Walking Toward Trouble

Almost four years ago on July 29 2010, I was in Arizona to protest and prevent the implementation of the nation’s harshest anti-immigration law.  I was asked to be there by colleague Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix.  She made a passionate plea to her colleagues in June of that year to help protect families that were being torn apart.  I went and while I ultimately did not choose to be one of those arrested, I fully committed myself to prevent what I believe with all my heart to be an inhumane treatment of immigrants in a nation that ironically gained its greatest strengths and gifts from immigrants during its 238 year history.

Within a year, Alabama, the state I currently call home, passed its omnibus bill HB 56 into law.  A law, that if the Supreme Court had not intervened would have prevented churches from providing services to immigrants as any support, including worship, that enabled immigrants to stay in the state would be illegal. I personally was told by the sponsor of this bill, that if I had undocumented worshipers in my congregation, I would be arrested along with them. I spoke out against that bill.  I helped organize interfaith rallies, supported the formation of a local Latino advocacy group, and was ultimately arrested at the State House in civil disobedience of this law. Most of the law was struck down in federal court as unconstitutional.  Alabama appealed but was denied a hearing, the decision was final.

In my community of Tuscaloosa, I am witnessing the undocumented becoming laissez-faire in their concerns about immigration rights.  Because HB 56 was gutted of its most heinous provisions, they no longer feel an immediate threat.  Life has returned pretty much to where it was before passage. Still precarious, but if they keep their heads down, keep their businesses on the down-low, they are able to continue unseen, and live their life relatively undisturbed.  The law is not rounding people up in random searches as feared, even ICE’s Secure Communities (S-COMM) which Tuscaloosa is a participant, is not seen as a threat to their families’ safety.  Yes, they hear of other communities in Alabama where families are being torn apart through deportation, but it isn’t happening to them or so they think, and therefore they have relaxed their own concerns about immigration rights.   Yes, they hear of neighbors being deported but it is an accepted, albeit defeated, reality of that’s just the way it is.

In the course of the last four years, Tuscaloosa has been the host to NDLON’s Undocubus, Nun’s on a Bus, and Fast4Families.  All trying to strengthen the base community to the realities that our immigration policy remains shattered and ineffective and is personally aimed at the Latino community that needs to be organized and strong.  Meanwhile our borders are increasingly militarized.  Life along the border is not the same experience  one has in the interior of the country. I remember the first time I came across a border patrol stop on the I-10 in Arizona entering California in 2005.  I thought I had left my country.  These were heavily armed officers who were simply standing in the highway stopping every car. Other check points are more sophisticated with pull offs that at a glance look like weigh stations but are border patrol stops.  But on this day, there was no official station, they were simply standing in the road with their guns, stopping every vehicle.  They were intimidating.  Their presence made my heart race with fear.  When I was in Nogales, a city divided by a 30 foot wall, the militarization was even more intense.  I heard stories of drones flying overhead spying on the residents below and I saw first hand what it must feel like in a war zone, not knowing if the next minute will bring ICE breaking down the door.  I do not know how to convince my undocumented friends here in Tuscaloosa that this is not the time for complacency but to re-new their efforts to organize.  How can I convince them that what is happening at the border is going to have consequences that affect their lives in deeply personal and profound ways–when these groups that they welcomed here have not been able to convince them? I suppose this is a rhetorical question.

I remain as committed as ever to help ensure that our country does the right thing regarding immigration. I take seriously the command  “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Elsewhere it states, “you must love the foreigner” and “treat the foreigner as a native-born.”  It is core to my faith of loving our neighbor as ourselves.   At this point, immigration reform can only come after a full and complete repentance of our cold indifference to the plight of others.  We have a congress that has been wasting our tax dollars on their hatred of President Obama instead of working to find solutions to the very real problems that keep our nation from moving forward.  We need a new congress and a new re-working of how we are going to handle immigration without turning our nation into a militarized zone.

At our annual Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in June, we passed an action of immediate witness which, like Rev. Frederick-Gray’s call above, invited Unitarian Universalists to come to Washington, DC, and participate in a faith summit that might include civil disobedience, July 30-August 2.   During the debate, Rev. Wendy Von Zirpolo, stated: [A]t the Ware Lecture, Sister Simone Campbell called upon us to walk toward trouble. When minor children are being warehoused and talked about as if they were things or animals, trouble. When people who are black and brown, citizen or not, are routinely detained at our borders for hours, the borders of their lives, communications, and bodies violated, trouble. When children live in fear of a knock on the door or the door being torn entirely from its hinges, meaning another parent taken, trouble.

I am going to DC.  I am going to walk toward trouble.  While my undocumented friends here in Tuscaloosa may not be able to walk toward trouble, I am using my privilege to do so on their behalf.  It is a form of intercessory prayer to walk toward trouble in order to prevent more trouble, more pain, more grief, more unbearable anguish of separation. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it redemptive suffering. I believe another word for it is love.  This is what abiding universal love calls us to do for one another.

