These words were spoken by a defense attorney who represents migrants arrested for crossing the border into the United States. Operation Streamline is an expedited legal process unauthorized migrants face criminal prosecution and potential prison sentences in addition to formal deportation and removal from the United States. "Operation Streamline has drastically increased immigration prosecutions, making ILLEGAL RE-ENTRY, the most commonly filed federal charge." http://www.EndStreamline.org.
No photos can be taken in the federal courthouse during Operation Streamline. Imagine a large court room filled with seventy-nine migrants dressed in old t-shirts, jeans with an occasional jacket. Most of them are men, short men, indigenous looking men whose hands and ankles are shackled so they shuffle forward to hear the judge explain their options which are to plead guilty to a federal crime, "crossing the border," or plead non-guilty and have a trial BUT they will be locked up during this period of waiting for a trial.
The Judge always asks each person if he or she wants to make a statement. Most decline to say anything. This past week one of the few women said, "Si, Yo quiero decir algo." I could barely see her from my seat in the back of the courtroom. She was soft-spoken and short in a black skirt and dark blouse. "It is not right that I am detained. I haven't seen my mother in fifteen years nor my three brothers (born in the USA) that I had never met." Silence and then, the judge asks her if she would like to change her plea to not guilty and ask for a trial. She hesitates and the judge asks her to confer with her attorney and to decide before the end of this Streamline session.
It is as the lawyer said, it is immoral. Why are we making this woman have a criminal record for entering the United States to see her family? Most of the people that I have met in Tucson - at detention centers, at shelters for women and children on humanitarian parole or at Operation Streamline - the majority are trying to reach their families. We are criminalizing family reunification and because there is no longer a temporary work program, men who travelled north years ago to work under the "bracero" program or who entered the country without documents when it was a civil offense, not a criminal one, now are stuck in the USA and cannot return home.
The photo below is of the CCA - privately run detention center in Eloy, Arizona. I visited three women there last Friday, March 20th behind the barbed wire and many check points. It appears to be a prison although it is called a detention center. I will write more in my next blog about the women that I met there and their heart-wrenching stories.
The Mexican woman who told the judge that it was not correct to have detained her - has somewhat of a happy ending. Her attorney explained to the magistrate that her mother was recently a U.S. citizen and had petitioned for her daughter to join her in the USA. The judge gave her a new date to appear before Operation Streamline in order to provide time to ascertain if she could stay. I will not be in the court to hear the outcome of this case, but at least her voice was heard and there is the possibility that she can remain with her mother and brothers.
All of the stories are heart-breaking or opening up my heart to understand why people come. Why? A friend asked, because they want to be with family. Despite the media attention to job seekers and economic reasons why people leave - all if that is true, but to me, the bottom line, is la familia.
"Mexico is our neighbor," Michael G.Ronstadt (younger brother of Linda) said at the Common Ground on the Border event last week. For my fellow Oregonians, look at this map. If we lived in Oregon before 1850 Mexico literally would have been our neighbor. Someone asked me recently, "Pat, what do you think about immigration or crossing borders?" Well, let me share a few quotes I heard this past week at the Common Ground event from a cultural anthropologist, Maribel Alvarez, University of Arizona. .
"BOUNDARY, n. In political geography, an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of the other." Ambrose Pierce.
Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants.”
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
Maribel Alvarez shared some interesting facts about the border - especially the relationship between immigration and the global economy.
FACT #!: Border is 2000 miles long including four U.S. states and six Mexican states. There are three natural barriers: the Rio Grande, Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. In 1996 Operation Gatekeeper "militarized" the border crossings at El Paso and San Diego. That action de facto closing the borders in these two cities, created the "funnel effect" that pushed people into desert crossings. The rationale was that the desert would be a natural deterrent. One can imagine the conversation at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "Who will cross the desert? Only desperate people without options or hope.
Migration, the act of moving from one place to another in search of a better life or even just for survival itself, is a natural part of the human condition.
A week ago Sunday I joined the Italian delegation and local/national folks to walk the migrant memorial trail south of Green Valley, Arizona. One of the local Samaritans led us on the walk. Several years ago she and her neighbors found human bones while out walking their dogs. Each time they called the Pima County Sheriff and Medical Examiner who came out to collect the bones and attempt to identify the remains.
One set of the bones was that of an adolescent - Laurie, the Samaritan and her partner and neighbor built crosses at each of the three sites. It was a rough climb - in fact, I took a very undignified fall but was helped up by a friend and continued to the memorial sites. It was very quiet in the desert, the wind blowing through the cactii and ocotillo and an occasional sound of a bird. We stood silently thinking of whose father or brother or mother might have lain undetected in the desert until only their bones remained. The cross says Presente which many Central Americans say at funerals as a way of remembering the person who is no longer with them.
At the comedor/cafeteria the next day in Nogales, Sonora I saw another cross hanging above the sink. It was covered with rosaries that the migrants had hung over the cross. I am not sure if this was for a blessing for a future border crossing or a thanks for having been found in the desert even though deported back to Mexico.
Not all Migrants are Roman Catholic but most from Latin America grow up in a Catholic culture. We are now in the season of Lent - a time of reflection and repentance. At a press conference for Rosa Robles, the Mexican woman living in Sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church, her pastor called on President Obama and the Head of Homeland Security and ICE to repent - or as she stated, "It is OK to change your mind and heart and to let Rosa go home."
