“Go Back to Where You Came From!”

Ever since April when Governor Brewer signed SB1070 into law in Arizona, I have been following developments down there with rapt attention – checking the updates of various facebook groups, scanning online news headlines, reading analyses… With each new day the news seemed to get worse and worse. First, there was the passage and signing of SB1070 itself. Before the worst parts of the legislation were suspended in July, SB1070 directed officers of the law to investigate the legal status of people “where there is reasonable suspicion” that they may be undocumented. Then came the news that the state of Arizona had also banned public schools from offering ethnic studies – classes designed to give students of color, predominantly Latin@/Hispanic and Native American students – a sense of self worth in this Euro-dominated culture. At the same time, teachers with noticeable accents were barred from teaching English. Arizona Republican Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth called for a moratorium on LEGAL immigration from Mexico.  And finally, the AZ state senator behind SB1070, Russell Pearce, intends to introduce legislation that ends birthright citizenship, in clear contradiction of the 14th amendment. Taken altogether, it seems obvious that the state of Arizona has declared war on immigrants in general and Latin@/indigenous people in particular.

Luckily, it is my job to keep track of legislation and other developments around immigration or else my obsession with the issue these last few months would have severely affected my work. It was more than just passion, more than compassion, more than the fact that my parents, paternal grandparents and uncle, maternal cousin, and many of the non-biological “aunts” and “uncles” from my childhood are all immigrants. This was personal to me to the point where I felt like it was me who was being attacked.  The reason why became clear one afternoon in May as I sat at home, reading developments as usual, and saw the story of Juan Varela, a third-generation Mexican-American who was shot and killed by a neighbor as he yelled “go back to Mexico!”


What We Accomplished in Phoenix

By Susan Leslie, Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director

Monday, July 26th: After arriving in Phoenix and meeting up with the UU Congregation of Phoenix (UUCP) Immigration Task Force, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, the congregation’s minister, invited me to accompany her to Puente’s Monday Assembly meeting.  The open air meeting in front of the bright blue Tonatierra building where Puente is housed had over 100 people seated on folding chairs out in the parking lot surrounded by pink sky and palm trees.  Sal Reza, with his signature grey ponytail was talking to the majority Latino crowd about the political situation heading into the upcoming Day of Non-Compliance on Thursday, July 29th, when the legislation was scheduled to go into affect.  Whatever the ruling, and he said they expected it to be mixed and to not completely overturn SB1070, the day would go forward in order to protest the criminalization and repression of the immigrant community.  There was simultaneous translation provided for us English speakers in one section of the crowd near where a documentary film crew was taping.


It Takes A Village To Hold A Protest

Let me start by saying that I am not a “protest” kind of person.  My experience with numerous protests is that a lot of people assemble, shout angry slogans, maybe sing a few songs, and then go home, leaving piles of garbage in their wake.  No matter how much I cared about an issue it always seemed to part of me like protests were something that we “attend” the way that one might attend a rock concert, and that they were geared more towards letting the participants feel good about having “done something” than actually effecting change.  For that reason, I approached the Day of Non-Compliance (July 29th) in Phoenix with some personal apprehension.  Since I knew that I was not planning on getting arrested, I wondered then what exactly it was that I would be doing.  Was I flying two-thirds of the way across the country just to attend a protest?  But I tried to approach the coming days with an open heart – letting the Spirit guide me.


A Split Decision Only Serves to Split Our Communities

On the day before SB1070 was to go into effect, Unitarian Universalists from across the country converged in Phoenix.  We came by air, car, bus, and some already lived here.  About 150 of us met at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix in preparation for the National Day of Non-Compliance that was to take place the next day, Thursday, July 29th, 2010.  As you can imagine it was chaotic fun to have that many UUs in one place – people greeting old friends and making new ones.  But an air of uncertainty hung over us.  What would the next few days bring?  What would we do if the federal judge did not act and left SB1070 to go into effect?  What would we do if the federal judge did act?  From following the news, we knew to expect a partial ruling.  And we knew that regardless of the ruling we would do “something” but what that something was might vary depending on what kind of law went into effect at midnight.