I do not want my friends to live a life  resigned to living in the shadows in order to give their families a better opportunity.  I do not want the children refugees that are streaming across the border because their home countries are no longer safe for them to be met with fear and hatred.  Their arrival, by the way,  is the result of 50 years of US foreign policy decisions that trained their militias to commit violence against their own people. Policies that opened the door for US corporations to rape their land’s resources and force farmers off their lands.   We are the ones who are culpable for their arriving at our borders. We created this crisis with our own exceptionalist manner of interacting with our neighbors on the global scene.  So I will walk toward trouble to let my country know that this wrong needs to stop.  We can begin by stopping the deportations.

The president said he has a pen and a phone to intervene on immigration.  It is past time that he uses them.


Bring Moral Mondays to Alabama!

The state of Alabama is considered one of the poorest states in the nation.  Governor Bentley in his state of the State address brought home the point that Alabama has the poorest county in the nation.  Yet, he refuses to allow medicaid expansion because after three years of full Federal funding, the state would gradually be required to pay 10% of the tab by 2020.  A price tag that he believes is harmful to the people of Alabama–despite the 435K additional lives Medicaid expansion will save–despite the 12,000 jobs created to the health care field by 2016–despite the additional creation of jobs that a billion new dollars coming into the state annually would generate.  This action by the governor does not serve the people of this state even though he feigns concern for the citizens in Wilcox County, the poorest county in the nation with double digit unemployment rate in post ‘Great Recession’ America.  He is doing nothing to ensure these people have access to health care despite his protests of care and concern.

His stance is unethical.  At best he is being penny wise and pound foolish, but his disdain for the federal government is made complete by his total lack of compassion and concern for the people of this state.  There is another word for people who voice 100% disdain for the federal government–unpatriotic.  Now I am not one who insists on flag waving to show patriotic sentiments nor do I believe in the mantra ‘my country right or wrong.’  But when attempts to help people in dire straits such as the good people ofWilcox County and elsewhere in the state, and he refuses to accept that help solely because he is against the President of this country, then he is unpatriotic and a hypocrite.  A governor worth their salt would graciously accept the federal government aid and seek to find ways to implement it in ways that show innovative ways to empower the citizenry as well.

His leadership is being followed by the state legislature with bills that are equally unethical and immoral. The current HB31, the Health Care Rights of Conscience Act is exhibit A in a list of ill conceived and immoral attacks on the people of Alabama.  This bill is aimed at preserving the rights of people of conscience in the health care field to refuse to treat people whose life choices they disagree with.  The bill is specifically aimed at those who are seeking “abortion, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization.”  And the services are the full continuum from admission to treatment care.

This act has language that hints at  later expansion of conscience to other religious objections.  Our state still criminalizes homosexuality for example and is already a target by conservative religious groups.

The bill reminds me of an earlier time in the nation’s history when in the 1980s and 90s hundred of thousands of people living with AIDS were denied health care because the staff at hospitals and hospices were opposed to homosexuality and fearful of the disease.  It reminds me of an even earlier time when people struck by polio were denied services because it was believed they had done something wrong to incur God’s wrath.  This bill is only different in that this bill legalizes such refusal based on questionable theological grounds.  I do not recall anywhere in the Christian Scriptures where Jesus said to heal the sick unless your conscience dictates  to disagree with their life choices.

This bill increase stigmatization and is intended to bring shame on those who for a myriad of reasons have come to the decision to abort a pregnancy.  Such a bill is immoral.

This is not the first time this state in recent history attempted to legalize discriminatory practices against people disapproved of by the State Legislature.  As if the State Legislature has the moral authority to make such proclamations.  HB 56 passed into law a few years ago had several provisions in it that would force citizens of this state to discriminate against immigrants.  The sections deemed immoral by leaders across the religious spectrum were eventually permanently struck down by the 11th circuit court.

Exhibit B is SB 194 which would fast track the appeals process in capital punishment cases. This fast tracking would increase the risk of putting wrongly convicted people to death.  The governor and the state legislature have made clear their desire to eliminate abortions in the state and their actions to date show the need to show utmost prudence when making a decision to abort a pregnancy. While I personally believe it is ultimately the woman’s right to choose the fate of her body, I agree that prudence in making such a decision is of utmost importance. It is not one that should be made in a cavalier manner.  This same prudence should be shown for people convicted of crimes judged to be worthy of the death sentence. Insisting that such prudence be made at the end of life is also of utmost importance and also should not be made in a cavalier manner.  Fast tracking death sentences shows disdain for life just as much as fast tracking a decision to abort a fetus.  This bill shows the hypocrisy and the lack of moral aptitude of the state legislature.

