(De)humanization on the border

“Ya no sirve”
April 16, 2009, 12:13 am
Filed under: Research | Tags: ,

I already knew what was up when I entered the federal courtroom for the Operation Streamline proceedings with the other William and Mary students over spring break. I’d been there twice before in January on my 2-week exploration trip. I knew what to expect, so I was most taken by what might be the coolest thing ever for a detained Mexican migrant to do.

In a yellow polo shirt with blue horizontal stripes, a Mexican man stands up abruptly in his handcuffs and leg irons and calls out calmly and confidently in the federal courtroom. He says loudly, “Ya no sirve!

It no longer works! The system—it’s rubbish! These proceedings—a façade!

The judge and the lawyers all freeze and fall silent for a moment as they try to understand. He only means that his headphones—that are meant to translate the proceedings—no longer work.

The brief moment of symbolic “take that!” is broken by a tall guy in a grey suit and a much smaller and older woman who rush over to attend the man. She has new headphones and puts them on the man herself.

Such a rich scene… I cannot help but think I could keep going and going, through layers and layers of concocted meaning.

A brilliant likeness to a dream. In the moment mismo, I was jumping up and down in my brain with excitement. He just told them. He told them. He used his voice and told them—(which is pretty awesome for a voiceless population). He didn’t mean what I skewed his words to mean and it probably didn’t occur to him that anyone would twist them as rebellion against the system. I was not under any illusion; I knew what he meant. It was still the coolest thing ever for a detained Mexican migrant to do in a federal courtroom.

Conquista tu mundo
April 15, 2009, 4:43 am
Filed under: Research

We spent most of the day walking along one of the many migrant trails in the desert of southern Arizona near Arivaca Lake. Following a loose gravel path, we climbed up and down rock faces, and over barbed wire fences. It was morning or midday, so we saw the loose stones to avoid and the ledges to put our feet and hands. When migrants cross under the cover of night, they cannot see these dangers—and there isn’t time on the trail to rest twisted ankles or swollen blisters. They slow down and are left behind, lost, alone in the desert. If Border Patrol picks them up, they will never be able to enter the US legally. One of our guides, a local artist and human rights advocate, tells the story of Josseline. Josseline Jamileth Hernadez Quinteros died crossing February 20 last year at age 14. With her younger brother, she came from El Salvador to reunite with their mother in California. Falling ill and unable to continue through the desert with the group, she told her brother to go on without her. Her mother contacted the humanitarian aid organizations in the area, desperate to find her daughter. Only by chance of crossing between two trails did they find her body. Because of their legal status, her mother and brother could not attend the funeral.

Children die—and will continue to die because if there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel is looong, too long for my hope to even show itself.

Children are dying. Mothers and fathers are dying. United States’ migration policy—or lack thereof, encourages these deaths. United States’ border security policy forces these deaths. Deterrence. I scoff at the word each time. Death is a deterrent in US border policy. Death or the threat of death pushes people to the border out of their home countries. It pushes them through the border. To choose certain death or possible death, especially when its certain death of your children against your own only potential death, mothers and fathers choose themselves.

They are courageous beyond understanding.

Say goodbye to your children. Turn away from them with no guarantee of return.
Rely on another family member to raise them. You must risk they’re future—by not being there—to give them one.
Your children won’t have to dropout of school because they can’t afford the uniforms. You send money for their school uniforms, their notebooks, pencils. –And you send money for food.
You send money so they don’t have to dropout of school and work themselves.
You break the cycle with education.

People will continue to cross borders.

There will always be things more powerful than the law. There will always be hunger. There will always be family. The trouble is that the dominant discourse does not need to actively choose in their own lives between the law and hunger. The dominant discourse does not need to choose in their own lives between the law and family. People who actively speak out against illegal immigration for the (mere) principle of “legality” or “illegality” only hide behind the resilient structure of LAW in our society—the order and fairness that law provides and the democracy and freedom it represents. WE are law abiding. WE defend the law. WE are United States citizens. WE are supposed to be here… unlike you. But now, family should create a choque. United States citizens, defenders-of-the-law, anti-“illegals” should be jolted by their own words. We should feel uncomfortable because our value system is inconsistent in a serious way. Value inconsistency is natural, and the rationalization of that contradiction is not unique. However, WE need to recognize and reconcile that contradiction Now. The power of our cognitive dissonance causes a movement seeped in ignorance that we can break with our own self-awareness. An individual can change the world by changing himself. Holding onto law simply for the prestige of its title, “law” disregards the importance of family. There are justified and smart reasons for being against illegal immigration, but “legality” over humanity is not one of them.