Some Background on UUA Immigration Campaign & Relationship with Puente and NDLON

By Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director

UUA Immigration Reform Campaign and Our Partners

The UUA’s current immigration reform campaign really took off in 2007, in response to the immigrant rights upsurge in 2006, when we signed on as the first denomination to join the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM).  The New Sanctuary Movement was initiated by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and then taken up by Interfaith Worker Justice (whose board I serve on for the UUA) and others. The UU Church of Long Beach CA was the first congregation to join the New Sanctuary Movement and did so before the UUA.  The UU Church of Phoenix Social Action Committee signed the NSM pledge a year later after Puente participated in their May 3, 2008 worship service and led a workshop.  UUCP’s partnership with Puente has since grown and flourished.

Today the United Church of Christ, the United Methodists, the Disciples, and hundreds of congregations from several denominations are working with NSM and a joint effort is underway with NDLON and others to organize a White House Summit on immigration to advocate for an executive order suspending state and local enforcement of federal immigration law, a moratorium on ICE (Immigrant Custom Enforcement) raids that separate families and deport students, and immigration reform.

In addition to working with other on-the-ground partners, including Immigration Equality, the UUA has been represented by our Washington Office in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, advocating for the DREAM Act, the Child Citizen Protection Act, and immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, family unification, and humane enforcement at the border.  On June 10th UUA staff attended a Congressional hearing on the impact of SB1070 on women and children that was organized by NDLON, Puente, and the Domestic Workers Alliance.

Congregational Engagement & Standing on the Side of Love

In the past four years we have seen the number of UU congregations engaged with this issue increase steadily.  Advocacy & Witness has a database of over 200 UU congregations engaged in education, advocacy, and organizing. (We haven’t documented all those providing ESL classes and others services yet.)  Additionally, there are 130 UU congregations in congregation-based community organizations.  Almost all of these organizations include immigrant communities and their national networks–PICO, IAF, Gamaliel, IVP–are focusing on immigration reform.

The Standing on the Side of Love Campaign has had as a major focus standing on the side of love with immigrant families.  UU ministers and leaders have sent in blogs and news coverage of their efforts, and 5,000 cards calling for immigration reform were delivered to Congress in April.  UUs have helped Haitian refugees apply for Temporary Protected Status, worked to free Jean Montrevil–a Haitian leader who was almost deported, welcomed the Trail of Dreams walkers, and came in the hundreds to the Capitol on March 21st with thousands of immigrants marching for justice.  The UU Church of Tucson is this year’s UUA Social Justice Award winner for their No More Deaths border ministry and advocacy with the Arizona Advocacy Network.  Last year’s recipient was the UU Church of Phoenix for their work with Puente and NDLON to stop Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

UUA Public Witness for Immigration Reform & the Morales Administration

UUA President Rev. Peter Morales has made immigration reform a top UUA public witness priority.  He and Moderator Gini Courter arranged for the Board of Trustees to meet with undocumented immigrants, community organizers, and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) at their January 2010 meeting in San Antonio.  President Morales visited several Senate Offices on Capitol Hill this spring to advocate for Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s CIR ASAP legislation.  He has reached out to Latino evangelicals to join forces.

When SB1070 was passed and the Boycott Arizona movement began, the UUA Board drafted a resolution recommending that the General Assembly scheduled for Phoenix in 2012 be relocated.  DRUUMM, LUUNA, and ARE supported their recommendation  Moderator Gini Courter put out a call, along with Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, Minister, UU Church of Phoenix, for UUs to join the May 29th march in Phoenix organized by Alto Arizona (two of the main organizers of Alto Arizona are Puente and NDLON).  Rev. Morales, Moderator Courter, fifty UU clergy, and 500 UUs were there.  Lots of conversations were carried on along the march, in the speakers’ staging area, and with UUCP and their partners.

How the idea of transforming GA to witness in Phoenix 2012 came about:

Following the march, Puente and NDLON, part of Somos America–the coalition leading this new civil rights movement in Arizona and nationally– asked the UUA and Standing on the Side of Love to endorse and organize for the July 29th Day of Non-Compliance in Arizona and Human Rights Summer.  We have and are!  They asked us to support the Boycott Arizona Movement and we do.   (See Boycott Arizona for actions and targets.)  They asked us to call on President Obama to issue an executive order and we have. And they asked us to come to Phoenix in 2012 and transform our General Assembly into a convergence for human rights so that we are part of supporting the movement, not breaking the boycott, and coming in to work with them for justice.  They envision an interfaith service on the capitol steps, UU lawyers and paralegals at legal clinics, UU teams registering voters, visits to the barrios, tours to the border, Arizona clergy delegations to representatives, education and worship on immigrant rights, civil disobedience, and more.  They see transforming GA as a great opportunity to involve more UUs and other people of faith in organizing for immigrant rights and justice.