The state legislature is facing an election year.  They are wanting to get bills passed in double time so they can spend their time campaigning.  The people of Alabama need to make clear that their actions have hurt the people of Wilcox County and no amount of using their name in vain will persuade us that they have any other intentions then to continue doing so.   If these and other bills of questionable moral standing pass as have other bills in the past few years, then we the people must make our voice clear at the election booth and vote out such people who are more concerned for their own self interests than they are for the people of this state.   We need to slow down the State legislature this year in making their hideous laws.  One way to do so is bring the Moral Monday Civil Rights movement in North Carolina to Alabama. We need to act now.

Published in: on January 18, 2014 at 10:21 am  Comments Off on Bring Moral Mondays to Alabama!  
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Opening Words[i]:

The Torah tells us: “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19: 33-34).

In the Christian New Testament, Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger for “What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do unto me” (Mathew 25:40).

The Qur’an tells us that we should “serve God…and do good to…orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet, and those who have nothing.” (4:36)

The Hindu scripture Taitiriya Upanishad tells us: “The guest is a representative of God.”

And in the Unitarian Universalist tradition that teaches that sacred text can be written and spoken by people of all times and places; Martin Luther King Jr tells us: “Love is the only cement that can hold this broken community together. When I am commanded to love, I am commanded to restore community, to resist injustice, and to meet the needs of my siblings.


What does borderline mean?  Merriam-Webster Dictionary online offers several definitions of the word. There are two definitions that I want to lift up today.

  1. 1.      c : characterized by psychological instability in several areas (as interpersonal relations, behavior, and identity) but only with brief or no psychotic episodes <a borderline personality disorder>
  2. 2.      : situated at or near a border <a borderline town>

There are other forms of borders or boundaries that help to establish the identity of an object.  Our skin is a border of sorts.  It functions to keep that which is us, our internal organs safe from dirt and invading organisms.  It also aids in providing distinguishing markers that help identify us from someone else.  A mole below the eye or a tattoo on the shoulder or calf can aid in identifying who we are.  We sometimes come to conclusions, sometimes accurate, sometimes not accurate by looking at the person.  For example, we can tell if they are healthy or ill. Or sometimes we gather something of their personality by the way they adorn their skin.  Multiple body piercings or tattoos may suggest something about their character; again it may be an accurate or inaccurate read of the person.  The kind of clothes a person wears may also establish a boundary.

So what identifies us as a nation through the tangible and non-tangible aspects of our national borders? What message are we sending to our global neighbors?  When I went to the Mexican border I was struck by the ease in crossing the US border into Mexico.  I went twice into Mexico, once by van and once on foot.  Both times we simply entered into Mexican space.  There was no guard to check our papers. No surveillance cameras videoing our passage across.  We simply drove or walked as freely as we drive or walk along the streets and sidewalks outside of our homes to work or church.  There was no question to our right to be there.

Upon return we had to prove our right to enter into the United States.  Driving back across, the guard merely collected our passports, verified them and handed them back.  He did not look to see if we were hiding someone in the van.  He simply waived us on after returning the passports.  On walking back into the States we were asked more questions. Not all of us, only some of us were asked questions.  Most of the questions were about purchases.  However, one member of our party, a citizen of the USA for over 20 years was detained.  He was questioned about our activities.  Why were we only in Mexico for a few hours.  We were volunteering at the Comedore, the soup kitchen and at the Women’s shelter both run by Kino Border Initiative.  He was then taken inside the building to a room where the same questions were asked repeatedly, first by the same person, then by another person.  He sat there.  And sat there. Waiting to be released. They told him this was just a random check but his nationality suggests otherwise.  He was born in Iran.  His passport shows that he has traveled extensively to other countries.  We waited for him to be released.  We were not allowed to find out what was happening to him.  We were not allowed to wait at the border we were told we must leave the area.  Eventually, he was told he could go but was not told how to exit the building.  So he asked, the agent dismissively asked another to take him.  This agent speaks to him in Spanish and he responds that he does not speak Spanish.  The agent says, “Oh, you speak English!” and then says nothing more to him, not even translating what was originally said to him.   In telling this most recent episode, our friend shares he is frequently stopped when re-entering the country.  Random checks that become the expected experience are no longer random.

One of our guides for the week was Tito, a Presbyterian minister who lives in Mexico and works for No More Death’ s sister organization, HEPAC  abbreviated for the translation House of Peace and Hope in Nogales, Sonora.  His work takes him across the border almost daily.  So he has a frequent crosser card that has biometric data on him. It is to speed up the process for crossing.  However, that card does not always help him cross.   Recently he tried to cross so he could attend a church meeting in Nogales, AZ.  The guard looks at him, checks out his card and asks him multiple questions.  He is told by the guard that he looks like a bad man.  Tito, tells him he is clergy and shows him his clergy identification card—a card by the way that I have never been required to show or need to have, even when I am not wearing clerical collar people believe me when I say I am clergy—the guard however does not believe him. His belongings are searched. The guard tells him he is not allowed to cross today.  Reason?  The guard says he has a hunch he is a bad man and says to him come back tomorrow, today you cannot cross.  Tito had to cancel his meeting because of an arbitrary whim of the guard at the border. Tito reports this sort of harassment at the border happens regularly to him.    The point of a specialized border crossing card is to prevent the need for such scrutinizing behavior by USA agents.

