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.