The Skinny on SB1070

In the wake of SB1070, the Arizona law that directs local law officials to apprehend undocumented workers, there has been a lot of confusion over what the law does and does not do.  One such point of confusion is racial profiling.   According to the law,  “where reasonable suspicion exists” that a person is undocumented, law enforcement officials are instructed to ascertain his/her status.   To many, the phrase suggests that officers will selectively target Latin@s/Hispanics and possibly other people of color.  We wonder what other basis the framers of the legislation think would cause “reasonable suspicion” that someone is not here “legally.”   In an attempt to address  this criticism, lawmakers amended the language with a clause that specifically prohibits the use of perceived race in making their determinations.   And that, they said, guaranteed that there would be no racial profiling in the enforcement of SB1070.  This has convinced some and not others.

So what does the law actually say?   Not long ago I found this site that contains the full text of the bill with interactive annotations.  (It’s really cool!)

And this is what the pertinent text actually says:

Section 2.b.
For any lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town of this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person. The person’s immigration status shall be verified with the federal government pursuant to United States Code Section 1373(c).

A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.

A person is presumed to not be an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States if the person provides to the law enforcement officer or agency any of the following:
1. A valid Arizona driver license.
2. A valid Arizona nonoperating identification license.
3. A valid tribal enrollment card or other form of tribal identification.
4. If the entity requires proof of legal presence in the United States before issuance, any valid United States federal, state or local government issued identification.

There are several things to point out about this language:

1. “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person”

As the notations point out, where there is “reasonable suspicion,” the law directs law enforcement officials to attempt to determine the person’s status, but it does not place limits on what the officer can do while making such an attempt.  That there are no stated restrictions is reason for concern, as it places people at the mercy of the predilections of the officers with whom they happen to come into contact.

2. “A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection EXCEPT to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.

From the annotations:

According to the Supreme Court, the U.S. Constitution allows race to be considered in immigration enforcement: “The likelihood that any given person of Mexican ancestry is an alien is high enough to make Mexican appearance a relevant factor.” United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 886… See More-87 (1975).

The Arizona Supreme Court agrees that “enforcement of immigration laws often involves a relevant consideration of ethnic factors.” State v. Graciano, 653 P.2d 683, 687 n.7 (Ariz. 1982) (citing State v. Becerra, 534 P.2d 743 (1975)).

The author of the annotations goes on to say that if they had really wanted to prohibit racial profiling they would not have added the “except” clause.  As it is written, what the law basically says is go ahead and harass people based on their skin color and we’ll leave it up to the courts to decide, on a case by case basis, whether or not what was done exceeded what is allowed in the Constitution.

3. “A person is presumed to not be an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States if the person provides to the law enforcement officer or agency any of the following:… IF the entity requires proof of legal presence in the United States before issuance, any valid United States federal, state or local government issued identification.”

On a different site, the author argues that since several states do not require proof of legal residence before issuing a drivers license,  if you are from one of those states, your license is not sufficient to prove your legal status.  I was unable to find a list of states and whether they require proof of legal residence before issuing licenses, but it seems like this would be a serious concern for non-Arizonan Latin@s/Hispanics traveling in the state.

Based on the language within the law, it seems safe to say that not only does SB1070 promote racial profiling but there are other civil rights concerns as well.

Arizona on Our Minds

Ever since Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 into law – despite daily demonstrations and thousands of emails, calls, and faxes asking for veto – many of us both inside and outside of Arizona have been considering what to do in response. The new legislation is arguably the most far-reaching and repressive anti-immigrant legislation passed at the state level, and indeed, may not be constitutional. But in the mean time, while the lawyers ply their trade, what do the rest of us do to urge Arizona to reconsider?

