Friday, May 22, 2009

U.S. border a bleeding scar for migrants

from Associated Baptist Press

By Miguel De La Torre   
Thursday, May 21, 2009

(ABP) -- Feb. 20 marked the one-year anniversary of Josseline's death, a 14-year-old girl whose demise went unnoticed. She died of thirst and exposure to the elements of Arizona.

Miguel De La Torre
She died because of prevailing United States policies. She was traveling north to be reunited with her family. Unable to keep up with the group, she was left behind. 

Most die of thirst, while others drown in the desert due to flash floods. It takes days just to cross the mountains. Many are forced to drink from pools of stagnated water ignoring any animal corpse that may be floating in these water holes. Some, out of desperation, drink their own urine. A blister on the foot is literally a death sentence. 

These brown people die at our borders as acceptable "collateral damages" of an immigration policy based on the strategy of deterrence through deaths.

Not since the days of Jim Crow has the U.S. government maintained a policy that systemically brings death to a group of people based on their race or ethnicity. Our immigration policies are killing Hispanics.

What occurs along the 1,833-mile border is probably the greatest human-rights crisis presently occurring within the United States. As our people constantly remind us, this is not a border that separates the U.S. from Latin America, it is a bleeding scar caused by the Third World rubbing up against the First.

This "scar" was predicted by a 1993 report titled North American Free Trade Agreement: Assessment of Major Issues, prepared for the U.S. House of Representatives by the U.S. Government Accountability Office

The report connected the rise of immigration over the next decade to the implementation of NAFTA prior to the trade agreement's ratification.  

When we say that our present immigration policy is broken, we refuse to acknowledge that we are the ones who broke it. Dumping our surplus of subsidized corn (at about $4 billion a year from 1995 to 2004) on Mexico meant a 70 percent drop in Mexican corn prices and a 247 percent increase in housing, food and other living essentials. 

Not surprisingly, over a million Mexican farmers lost their land within a year of NAFTA's ratification. Our trade policy pushes migrants out of Mexico, while our hunger for cheap labor, which native-born Americans don't want to do, pulls them toward the U.S. 

But rather than acknowledge our complicity in causing undocumented immigration and work toward a comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform, we implemented Operation Gatekeeper the same year we ratified NAFTA as our response. 

Until then, most migrants crossed into the U.S. through urban centers like San Diego, Nogales and El Paso. Operation Gatekeeper sealed the border at these traditional entry points, pushing the trails through inhospitable mountain ranges and deserts.

Operation Gatekeeper was based on the assumption that migrants would die crossing the desert. Thousands did, including 14-year-old Josseline Jamileth Hernandez Quinteros. These "collateral damages" would serve as a deterrent for other migrants thinking of making the dangerous crossing.

What we now know is that no one was deterred. The Mexican economic shambles we contributed to forced desperate people to attempt any obstacle in the hopes of being able to send money back home to feed their hungry children.

Some of us convicted by faith, others due to humanitarian inclinations, have gone to the desert to leave food and water on the migrant trails, only to be detained by the Border Patrol. We are probably one of the only nations in the world that has made humanitarian aid a crime. 

Nevertheless, we continue our efforts because it is the undocumented today who is the hungry, the thirsty, the unwelcomed alien, the sick and, when caught by la migra, the imprisoned. In short, to continue ignoring "the least of these," we as a nation are at risk of losing our soul. 

What we Latino/as need from the first president of color is not the appointment of a few Latina/os to the cabinet or the Supreme Court. This should be the norm, not the exception. 

What we Hispanics want, and what the entire nation needs, is a comprehensive immigration reform that is not based on the death of Josseline and the thousands of others who died due to U.S. policy.


Miguel De La Torre is associate professor of social ethics at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Border Deaths and Immigration Reform

I am committed to publicizing and helping to resolve migrant death along the U.S. Mexico border. I believe migrant death to be, by far, the most egregious symptom of a failed border policy, of failed border security and a devastatingly broken immigration system.  The "country of immigrants" must find a way to import necessary labor in the same manner it imports commerce - safely and humanely.  I believe the ever-increasing death toll along the border to be the most systematic violation of human rights occurring in the U.S. today.  Regardless of whether migrants should or should not be crossing illegally the fact remains that they are coming in mass numbers and deliberately forced over deserts, mountains and dangerous canals to fill the labor demand in the U.S. These deaths are preventable and should not be considered collateral damage. Governments as well as human/civil rights organizations must work together to end human suffering regardless of circumstance or repercussion.