What does this say about the character of the USA that freely can walk into another country without so much as a bat of an eye but then scrutinizes its own citizens and guests?

This experience contrasted with my entering into Canada a year before where I was questioned as to my business in the Province of Quebec and receiving the same questioning when I was re-entering the USA.  There is a level of respect for Canada that does not seem to exist for Mexico.  There exists a putrid air of USA privilege in our ease of walking into Mexico.

The border wall is about 30 feet high. At the base of the USA side is slanted concrete with jagged rocks so if the people should jump the fence they will break their ankles or legs upon landing.  It is deliberately built to cause harm to those who cross. The wall comes in from the east and from the west and both ends stop at the beginnings of the Sonora Desert.  The desert was thought to be a deterrent all onto itself and the federal government did not expect people to actually attempt to cross there.  Since the walls have been built more than 6,000 human remains have been recovered from the desert.  There are believed to be thousands more that will probably never be recovered because the bodies disintegrate within weeks after death and because of the untold number who cross into the  Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation northwest of Sasabe, Sonora, Mexico.

Some history of the wall is needed.  Militarization of the US/Mexican border began shortly after the passage of the NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The wall was first built in 1994 dividing the city of Nogales, a city divided circa 1850 when the USA annexed a part of Mexico so that a railroad would not have to cross into Mexico.  Prior to 1994, the city enjoyed the free movement of people back and forth the border.  They visited family and friends; they enjoyed their common cultural heritage together as any city on a border should.

For example here in Alabama, Phenix City is on the border of Columbus, GA.   Because so many people living in Phenix City work in Columbus and at Fort Benning, Phenix City chooses to be in the Eastern Time Zone, even though officially all of Alabama is within the Central Time Zone.  This is what border cities do. They share common interests.  They engage in healthy dialog. They have a shared identity.

Now imagine the message sent if Georgia suddenly decided to place a wall between Phenix City and Columbus, Georgia.  Imagine if, the people of Phenix City were told they had to apply for guest worker visas to now work in Columbus, GA because they were not citizens of GA.  That now they would have to seek permission from Georgia before they could enter Columbus, GA. If they had family in Georgia and they were caught being with their family without proper papers in hand, they would be deported and denied further access.  But Georgians could freely enter Phenix City without question.

That is what happened in the city of Nogales.  People from the USA have the privilege of entering Nogales, Sonora, Mexico with not a care in the world. Why? Because they are Americans… true blue.  But entering the USA, even being a true blue American is not enough, we have to question you and detain you.

This is paranoid behavior.  This is fearful behavior.  This may even qualify for the borderline personality definition given earlier—“characterized by psychological instability in several areas.”

But before we jump to this conclusion let’s look deeper into the border.  Since 1994, the USA has increased the militarization of the border with sophisticated military tactical and highly skilled marksmen, marksmen that are only bested by the Secret Service and Navy Seal.  They recruit soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, two wars that have resulted in the highest number of military suicides[ii] and post-traumatic stress disorder of any military campaign ever undertaken by the USA, including the Civil War.

During my visit to the Women’s shelter run by the Kino Border Initiative, I heard stories of women who were carried out of the desert because they could no longer walk only to have the Border patrol agents dump them off their stretchers onto the ground and handcuff and shackle them.  Women who were shoved and corralled into cages on trucks[iii] like they were cattle sent to the slaughter.  Derogatory language used by the border patrol to address the women.  These stories of abuse towards immigrants at the border not to mention the increasing number of Mexican civilians on the Mexican side of the wall being killed by border patrol agents lead me to wonder if there are links to undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)[iv] from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, where many border patrol personnel are recruited.  A study of the mental health screening for PTSD at twelve law enforcement agencies including border patrol revealed only two do a minimal screening specific to PTSD.   The border patrol application process does not indicate any psychological testing or specific screening[v] for PTSD but with 10-20% of returning veterans having some level of PTSD and up to 65% returning veterans stating it would be considered a sign of weakness to seek treatment for PTSD, it is likely that a small percentage of Border Patrol Agents are indeed suffering from this disorder before they are hired.

The border is lined with surveillance cameras that are not currently in use.  They were built at a cost of millions but were deemed unnecessary by the border patrol.  Their mere presence however gives an intimidating feel of a George Orwell novel of Big Brother watching.   The use of surveillance drones flying overhead has increased, adding to the Orwellian milieu. The fact that our government is using drones in the 100 mile zone of the border should cause us much alarm.