Unitarian Universalism values relationship over creed; therefore, before we made any actions or recommendations of our own we had to know what our allies are asking for. And of our allies, it was most important to listen to those who would be most adversely affected by this new law. In this case, that would be organizations and people who represent immigrants, migrant workers, Hispanic/Latin@s, and other people of color who might be suspected of being “undocumented.” So we did a little research – some phone calls, some emailing, some websurfing – and this is what we found:

Not that they are the most important, but since they are in the news, let’s start with elected officials. Our only Latino/Hispanic senator, Sen. Menendez (D-NJ), is urging Major League Baseball players to boycott the 2011 All Star Game if it is held in Phoenix as scheduled. His voice joins that of Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) Rep. Polis (D-CO), Rep. Gutierrz (D-IL), and Rep. Grijalva who have all called for a boycott in some form or another.

“The question will inevitably be, aren’t you hurting yourself?” Gutierrez says. “The answer to that question is, yes, we are!”

“We understand that our people are inordinately the dishwashers and the busboys for the hospitality industry…But we also understand they are the mothers and fathers of children in this state. It is they themselves who are asking for this boycott.”

Secondly and more significantly, a coalition of over thirty organizations – representing Latin@/Hispanics, labor and civil rights groups, and others – have called for a national boycott. This effort is being spear-headed by the National Council of La Raza, the largest and most well-known Hispanic/Latin@ rights group in the nation.  You can sign their pledge here.

La Raza is joined by many other groups, including the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, and Presente.org.

Like Sen. Menendez, one of their main targets for the economic boycott is Major League Baseball’s 2011 All-Star game, which is scheduled to be played in Phoenix. From Presente.org’s email ask to move the game:

“Many other major league players and coaches are saying they don’t want to play ball in a state where Latino players — who make up more than 25% of the League — and Latino fans are subject to racial profiling.”

Latin@s/Hispanics are rightfully concerned that the Arizona law encourages racial profiling against them regardless of their legal status, but Asians know that such laws affect them as well. After Latin@s/Hispanics, Asians constitute the second largest population of undocumented immigrants, and South Asians in particular have been subject to harrassment. The Asian American Justice Center and the Japanese American Citizens League are part of the boycott coalition.   In a statement,  the JACL called SB 1070 “the worst case of racial profiling since World War II.”

And African-Americans are, of course, very familiar with racial profiling. The campaign against SB1070 is being waged with help from civil rights leaders, including Rev. Al Sharpton. Economic boycott was part of a strategy that the Black community successfully employed to “convince” the AZ legislature to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr with his holiday.  In that same vein, Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, moved their annual convention from AZ to NV.

“Our late Alpha brother the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, in a letter he wrote while sitting in the Birmingham Jail, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Alpha Phi Alpha’s decision to boycott Arizona continues that same fight, fought during the Civil Rights era.”

Other members of the coalition calling for national boycott are the Center for Community Change (CCC), which advocates for economic justice on behalf of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, and labor groups such as the Service Employees International Union  (SEIU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

SEIU’s website includes a roundup of who is participating in the boycott.  Of particular note, the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators together with the National Black Caucus of State Legislators have canceled their upcoming conferences in Arizona.

“This misguided legislation will likely subject countless people to unwarranted harassment. In a demonstration of our disapproval, we have decided to hold our annual Promoting Healthy Lifestyles Conference, which was to be held in Scottsdale, Arizona, elsewhere,” stated NBCSL President, Representative Calvin Smyre (GA).

We also looked at what immigration and migrant worker rights groups were doing in response to SB1070.

“These boycotts are happening in conjunction with marches, rallies, and protests across the country. Our actions will show that we’re not going to sit quietly while the state enshrines racism and hatred as the law of the land.”

  • National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and Puente.org, as part of the Alto Arizona coalition, are organizing for a massive rally in Phoenix on May 29th.  They also have a petition asking the Obama administration to intervene.
  • In addition to moving the MBL All Star Game (see above), Presente.org also has a petition letting Arizona leaders know how we feel about the new law: Shame on Arizona.
  • Border Action Network is supporting a number of actions posted on Change.org, including petition the Obama administration to intervene, attend local solidarity actions, boycott, and civil disobedience.
  • Detention Watch Network offered a similar list of actions.
  • The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights also offered four actions: calling Gov. Brewer, spreading the message locally, asking President Obama to intervene, and supporting local organizations working against SB1070.

The ACLU is also looking ahead to other states and organizing to keep what happened in Arizona from spreading.  (Currently 10-11 other states are considering similar legislation.)  Visit their site to tell your elected officials that What Happens in Arizona Stays in Arizona.

