Day 2 of the Border Plunge started off on a full nights rest. It was wonderful for us all to finally get some rest!
Our first activity of the day was going to mass at Casa Maria. It was a beautiful bilingual experience in which we witnessed God’s joy, love, and hospitality in the faces of the diverse Casa Maria community. We had planned on helping serve at their soup kitchen but, unfortunately, our services were not needed. We were struck by their appreciation for us taking the time to come down to Arizona to learn about the immigration issues. They urged us to share what we learn here and our experiences with people back home and how that simple act can actually make an impact on changing people’s perspectives of the reality of immigration issues. We had a great discussion with a man named Stewart who enlightened us about the South Tucson community. We learned about all the resources, such as Casa Maria and other churches in the area, who help the migrant community find jobs, housing, access to medical aid and other basic human needs. The people who work at Casa Maria also help advocate for just reforms, such as the preservation of low public transportation fares which are essential for low income family, immigrant and citizen alike. We were shocked to learn from Stewart that it is illegal to drive undocumented immigrants in the midst of medical crisis, such as if someone is sick or even dying. Fortunately, the Tucson Police and local Border Patrol are progressive in their relations with organizations with places like Casa Maria who provide humanitarian aid in that they do not harass them even though they may know that many undocumented immigrants come there for help.
After Casa Maria we came back to Border Links and participated in an immigration simulation. We learned shocking facts about restrictions on immigration policies. Those who are extremely wealthy or have celebrity status have the highest likelihood of gaining legal documentation. Those who are poor, married or with families, have few connections in the United States, and are considered “unskilled workers” have the most difficulty entering the county legally, which is the majority of desperate families who need the opportunity most. This simulation revealed to us the truth behind the common anti-immigration argument, “Why don’t they just come here legally?” The number of work visas offered by the United States each year is extremely limited and it is nearly impossible for anyone who does not fit the highly selective requirements to gaining legal documentation, which again is the majority of people who need the opportunity most.
Next we heard a presentation from Kat who works for the Coalition for Human Rights, which is an organization dedicated to protecting and advocating for human rights as well as educating people about the rights they do have. She explained how the militarization of border and the construction of the wall has not diminished immigration, rather simply shifted it to the areas that have not a physical wall. And why is there no wall in certain places? Because the harsh and dangerous desert environment acts as a natural wall. The conditions there are quite literally deadly. Hundreds of people die from dehydration, hypothermia (in the night), heat exhaustion (in the day) and drowning in flash foods each year in these desert areas. This striking image (below) is a map of found human remains, which touched many of us. The dots on this map represent the locations of where at least one human remain was found. The desert conditions and animals will cause the bodies to disappear very quickly, therefore, it is often only remains that are found. Often times there’s not even enough of the remains to determine the sex of the person. This map, however, does not account for those who have died crossing but their remains were never discovered or those whom have died since 2009, which is another 250+ people. We also learned that the news very infrequently reports on these deaths that happen, on average, nearly twice a day, because it has become a “normal” occurrence. It is heartbreaking to see human death in this manner become “normalized.”
Interesting fact we learned: The REAL ID Act (which was passed), Section 102, allows our US Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (an appointed, not voted in, position) to have the power to waive ANY law in the interest of homeland security. Shocked? So were we!
Imagine this situation: A gun is pointed at you and you are told to take a sum of drugs from point A to point B. Your options seem pretty limited don’t they? You are now what is considered a “mule.” This is the common reality for many migrants trying to cross the border. They are often either bribed or forced into smuggling drugs into the United States when all they were planning on trying to do was simply cross the border to find a job in the United States. They never wanted to be caught up in the drug trade, but if caught by law enforcement are demonized and prosecuted as a drug dealer rather than an innocent victim trying to find a way to create a better life for themselves, and/or their family.
Despite all this heavy and disheartening, though important information, we came to an understanding about the power we hold for change. We learned that if you can change the way people talk, you can change the way they think. By making simple changes in the way we speak of these topics as the immigration issues rather than problems and the people as undocumented rather than illegal aliens we can change the connotations that are evoked to promote a more humanized and just portrayal and understanding of the situation. It also recognizes the human dignity that each person has because as UP’s own Professor Sanchez says,”Human dignity is a gift from God, not from citizenship.”
We will leave you with one last food for thought, given to us today by Kat from Coalition for Human Rights: ”Si no pensamos diferente, todo será igual” (If we don’t think differently, everything will be the same.)
Feel free to comment and let us know your thoughts!
Paz a ustedes,
Nicole Fleury and Kelsey Reavis