Sunday I went walking in the Sabino Canyon with my friend Carolyn. It was 75 degrees, midday with the sun directly overhead. We were well prepared with sun screen, good hiking shoes, a walking stick, hat and lots of water. The Sabino Canyon is full of saguaro trees that offer enough shade for one person to stand in its shadow to escape the beating sun.
As I began to overheat, I thought of the border issues fair that I attended on Saturday in Sahuarita, twenty miles south of Tucson. It is an annual event that brings all the human rights and border activists together to share what they are doing to prevent more deaths along the border as well as to change U.S, immigration and border policies.
Todd Miller, author of Border Nation Patrol, talked about the U.S. 21st Border Strategy - to make the Mexican border with Guatemala, our new Southern border. Over the past twenty years the numbers of Border Patrol have skyrocketed from 4000 to 23,000 and the Customs and Law Enforcement Agency has grown as well. Since 1994 (the year that NAFTA was passed) the strategy has been prevention by deterrence resulting in people crossing the desert rather than through cities. As Doris Meisner, the former U.S. Immigration official, stated "the desert is a lethal deterrent."
Robin Reinke,an anthropologist with the Pima County Medical Examiner and Director of the Colobri Center for Human Rights- http://www.colibricenter.org, spoke. She began working eight years ago with Dr Bruce Anderson, the forensic anthropologist. The Center focuses on the missing and unidentified migrants found in the desert. They have 2000 missing persons in their data base and Pima County ranks #3 in the nation after New York City and Los Angeles for unidentified remains! Robin used the analogy of an airplane crash to describe the impact of the deterrence strategy. All the government resources and helping agencies respond to an airplane crash with services for families of the deceased and scientific investigation as to the reason for the crash. In the case of the desert deaths, the efforts are scattered. "When will we see people seeking to enter the United States as human beings first?", she asked. Why not practice "unconditional hospitality" (a quote from Rozanne Doty, Arizona State University professor)
Although I am living in the borderlands along the Arizona/Mexico border where people cross, the impact of migration is felt in every part of our country. Future blogs will discuss what actions we can take. Here are some words that stayed with me from the border conference.
I have the privilege of walking in the desert for exercise and enjoyment with no fear of death. Migrants do not have that privilege.
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?