As I said, there’s a good argument to be made that SB1070 is unconstitutional, and three of the most experienced immigrants’ and civil rights legal organizations nationwide – the ACLU, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) – have announced a partnership, together with local Arizona-based counsel, to challenge the new law in court.

So as of the moment, the major possible actions for folks like you and me seem to be a “mega march” in Phoenix, AZ on May 29th (see this video), asking the Obama administration to intervene,  and a call for economic boycott.

ICE Raids and Anti-Immigrant Legislation in the State of Arizona

As many of you may already know, anti-immigration forces have been moving hard and fast in the state of Arizona.   Less than a week after state lawmakers passed the most far-reaching anti-immigrant legislation ever, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)  launched massive raids in Phoenix and especially Tucson.   In Tucson alone, over 800 officers set up checkpoints all around the predominantly Hispanic/Latin@ area of South Tucson.  Eight-hundred officers.   Fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, students, workers, tax-payers, neighbors…were pulled over at supposedly  “random” checkpoints and taken into custody if they could not produce proper identification.

It is not a coincidence that these massive raids happen so soon after the passage of  SB1070/HB2632.   Senator Russell Pearce’s bill allows and encourages the state police to become immigration enforcement officials.   Whereas before, police could only ask for documentation if the person were arrested for a crime, they now can ask any person any time there is “reasonable suspicion.”

If you are thinking that  this does not affect you – that only those without documentation have anything to fear – just think of how often you leave the house without official ID… to go for a run, or to the gym, or to pick up a gallon of milk at the corner store.  I personally am without my drivers license as I type this having forgotten it at home as I left the house this morning.   Now imagine walking around, even for short errands, without your ID if your skin looks even remotely Hispanic/Latin@.   Imagine your kids going to school without ID.

If you are still thinking that this does not affect you – because realistically you know that the law will be “enforced” via racial profiling and you’re lucky enough to “look American” – consider this: SB1070 also makes it illegal to transport or “harbor” an undocumented person if you know or disregard the person’s legal status.  That means that you could be prosecuted for having an undocumented person in your car or in your house.

And if you’re thinking that this doesn’t affect you because you live no where near Arizona, take note that several other states are considering enacting similar bills.

Governor Brewer has not yet signed the legislation, but she is getting a lot of pressure from anti-immigrant groups to do so.   We need to show her that there is even more reason not to.   We need to remind her that the bill violates civil liberties and promotes racial profiling.  We need to point out that it will cause even greater distrust of the police which will lead to greater crime.   We need to let her know that where similar laws have been enacted at a county level, economies have suffered as the Latin@ community took their heretofore unappreciated spending elsewhere.  We need to tell her that if  SB1070 becomes law, it will give the state of Arizona a reputation for being unwelcoming, draconian… a state that tourists and convention goers would not want to visit.   But it is not too late for her to turn it around – all it takes is one VETO.

PLEASE take action via the links listed below.  It takes about 30 seconds to complete any of the below actions and you can do as many of them as you’re moved to do.  And please call (800-253-0883) or email (azgov@az.gov) the governor’s office directly to urge a veto.  My friends in AZ tell me that they are counting every call, email, fax… even those from out of state, so please act.  Your voice will be counted.

Sign Border Action’s Petition to Governor Brewer

Sign this Petition from Change.org

Send an Email through America’s Voice

Send an Email through Alto Arizona

Send a Fax through Credo Action

Send a Fax through United Farm Workers

ICE Raid in Tucson First-hand

In November of 2009, I took a trip to the Mexico/U.S. border with Rev. Louise Green and other members of All Souls Church, Unitarian in DC.  The organization that led our trip was Borderlinks.  Being so close to the border in Tucson is a very different experience than thinking about immigration here in DC.   The effects of our immigration policies are immediately evident there.  So when I read the following account of last week’s  ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids by Borderlinks staffer, Rachel Winch, I knew it had to be shared.  With her permission, Rachel’s description of April 15th, 2010.

“ICE has swarmed the city.  There are over 800 officers making check points and raids all over South Tucson.”  I felt a sense of panic as a friend from Derechos Humanos, a grassroots organization that promotes human rights and fights the militarization of the Southern Border, came to share the news this morning that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had taken hold of South Tucson.