I am optimistic we will achieve immigration reform.  My concern is human rights will not be the driving force that shapes new legislation.  Unfortunately, politics, profit and even racism will inform debates and thus subsequent policies.  My hope is that grass roots organizations, individuals and The 800 Mile Wall will contribute to the importance of recognizing humanity at the center of all laws.  Honoring the immigrant and respecting the dignity of all people must be central to immigration reform.  John F. Kennedy writes, "Immigration policy should be generous, it should be fair and it should be flexible."  It is my belief that the core values of American society are founded on such principles and we need to be reminded of them when tackling the monumental task of immigration reform.  If we, as a nation, achieve some form of success with respect to immigration reform and migrants continue to die in mass numbers at the border, I believe the process will have been a complete failure. 

 I will do whatever I can to make sure my brothers and sisters in blood and by proxy do not continue to endure unspeakable suffering and death in an attempt to feed their families.  I invite any opportunity to partner with individuals and groups to mitigate border death and achieve humane immigration reform. 

The 800 Mile Wall

Since border walls have been built, well over 5,000 migrant bodies have been recovered in U.S. deserts, mountains and canals.  Some unofficial reports put the death toll as high as 10,000 men, women and children.  As a direct result of U.S. border policy, migrants are forced to cross treacherous deserts and mountains in search of low skill and low paying jobs in the United States.  The New York Times writes, "Current border strategy is serving as a funnel through deadly terrain."  The 800 Mile Wall documents, in great detail, the ineffective and deadly results of a failed border policy and offers some thoughts and suggestions on how the current human rights crisis may be resolved.

Migrant Trail

This experience is highly recommended for a deeper understanding of what thousands of migrants endure each day....

Tucson, AZ-    On May 25, 2009, a diverse group of individuals will begin a 75 mile walk to call attention to the human rights crisis occurring on the southern border. The sixth annual Migrant Trail: We walk for Life is a joint endeavor of community groups and individuals from both sides of the border walking in solidarity with migrants to demand an end to the deaths in the desert. 


Sponsors include the Migrant Trail Walk Committee, Coalición de Derechos Humanos, BorderLinks, Mennonite Central Committee US, Catholic Relief Services - Mexico Program, No More Deaths - Phoenix and Tucson, 8th Day Center for Justice, Coloradans for Immigrants Rights, Frontera de Cristo, Humane Borders, American Friends Service Committee, JPIC Office of the St. Barbara Province Franciscans, Shalom Mennonite Fellowship, Casa Maria, and Church of the Good Shepherd. 


"For the sixth year we stand together in solidarity with migrants in our call for action to prevent the tragic deaths and division of communities along the U.S.-Mexico border," says Tom Kowal of AFSC Colorado.  "Thousands of men, women, and children have died due to failed border militarization tactics and unjust immigration and international economic policies.  This must stop."


Since the 1990s, it is estimated that more than 5,000 men, women and children have lost their lives crossing the U.S./Mexico border.  As the summer approaches, and Arizona is already seeing triple-digit temperatures, the number of migrants dying in the desert will begin to increase dramatically.  Many will die the horrible death of dehydration and exposure. These deaths, a direct result of failed and flawed border and immigration policies, must be prevented.


The Walk will begin Monday, May 25 at 2:00pm in Sásabe, Sonora.  Carpools will depart at 11am from Southside Presbyterian (317 W. 23rd Street).  Walkers will arrive on Sunday, May 31st at 11:00am at Kennedy Park, Ramada #3, for a closing ceremony. The Migrant Trail is a non-violent event, and is free and open to the community.  Participants and organizers of the Migrant Trail call on all people of conscience to stand in solidarity with our migrant sisters and brothers. 


"The Migrant Trail is an important spiritual witness to the challenging reality of our borderlands today," says Brother David Buer, a Franciscan brother serving in Tucson.  "It is a moral imperative that we embrace our desperate migrant brothers and sisters with more humane policies and action."



The Migrant Trail

c/o Arizona Border Rights Foundation

P.O. Box 1286 Tucson, AZ 85702

Tel: 520.770.1373

Fax: 520.770.7455