our tradition of unconditional love.  It is very much in line with our values.

We may never know what Tsarnaev true motivations were for the acts of violence he committed.  But the truth is each of us have the same potential for violence within us just as we have the same potential for love.  So providing a burial site for Tsarnaev is a very strong proclamation of the Love that loves us all–inspite of his sins, inspite of all the hatred he spewed in his acts of violence.  He is still that little baby boy that his mother held close to her breasts when he was born. He is still that laughing child on his father’s knee. He is still that child of god. And the god that loves unconditionally, our Universalist forebears taught, welcomes him home.

I understand the repulsion people are feeling towards him.   But the reason I understand that repulsion is because I recognize within my self the same potential for committing evil given the right circumstances.  And the repulsion is a denying of that potential for evil that lies within.  We know it and we want to distance ourselves from it. So we abhor it when we see it committed by another, especially another who claims to be one of us.  Anyone who denies their potential for committing evil has not truly looked into their own hearts and reflected on what is there. They have not recognized that righteous indignation and the acts of violence Tsarnaev committed come from the same root within us.   This is  the 40 days in the desert where Jesus wrestled with temptation / the evil one,  this is the internal demons that Gandhi talked about wrestling. It is the harnessing of nuclear power for good and then building a weapon of mass destruction and releasing that destruction over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  This potential for evil lies within each of us.  Yes, I mean you and me.

Tsarnaev expressed the potential for evil instead of the potential for good. It is sad. It is grievous.  It is painful to witness and experience. But in spite of it all.  He still is welcomed home into the hands of a loving Universe. His body will return to mother earth whether we bury him or not.  I can bury his body as I grieve the lost potential of his life.

My faith teaches me to love.  That does not mean I condone his actions.

What is the compassionate thing?  What is the most loving thing?  What is the thing that will bring about healing for the living–his family, his victims of violence?  Certainly it cannot be to leave his body to rot in a cooler. I applaud those who are offering to bury his body and return him from whence he came.  Back to the universe, back to mother earth, back to the loving hands of a creator who loves unconditionally and also grieves over this child’s lost potential for creating good.