For those living in parts of Tucson besides South Tucson, the largely Latino/a “Pueblo Within a City,”[1] it would be easy not to know that anything out of the ordinary was happening today.  It is even possible that those passing through the area who were not worried about their immigration status or being “confused for a migrant” could pass by the 12 patrol vehicles and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers in full black facemasks at the intersection of 6th Avenue and 29th Street without being filled with fear.  But for members of the Latino/a community and anyone who might “appear to be here illegally” (i.e. have brown skin), today was no less than terrorization.

Two teenage boys pulled off a bus on their way to school and taken into custody.  Armed enforcement officials patrolling within eyesight of students playing at a local elementary school.  Fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, pulled over at “random” checkpoints and leaving in handcuffs when they failed to produce documentation.  A Latina college student at the University of Arizona carrying three forms of ID with her in fear that she would be interrogated.  April 15th, 2010, South Tucson has become yet another example of the ever increasing police state.[2]

For those of you outside of Arizona, this may seem unfathomable, an exaggeration even.  Surely this could not be legal to stop people simply walking down the street or driving their cars around town because they “look like they might be undocumented.”  In the Land of the Free people do not need to walk around carrying documentation, right?

Well, that may be called into question this week in Arizona after the state house of representatives passed landmark legislation that would greatly extend the powers of police and immigration officials.  Under the new legislation, police would have the right to ask anyone whom they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the country illegally to produce documentation proving their legality.  Whereas formerly police were only allowed to ask for such documentation if a person were arrested for another crime, under the new legislation standing on a street corner and looking Latino, or looking for work at a day labor center would be probable cause for police to interrogate and make an arrest if such papers were not produced.

While under the guise of attempting to crack down on human smuggling, today’s checkpoints and the interrogation and arrest of people without evidence of involvement in smuggling is yet another example of the Department of Homeland Security’s increased terrorization of the Latino/a population and militarization of the US-Mexico border.

Friends, we must take action to ensure that these raids stop and that police and immigration officials are not allowed free range of our communities.

The words of anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller reverberate through my head:

“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

We must not stay silent as our brothers and sisters are being intimidated, arrested, deported.  Please join me in writing to your local newspaper, contacting your elected officials, and telling your friends.  Not in our name.

[1] http://www.southtucson.org/user/department.php?choice=community&id=3

[2] These were some of the stories shared at the Derechos Humanos rally outside the Federal Court building at 2:30 pm.  April 15, 2010.

Border Trip: Wednesday, Nov 11th

Part 6 of a series of posts devoted to a trip to the U.S./Mexico border. This post was finished on the 13th.  Photos can be found here.

Wednesday, November 11th. I rise early wanting to catch the view of Nogales from our hilltop. Casa de la Misericorida (House of Mercy) is actually a group of buildings sitting atop one of the many hills dotting Nogales. It is a community center offering a variety of services to residents, among the most important of which is the Children’s Food Security program. Assessing the needs of the community, they realized that in many families, the lunch served at the Casa is the only real meal the child will get that day. Next to the playground is a garden where fresh vegetables are grown. A row of composting toilets provides fertilizer for the garden. (I was fine with the composting toilets but the showers that yielded only a trickle of lukewarm water left much to be desired.)

After breakfast, is a session called the “Market basket survey.” The exercise is designed to show us how much buying power a Mexican worker at a maquiladora (border factory) has as compared to an American worker making minimum wage by showing how many hours a Mexican worker would have to work to pay for a dozen eggs (for example) versus how many hours a U.S. worker would have to work to afford the same. Here where our little group hit a bit of a snag. A couple members object to some of the items on the list. One member essentially says that if one is poor, one shouldn’t be buying corn flakes and coca cola. It is a statement laden with judgment, as if to suggest that the family is poor because it’s making poor buying decisions. As if to imply that we know better than the families do what they should and should not be buying. Reacting to the statements, other members of the group display frustration and the tension in the room is high for a few moments. But the situation does not last. Everyone in the room knows that everyone is here with the best of intentions. And regardless of what the particular items are on the list, the bottom line is that it takes much longer for a Mexican worker to afford the item than a U.S. worker. As is often the case, those who make less money actually pay more for basic essentials such as food. Not just a higher percentage of one’s income, but literally more money for the same or comparable items. (If you would like to try a version of the market-basket survey, this website has a great one: )