I am living in a casita/a small guest house near Sabino Canyon on the road to Mt. Lemmon. My hostess is Deborah McCullough, a "provocative social justice artist working on issues related to the U.S.-Mexico border. She is also facilitator for the Tucson Samaritan meetings every Tuesday evening. She told me that she was doing a Stations of the Cross for a Roman Catholic conference this past weekend. Late Friday night I stopped at the Convention Center and walked in silence looking at the Via Crucis. Iurge all of you readers to go to this link and view the slide show of her work. It is incredibly moving. http://www.deborahmccullough.com/
Look at her work and think of all the migrants who left their clothing, food, rosaries, and shoes and yes, some of them their lives in the desert.
It is freezing cold in the open air shelter, El Comedor, a Jesuit run program on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexican border in Nogales, Sonora. It is a very small space with long tables for the “guests” to sit. A Jesuit novice explains that program. Two hot meals are served at 9AM and 4PM daily to migrants who either have just been deported or are waiting to cross. The “guests” come in, sit down and are served a meal by volunteers – No food lines here. It begins to rain hard outside – gusts of wind blow into the space through cracks in the heavy plastic walls. I move my feet to try to stay warm.
Volunteers from the Samaritans and No More Death groups come daily with cell phones for the migrants to call family members and provide health packets for the guests as well as engage in conversation. I ask our host if any of the Arizona Congressional delegation has visited this project. No, he replies. “Others who come to this place have their hearts broken wide open.” I think How do we help President Obama and others in Congress have their hearts broken open? When a heart breaks open, then something new can happen. How do I/we help others have these heart breaking open experiences?
I am working as a volunteer in service sponsored by the United Church of Christ (national office) and the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ. I am on this one- day visit to the border with a small delegation of international partners, national and local staff persons. The international partners are from Italy – the Protestant Federation of Churches in Italy and a professor from the Italian Waldensian Church, Massimo and Paolo. They recently opened a migrant program, Mediterrean Hope in Sicily and Lampadusca, a small island where migrants crossing the Meditarrean Sea are housed. http://www.globalministries.org/mediterranean_hope_newsletter_february_2015. Rev. Randy Mayer, pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Arizona and a long-time immigration activist has organized the trip. Rev. Linda Jaramillo, executive Minister of Justice and Witness Ministries from Cleveland, Rev. John Doerhauer of the SW Conference, Tyler Connolley, Immigrant Care Coordinator with the SW Conference of the UCC and myself are the other participants. http://www.ucc.org/immigration_immersion_italian_churches_03022015.
It is illegal to take photos of the wall and border crossing stations from the U.S. side so Randy pulls over the van on the Mexican side at a viewpoint where we look at the brand-new large border station. Randy explains that “it has 26 entry points but only about ten to twelve are open, because ICE does not have sufficient funding for customs agents, as the bulk of ICE dollars goes to the Border Patrol. It is really a shame. 85% of the trucks coming into the USA from Mexico are hauling agricultural products. Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona could be an economic engine for the region but instead Congress and the Border Patrol prioritize National Security over economic development.”
Next Stop: La Roca, a Central American migrant shelter run by a local FourSquare Gospel pastor and his church in Nogales, Arizona. It literally is built on a rock with cave-like separate dorm rooms for women and men. The Mexican government has a migrant relocation program for Mexicans who are deported, but nothing is provided for Central Americas. Thus, La Roca is trying to meet that need. They can house 30 men and 20 women for the night. They open their doors at 7AM and the guests must leave – some go to El Comedor for meals and then return to the shelter after 5PM for the evening until they make arrangements to return to their homes or to try to cross the border again.
The Wall dominates Nogales, Sonora and actually runs right through part of the town. We stop at a small altar in memory of Jose Antonio who was killed two years ago by a border agent who was situated at the top of the wall. The agent was never tried – his explanation was that this young man and others were throwing rocks at the Wall. Seven bullets were found in his back. His was not the only death attributed to the Border Patrol. There is no oversight of the Border Patrol or accountability to anyone or agency in the USA. I see lots of graffiti signs painted on the sign of rocks near the Wall basically cursing out the “migra”. Two signs near he altar state simply – Prohibido olvidar and Justicia para Juan Bosco (another Mexican killed by the Border Patrol). Is your heart broken open yet?
The drizzle turns into rain as we climb one of the hills in this city of 125,000 to HEPAC, Home of Hope and Peace, a border community center with ties to BorderLinks, a study immersion organization based in Tucson. Hepacnogales.weebly.com. Scott Nicholson, a UCC Global Missionary, works there. The presentation is impressive – feeding programs for children, adult education, artist’s cooperative making pendants saying No More Deaths/NoMas Muertes. The director Jeanette Pazos is eloquent and passionate about their work - "We are trying to create an alternative vision of the City of Nogales. We want to be known as the city of hope, of jobs, and of peace, not the border town with drug problems." She has organized vigils at the wall for Jose Antonio. She has also organized with the community zumba dances and peace walks along the wall. We leave feeling that there is hope for this community with a woman such as Jeanette and HEPAC's work in the community.
The Comedor is our last stop before we cross back over the border - five minutes and we are in the United States with McDonald's and DQ and all the signs of prosperity on this side of the border. Five minutes, a U.S. passport and a wall is all that separates us from our friends in Nogales, Sono
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?