Education is a positive force. Pursue and embrace it. Share it.

Thought #2

Coming back to Josseline. Going back to the desert–to the struggle of the migrant–away from the suits of policy…

After the walk along the migrant trail our first day, we drive to Nogales, Sonora, México. Upon entering the city, a billboard on the side of a building catches my eye. I don’t know what it’s advertising because for me, it’s a twisted joke for a snow globe world. It says:

Conquista tu mundo.

Migrants sin papeles are courageous beyond understanding.

April 15, 2009, 3:03 am
Filed under: Research

I see my peers make dramatic and lasting changes toward peaceful and dignified stability daily. And yet-

I lose hope bit by bit each time I cross the campus bounds of Richmond and Jamestown road.

I do meet fighters for positive change, but I see the progress and the stability of the progress made by these movements as anything but secure.

So I need to deal. Education changes minds and provokes action, so by continuing to articulate my thoughts, I hope to contribute to that.

Quotes 1
March 15, 2009, 6:00 pm
Filed under: Research | Tags:

“rape is common” US Customs Officer, Bonnie Areliano, 3/9. Describing the migrant shelter, “como una familia” Belen, 3/10. Referring to the water towers and jugs in the desert, “es una trampa para mi” Lino, 3/11. “no somos numeros, somos personas” Dr. Jorge Pazos, 3/11. With the shared muscles of the artwork as a prompt, “todos somos iguales” Guadelupe, 3/11.We can’t help them.” Noelle, 3/11. In regards to power, “I firmly believe that we have choices.” Tande, 3/11. That the police/anyone can do what they want, “It shatters the illusion I have that my state respects civil rights.” Tande, 3/11. In regards to NAFTA, the “Mexican government has definitely been complicit in all this” Nick, 3/12.

Yendi Castillo, Federal Public Defender
March 12, 2009, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Research | Tags:

Selecting who will be brought to trial is “like picking fruit” and “it’s really a 99-97% tolerance policy.” She chuckles. Operation Streamline is merely a wannabe ‘No tolerance’ policy.

She’s started crying. “I bought into this whole constitution thing… I thought it really meant something… have rights, have future, have things mean something.” “The laws are so bad.” Referring to the prison system, “This is an industry. This is an industry.” “This is about housing people as if they were cattle.”

“What people need to understand is that your rights are their rights.” Due process. It says people in the 14th amendment. The moment we water civil rights down for other people, “the moment we take blood money in order to expand our economy…” It’s not okay when Wackenhut or Boeing money could be used for education. Excuse the word, but it’s complete bullshit. “So please, don’t keep quiet.”

Oftentimes she feels complicit. When told to take Operation Streamline cases, she said, “no way in hell” at first. Why the change? She decided that she has an obligation. Her fluency in Spanish, her compassion… she can make a difference, even if by just being kind. She has a “moral responsibility to these people who go through Streamline.”

In the courtroom, Border Patrol agents are easy going. However, about the new courtroom marshals in the courtroom, she says, “I think they’re all a bunch of jack booted thugs.” They’re nasty, rude. “Most of them don’t speak Spanish.”

“If you’ve observed incivility in the courtroom, …just imagine in the field.”

Sergio from Altar
March 12, 2009, 10:00 am
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At the day labor center, he is sitting down on the curb and he says he doesn’t speak English. I started to speak to him in English with Sewon as we approached him because he could have been there for the shower program. He has whiter skin. I didn’t want to assume incorrectly. I didn’t know what to do. So English at first, and back it up quickly with Spanish. An embarrassing blotch, but quickly forgotten.

Eventually he stands. His name is Sergio. He’s a man from Altar and had arrived in Tucson 15 days ago. He has a wife and 3 kids and used to milk cows as work. His 12-year-old boy is the oldest. He starts crying silently when I ask about his kids and I can only see the tears stream from under his black sunglasses—from one eye and then the second. He says he does it for them; that that’s why they come—the migrants as a whole, for their kids. He says crossing in the summer is more dangerous. He traveled for 2 nights and 3 days through Sasabe. They were a group of 20 people originally. He didn’t cross with the cartel—he tells me after I ask. There were around 6 women in the group. Listening to him, I was under the impression that the women couldn’t make it and instead went to the road to get picked up by Border Patrol. He says the Mexican government does nothing for the Mexican farmer. With the cost of farming, you might break even. He stresses frequently over the course of the conversation that a lot of programs  in Tucson are very good. They give you food to eat there, and more to take with you—but he lives on streets because there aren’t places that take in a person without papers. He says there’s no work in Tucson and will probably move to California.