With the market basket survey behind us, we head over to the border wall again, this time Nogales style. A couple of activist artists – Guadalupe Serrano and Diego Taddei – are waiting to explain the murals that they have erected on the Mexican side of the wall. It is illegal to do so on the U.S. side. Two huge photo-collages greet us as we exit the van, both of them are composed of many small photos that the artists have taken of Nogales residents and migrants. One is most obviously of bare feet (the artists’) walking in the desert. Next to their murals is artwork by a different artist who has since passed away. Guadalupe and Diego explain that the colorful images borrow from Aztec and Mayan symbolism and Mexican Catholic “milagros” (miracles). Done as a triptych, the first piece is of life in Nogales, with a mixture of American tourists and Nogales residents. Most notable is the image of someone carrying their dead loved one back from the Sonoran desert. The images also convey the back-n-forth commerce that happens on the border, with one character carrying back a washing-machine. The second piece is of the crossing of the desert and images of death are dominant. But there are also images of Mexican culture, being brought by migrants into the U.S. – music and religion… The third piece is of migrants who have made into the U.S., living in the shadows and in fear of INS. I get the sense that the artist was warning would-be migrants that “the American Dream” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. The murals are vibrant and inspiring, and despite the pervasive presence of the wall, there is a sense of optimism.

While we are at the wall, trip-leader Tracy recognizes someone approaching us. He is a migrant who had been brutally attacked, needing serious surgery to reconstruct his shattered face. People back in Tucson had helped him obtain the surgery but then he disappeared. It turns out that he had been caught in an ICE raid of a local grocery store and deported. So now he is in Nogales, still with screws in his jaw that need to be removed, but no way to get back to Tucson to finish the procedure.

The next stop is Grupus Beta, an organization run by the Mexican government to provide aid to migrants – both those who have been unsuccessful in crossing into the U.S. and those who are about to attempt to cross. We talk with Mario Garcia, who says that the Mexican government neither encourages nor tries to prevent people from crossing, but it does try to inform people of the real risks. Often times, migrants arrive at Nogales completely unprepared for the desert. They may have come from another region of Mexico or another country and have no experience with desert climates. A disturbing trend is that the number of migrant deaths on the Mexican side of the border has been increasing – people dying while walking in the desert (trying to get around the wall) before they ever reach the border. Mario points out that it isn’t just Mexicans who try to enter the U.S. from Mexico. He has seen people from Brazil, China, Poland, and even Somalia. Some come thinking that it’s a 30 minute walk to Tucson (it’s more like 3 days). Since Grupus Beta is a government-run organization, Mario’s perspective is a bit different than those of others we have spoken with. His attitude seems a little more detached from the suffering of the migrants, and a little more defensive of Mexican policies. (The Mexican government certainly shares blame with the U.S. in what has happened to its citizens.) At one point he asks us what we think of the wall. Before anyone can answer, he says that “people build walls around their property to keep themselves safe, no?” At first I’m not sure what to make of his statement. But then he makes his own feelings clear. Saying that if all Mexicans got up and left the U.S., the U.S. economy would fall apart, he asserts that it’s immigrants who built America. Looking at directly at me as he says this, it is clear that Mario isn’t just speaking about Mexican immigrants. He’s seen enough nationalities come through his office to know that migration is a global phenomenon. I think of Mom and Dad and what they went through to get to the U.S., and am grateful to Mario for recognizing our commonality.

After listening to the official (Mario), we get to spend some time speaking with migrants outside the office waiting for aid. I know that this is the main reason why we are here, to hear first-hand the experiences of the people most affected by the wall. Still, I am uncomfortable just walking up to someone and asking them to share their story. The awkwardness is made even worse by the fact that I don’t speak Spanish. So I stand there a moment, wondering whether I can’t just “take a break” and tune out for a bit, when I hear a conversation already in progress between Jeff and a man whom I’ll call Jose. At the point where I tune in Jose was telling Jeff how he had been mistreated by some Americans and Jeff was asking what he had experienced. Jose responded, “They call me Mexican shit, and they hurt me.” He shows us the numerous scars on his arms, presumably by knife cuts. He tells us that he had been in the Seattle area for years, where he was engaged to marry a Native American woman. However, lack of work had forced him to go looking in the Southwest. When he was picked up in an ICE raid of a convenience store, he had been buying supplies for himself and two others waiting for him in the desert. I imagined two people in the arid heat waiting for someone who would never return. How long do you wait before giving up? But leaving without supplies was not a good option either.