The recent leaks revealing that the NSA has been collecting data on American Citizens phone and internet contacts makes the use of drones on the border suspect of other activities.  President Obama’s admission that civil liberties must be compromised for the sake of 100% security is not a reassuring statement into defining the character of who we are as a nation.  This behavior of spying on our own strengthens the borderline paranoia diagnosis.

My visit to the border of Nogales, AZ and Mexico has reaffirmed one thing for me.  What we do in the United States of America is not done in a vacuum.  Yes, we need Immigration law reform but it would be extremely naïve to think that this legislation, regardless of the content of this bill, will fix our immigration system. We cannot fix our immigration laws in a vacuum and assume everything else is working fine.  The reasons why 11 million immigrants chose to enter the USA without inspection, the civil offense they committed are multi-faceted and based in the policies we created—NAFTA destroyed the Mexican farmer and coerced the sale of their lands to US corporations.  School of the Americas trained the military that staged wars and coups, most recently the Honduras coup cascading thousands of refugees from that country seeking safety for their lives.  The Mexican cartel that now controls the Mexican side of the border was trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning.  We, the taxpayer are accomplices to the violence that is occurring along the border as desperate people seek to reunite with their families in the USA.  According to a legal dictionary, “In Criminal Law[vi], [an accomplice is] contributing to or aiding in the commission of a crime. One who, without being present at the commission of an offense, becomes guilty of such offense, not as a chief actor, but as a participant, as by command, advice, instigation, or concealment; either before or after the fact or commission.”  

While we the taxpayer could claim no knowledge of this, much like the citizens of Germany claimed no knowledge of the atrocities their government committed against the Jews, yet just as the Germans before us, by our electing and authorizing leaders who do have full knowledge and assent to these actions makes us participants in the continual slaughter and inhumane treatment of innocent people.

The ultimate question becomes who are we as a nation—are we a nation that arrogantly does whatever it wants to people in other nations?  Or are we a nation that with humility is in relationship with its neighbors? Will we recognize that what we portend as being in our best interests may have a profound debilitating negative impact on other nations and therefore  is ultimately not in our best interest.  The School of the Americas, NAFTA, and CAFTA are not ultimately in the best interests of our nation because they have caused and continue to cause untold suffering in the nations implemented.  As one refugee from the recent coup by SOA trained militia in Honduras stated, “If I am going to die in Honduras of hunger then I would rather die struggling to live.”

West Cosgrove of Kino Border Initiative put it more eloquently when he said, “[vii]I believe profoundly that the conversation, the debate about immigrants and immigration law is NOT ultimately about the immigrants, IT IS ABOUT US. It is about what kind of people we will be, will we be a welcoming, kind, accepting culture, people, country or will we continue to leave out the poor, the needy, the ones that walk with God.  Will we continue to harden our hearts and exclude anyone that we believe is not one of us, or will we live up to the best of our faith and national traditions and ‘welcome the stranger’?”

The policies we have enacted over the last 100 years as a nation have led to our national desire to place a wall between us and all we have created.  We do not want to be reminded of what we have done to our neighbors to the south.  These policies have created a severe personality of paranoia and fear.   The immigration reform bill in the Senate will reinforce this paranoia by increasing the militarization of the border threefold against an enemy that is only in our collective mind.

Is this an accurate portrayal of who we are as a nation?  And if it is, is this who we want to continue to be?  I believe in our potential to be better than what fear and paranoia tells us.  It is time to tell our elected government and our unelected government (the corporations):  ¡Basta! Enough!

We do not want to be accomplices to the human rights violations of separating families, any longer.  We do not want to be accomplices to the violence and deaths by the SOA trained Mexican Cartel, any longer. We do not want to be accomplices to the human rights violations occurring in the for-profit Prison industry, any longer. Nor held accountable to their maintaining a 90% capacity rate by rounding up in the name of national security, soccer moms whose only crime is that they refused to wait 20 years for permission to enter this country and begin a better and safer life for them and their family.   We do not want to be accomplices the devastating impacts of US farm subsidies on Mexican farmers, any longer.  We do not want to be accomplices to military coups, any longer.

How about being accomplices to creating a nation that lives up to its highest creed:  Where equality, liberty and justice for all people is the borderline that defines who we are.  Justo Gonzales[viii] once said, “A true border, a true place of encounter, is by nature, permeable.  It is not like medieval armor, but rather like skin.  While our skin does set a limit to where our bodies begin and where it ends, if we ever close up our skin, we die.”

 Borderlines sermon delivered by Rev. Fred L Hammond   9 June 2013 ©  to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

[ii] The current rate of military suicides is 2 to 3 times higher than the rate of suicides by military personnel in the Civil War.  http://nation.time.com/2012/08/06/new-study-u-s-military-suicide-rate-now-likely-double-or-triple-civil-wars/

[iii] I thought I heard this during my visit but thought I surely misunderstood.  I heard recently (June 7 2013) testimony at a meeting with Congress representatives Sewell and Gutierrez; a former veteran who was deployed to the border who stated that people were rounded up like cattle and placed in cages on a truck confirming what I heard was indeed true.

[iv] It is unknown if Border Patrol agents are screened for PTSD before hiring for duty. It is not a requirement in their application criteria to be free from any mental disability that may result in erratic or irrational behavior. http://www.pdhealth.mil/clinicians/downloads/PTSD_COCS.pdf

[vii] West Cosgrove email to the SOA Watch Delegation Monday June 3 2013

[viii] From a power point presentation by West Cosgrove, Education Director at Kino Border Initiative, Nogales, Arizona.  Contact:  wcosgrove@kinoborderinitiative.org

Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration

Last week I was part of a delegation with the School of the America’s Watch, the non-profit group that is seeking to close down the School of the Americas Military training camp at Fort Benning, GA.  SOAWatch has added to their mission to understand the effects of militarization within Latin American countries and along the border of the USA.  Their hope is this additional understanding will aid in their goal of shutting down the camp at Fort Benning and aid in the goal for humane immigration reform.

So among the many delegations SOAWatch planned this year, one of them was to visit the Arizona/ Mexico border at Nogales.  Nogales is a city divided by the annexation of land in the 1850’s to enable a railroad to not cross the border into Mexico.  Prior to 1994, this was a city where its people crossed the border daily to be with family, to work, to enjoy the mingling of two cultures.

The United States of America has had a schizophrenic approach to immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.  In 1910 we encouraged Mexicans to cross the US border to aid in harvesting crops.  The nation had a distain for Chinese immigrants so the nation passed a head tax on immigrant workers.  However, employers who hired Mexican immigrants were given a waiver on this tax to encourage the hiring of more people from south of our borders. Many of these workers came up seasonally, would follow the harvest north and then when the harvest was done, return to Mexico.  Then when the depression hit, we deported many immigrants back to Mexico but ten years later we were at war and the need for labor to harvest our crops and to build railroads was once again in demand.  Many came across only to be deported at the end of the war with the promise that their final pay would be soon forthcoming. There are still survivors of the Bracero Program living in Mexico still waiting for the USA to make good on their promise of payment.

In the 1950’s we passed two pieces of federal legislation, federal codes 1325 and 1326.  When we talk about the undocumented having illegal presence here, we are referring to code 1325. This code referred specifically to entry without inspection.  It refers to entering our country without going through a specific port of entry.  It is a civil offense, not a criminal offense. Part of the argument that the US Supreme court has with Legislation such as Alabama’s HB 56 is that the State sought to change this civil offense to a criminal offense.

Federal Code 1326 refers to re-entry without inspection after deportation. For those who have no violent criminal records this includes up to a two year sentence, if the person while here in this country also has committed violent crimes, the sentence can be up to ten years.

Along the border six of the 9 sectors are prosecuting individuals who are guilty of 1326, meaning they have been deported at least once before. It is considered a felony.  Operation Streamline, a misnomer because none of the courts are doing this in the same manner, will sentence and convict en mass a number of people charged with violating 1325 and 1326.  In Tucson, up to 70 people are sentenced per day in a court hearing that can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two and a half hours depending on the thoroughness of the judge.  The defendants are encouraged to plead guilty to the civil offense of entry without inspection to waive the felony charge of re-entry. We have heard reports of being coerced or simply not having the charges explained and told to simply sign to waive their rights. Prior to Operation Streamline, a person would simply be deported, but now they are given an arbitrary sentence between 30 and 180 days in prison.

The federal court in Tucson since the advent of Operation Streamline in July of 2008, now devotes 60% of their time on deportation cases and no longer focus on violent criminals such as murderers and drug dealers. Of the 31 public defenders hired by the Tucson based Federal court, three are made available per day for these individuals. But to assist in processing such a large number, the federal government contracts attorneys at $125 an hour.  Each person is seen for about ten minutes before the mass hearing in the afternoon.  There is nothing the lawyers can do for their clients other than move them through the system.  Justice is not being served here, only a crass form of cattle ranching the accused.

Congress has told us that the federal government has no money and must sequester costs.  Beginning July 1st instead of rotating in three public defenders once a week to see defendants, the 31 public Defenders in Tucson will be rotating twice a year to see defendants. Because these defendants have the constitutional right to legal representation albeit brief and perfunctory, the contract attorneys will be given additional hours.  All at taxpayers cost.  The immigration bill before congress seeks to increase Operation Streamline to all nine sectors along the border and increase the number sentenced and deported in Tucson from 70 per day to 210 per day.  The court case we witnessed in Tucson carried a price tag just shy of one million dollars, this includes the cost of their prison sentence.  This amount of money is spent every day the court is in session in Tucson.   We are told this is a necessary move to secure our borders. It seems doubtful that removing gardeners and maids is insuring national security. The truth is this is a necessary move to ensure the 90% capacity contractual obligations to Corrections Corporation of America.    Our government is lying to us about the need for sequester when cost is of no concern when of utmost importance is the deportation of non-violent offenders for crossing the border.