Lunch is at the Casa, a meal of rice and refried beans, a delicious tortilla soup, a shredded chicken dish, and these ubiquitous little snack cakes (kinda like “Little Debbie”). We were supposed to have eaten with the kids, but arriving at 1:30 pm, it’s too late for that.

After lunch, we pile back into the van to visit a maquiladora, or maquila for short. This particular one is named “Curtis” and manufactures electronic circuits. From the parking lot, I snap a photo of the tract housing on the hills opposite us, and note that tract housing in Mexico is just as ugly as tract housing in the U.S. What I did not know at the time was that the houses I was looking at belong to the maquilas, which they then rent to their workers (by automatically deducting the rent from their paychecks). Our guide at Curtis is Rosaria. She shows us the assembly floor and talks about production. At this point, however, it is so warm and my brain is so overwhelmed that I am not taking in very much. I’m just trying to stay focused and attentive enough so as not to be rude. What I get is that Curtis – an American company, originating in the Midwest – is a middle-sized maquila, both in terms of size and worker conditions. According to Rosaria,“Not the best and not the worst.” She talks about how workers at the maquilas are paid better than outside and how generally great the maquilas are. It’s not that I don’t believe her, but I know she’s there to represent the company. My attention waxes again, however, when she’s done with her spiel and starts talking about the wall. “When I was a girl,” she says, “we could walk back and forth across the border. My school was in the U.S. and if I forgot my pass the guard would say, ‘do you think you can get out of school so easily? Get to class!’” We all laugh, but there is sadness in the laughter.

In the late afternoon, we’re given our housing assignments for the night. We will be staying in groups of three with Mexican families who work in the maquilas, getting the opportunity to interact with them in a more sustained and casual environment. I am not vegetarian but seeing as I don’t eat beef or pork, I am assigned, along with Louise and Joan (a member of the Canadian Presbyterian contingent) to the “vegetarian” house. Carolina, our host, lives in a two bedroom dwelling with her husband Emmanuel (who works in a maquila), toddler son, father-in-law (Narciso), and a tiny chihuahua puppy named Muñeca (doll). Narciso has kindly given up his bedroom to us and will be sleeping on the livingroom couch tonight. I am wondering how much the family gets paid to host us and whether they rely on the money.

This Mexican home and surrounding neighborhood reminds me so much of Taiwan when I used to visit family as a child. The laundry hanging from balcony windows. Cooking fuel in a canister connected to a modern-looking stove. A hot-water heater that needs to be turned on before bathing. (Not that we bathed, having been warned beforehand what an expense that would be to our hosts.) A large color tv on a consul and Emmanuel Jr’s toys littering the unfinished, cement floor of the livingroom/diningroom/kitchen. The odd contrast between modern household items and “unfinished infrastructure” is exactly how I remember Taipei 30 years ago. (I do not know what Taipei looks like now but suspect that it’s quite different.)

This is Carolina’s first time hosting (her mother-in-law used to do it) and she seems a little nervous, uncertain. I’m sure it did not help that out of the three of us, only Louise speaks Spanish. What I do remember is that Emmanuel’s work in the maquila had something to do with vacuums, maybe. That Muñeca had cost $150 U.S. and was bought as a playmate for Emmanuel Jr. That Emmanuel Jr.’s cousin lives right next door and the two families often communicate through the two kitchen doors facing each other. And that the family was not “vegetarian” by choice, but rather because they could not afford meat. At some point, Louise and I realize that the refried beans that had been served with our enchiladas were cooked in lard. I take a few more bites, leaving what I hope to be an inconspicuous amount of wasted food. (The heat has made me decidedly unhungry anyway.) Louise, I notice, who is the real vegetarian of the two of us, finishes her plate. For future homestays, Borderlinks probably needs to explain to our host what “vegetarian” means by U.S. standards. Someone might get upset, or even sick. But it is hard to imagine explaining to someone who doesn’t eat meat because she can’t afford it that there are people who not only do not eat it by choice but also might object to even lard. To make the choice to abstain from meat (or any food for that matter) is the privilege of those who have more than enough to eat. And I wonder whether lard might not be cheaper than vegetable oil.