In 1994 two events took place.  One was the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, aka NAFTA and the other was the building of the wall between the two cities of Nogales. One can only speculate if these two events were connected to each other.  It seems twenty years later the answer to that question is yes.

President Clinton in signing NAFTA into law, said:  “… we have made a decision now that will permit us to create an economic order in the world that will promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment, and a greater possibility of world peace. … through robust commerce …that protects our middle class and gives other nations a chance to grow one, that lifts workers and the environment up without dragging people down, that seeks to ensure that our policies reflect our values.[i] ” None of these outcomes are true.

NAFTA may have created an economic order but it did not promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment or even promote the slightest possibility of world peace. Where ever NAFTA has been implemented there have been massive job loss, displaced people, an increase in criminal networks and cartels, and a growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Also in its wake has been violence and civil unrest as people struggle to maintain what little they have and with fear of losing it all.

NAFTA has several components that were detrimental to the people of Mexico and it is one of the factors that led to a great migration towards the north.  The passage of NAFTA required that the Mexican government repeal Article 27 of their constitution.  Article 27 was the heart and soul of the Mexican Revolution in 1917.  This was the article that promised land to the people in perpetuity. The land was held in communal trust; it could not be sold or traded.  It could be farmed and harvested to feed the people and offer an income.  NAFTA required this be removed, the farmers became owners of the land but the real intention was so US Corporations could purchase the land out from under them.  This was to have devastating results on the Mexican economy which was already fragile after its 1994 financial crisis.

The other piece that NAFTA required was the removal of Mexican farm subsidies to their farmers.  The US farmers however would continue to receive US subsidies and they still do today.  The amount of corn flooding the Mexican market went from 2 million tons in 1992 to 10.3 million tons in 2008. The small farmer could not even grow the corn for the price the US was selling it. Without being able to sell their crops, the Mexicans were unable to pay their taxes and they were forced to sell their land to the US corporations who were eager to purchase it.  The poverty rate in Mexico grew from 35% in 1992 to 55% in 2008.  Over 6 million Mexicans lost employment to the implementation of NAFTA.  President Clinton promised NAFTA would create 200K jobs, a mere drop in the bucket to the number of jobs lost here in the USA and in Mexico.  The wall between our two countries began to take on a new meaning and purpose.

Along the borders of the USA on the Mexican side sprung up Maquiladoras, factories.  Nogales in Sonora Mexico has dozens of factories that are USA owned and ship their products through the Nogales border port of Mariposa.  One would think with all these factories that the people of Mexico are experiencing the development of a middle class in Mexico just as Clinton predicted.  Sadly, this is not the case.  The average days wage for a factory worker is $8 a day.  A pair of shoes made in Mexico and sold in the USA for $100 only yields 4 cents of that $100 to pay the wages of the Mexican worker. The retailer makes $50 the shoe company makes $33 on that pair of shoes.  If that worker was paid a living wage of $15 an hour, and all other costs remained the same, the cost of that pair of shoes would only go up by 60 cents.  It is a lie that cheap labor elsewhere makes for less expensive goods in the USA.   The truth is cheap labor elsewhere increases profits for the retailor and the manufacturer.

NAFTA has not uplifted the people of the Latin American countries.  The only people NAFTA has uplifted are the rich.

After 9/11 there was a rapid increase in the militarization of the border.  The goal stated was to keep the border safe from terrorists entering the nation.  Since militarization of the border with highly skilled marksmen, the number of terrorists that have been apprehended at the border is zero.  We have built surveillance towers that are not used, drones that fly 12 feet off the ground, biometric technology on our own citizens who cross the border daily and not one terrorist has been apprehended, however lots of gardeners and maids have been captured, deported, and sometimes randomly shot and killed. The wall is not protecting the USA from terrorists it is instead an intentional attempt to keep the oppressed from finding freedom and fulfilling their dreams. The ground on the USA side of the wall is deliberately angled and jagged to cause the breaking of ankles and legs of those jumping the wall.

Humanity is a migratory species.  We have always migrated to find new hunting grounds, to find new places to raise crops, and to find new opportunities.  This is part of our evolutionary make up that makes the human beast very adaptable to its environment. How many here today have lived in this town since birth?  Very few.  The human species is a migratory animal and when situations become intolerable in one location, humans will migrate to another location with the hopes that that new land will offer new opportunities to thrive.  Life in Mexico and in other Latin American countries continues to be intolerable with the exception of Venezuela.

That socialist government demonized by the USA has provided during Hugo Chavez’s life improved housing and education for its people. Those living in one room shacks with no running water now are in three bedroom condos with 1.5 baths.  The buildings include a community center where educational programs are provided. Their standard of living has risen where the standard of living in every other country of Latin America and in the United States has declined.  People are not seeking to leave Venezuela because life is livable, dreams are being fulfilled. Our Government has lied about Chavez in part because he fulfilled what he promised to do and the people of Venezuela are uplifted from the extreme poverty that plagued that country.  There are no mass numbers of migrants coming out of Venezuela because there is no need to flee a country that treats its citizens humanely.

Just as the USA border has become more militarized, the Mexican border has become increasingly dangerous with the Mexican Mafia and cartels.  A person can no longer cross the border on their own, to do so is to risk being tortured and possibly killed by the mafia. When I was in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, I heard a heart wrenching tale of two young men who had not heard that they must pay the cartel in order to cross the border. In their attempt to cross over the wall they were approached by a person who appeared to be someone willing to help them.  The person calls on his radio and soon a truck arrives.  The Men in the truck question the two migrants.  They are told they are not allowed to cross without paying the cartel. Who did they pay?  They are the ones that control this territory and they were not paid, so who did they pay? No one they replied. The men over powered them, taped their eyes and mouth shut, taped their wrists and ankles and threw them in the truck.  They drove some distance to a house.  The two men do not know where they are but they can hear chickens and sheep in the back ground. The men interrogate them asking them who they paid to cross the border.  Then the men beat them, place a pistol to their heads and pull the trigger but the gun is empty. This was just for psychological terror.  After a few days of this, a car comes with the head person, who also interrogates them.  He also beats them.  The man wanted to know if they were carrying drugs for another cartel. He eventually states that the men must be lying and that they escaped from a coyote.  So the coyotes who work for this man are brought in and asked if they know these men. If they did, the men were told they would be killed.  But none of the coyotes did so the men were released and told again they must pay to cross.  They wander and see police, they try to get help but the police ignore them.  Then a stranger takes pity on them and convinces the police to help them and they are taken to Nogales hospital.  They learn that the police are sometimes in league with the mafia cartel.

It is important to note who are the mafia leadership. All of the captains of the mafia are members of a Mexican Special Force that defected from the Army called Los Zetas.  “ About 200 of these former Mexican Special Forces … were trained by U.S. Army Special Forces at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., in the early 1990s.[ii]”  We, the taxpayer, are the accomplices in this violence on the border.

While the Mexican and USA government make public statements that decry the atrocities committed on both sides of the border, neither government has made any move to address the situation.  There are US border patrol agents and Mexican government officials who are allies with the Mafia. The Mexican government does not interfere in part because it supports the doctrine of deterrence that the United States has taken towards immigration from Latin America. This doctrine has been implemented in Arizona and in Alabama; the notion of enforcement through attrition making the environment so horrendous that undocumented individuals will choose to self-deport. Their logic follows that if the process to cross the border becomes easier, then more people would cross but if it becomes increasingly a dance with death, then less people will attempt the passage.

But as one Honduran refugee stated after fleeing the recent coup conducted by School of the Americas’ graduates, “If I am going to die in Honduras of hunger, then I would rather die struggling to live.”   Such is the determination of a people who are desperate.

One woman I met told her story.  She and her family had lived in NYC for about 13 years.  Her husband’s mother and brother had become ill so they returned to Mexico to take care of them. Their children, one of whom born in NYC and the other only having lived less than a year in Mexico before crossing did not know Mexico, they do not speak Spanish.  They missed their friends in New York and they did not understand Mexican Culture. So after a year they decided to cross back into the US.  The son who was born in the USA purchased airfare and was flown back.  The father was able to cross the desert with no problems.  She and her other son attempted to cross the desert and were caught by the border patrol agents.  They were treated horribly by the agents, pushed and shoved.  They were deported to Nogales.  The mother was able to secure for her son car transportation across the border to New York.  She paid $3800 to do this. While we were there speaking with her, she received a phone call stating her son was now in transit towards NYC, he made it through the desert.  She is relieved. She stated she is determined to join them in the near future.  There is no question in her mind that she will be reunited with her family.  She will not stop until it is so or she is shot and killed.

A friend of mine wrote a song with lyrics of being like a mother bear that will do anything to defend her cubs.   This is the determination of the families who are being deported, separated from their families.  There is no law, no 30 foot high wall, no desert terrain no matter how dangerous can or will deter families from being with their loved ones.

The US government and the media call these people criminals.  How can something as inherent in our evolutionary development as love be criminal?  This is the ultimate lie that my government tells me about people who are immigrants.  May we continue to choose to stand on the side love.

[ii] http://www.tedpoe.com/newsarticle.php?article=128


This was presented under the title of “The Cost of Privilege: Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration” to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville in Alabama on 2 June 2013 (c)

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