Updates
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Event: Undocumented Immigrants in Tucson Petition ICE

Today, a group of 50 undocumented immigrants, their families, and many supporters, will march on ICE headquarters in Tucson to bring attention to deportation practices.  Since the Obama Administration’s implementation of the “Morton Memo,” allowing review of “low-priority” deportation cases, many immigrants in detention proceedings have hoped that their lack of a criminal record and family connections to the United States would qualify them to have their cases reviewed.

However, the reality has been little different from the past.  Many immigrants with no criminal history and US citizen spouses and children are still being deported daily.  In fact, the Obama Administration has deported more people in one year — almost 400,000 in FY2011 — than any other presidency.  The disparity between the promise of the president’s campaign and the Morton Memo in particular is a harsh contrast with what many families are experiencing.

To see the whole press release and for more information, click “Read the rest of this entry.”

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A Migrant’s Story of Abuse

This story was recorded by No More Deaths abuse documentation volunteers. To learn more about No More Deaths, visit their website, or download their 2011 report, A Culture of Cruelty.

Documented 7/30/11 – An anonymous male from Mexico, in a group of six, was crossing through the mountains in the desert on July 23rd. They had left Nogales at 3 in the afternoon, and after dark they were quickly surrounded by a group of Border Patrol agents. There were 7 agents, 3 of whom were riding horses. A BP Agent kicked the man in the leg, at which point he crouched down and covered his head. While he was curled up, arms over his head, the agent kicked him again in the side of the stomach. When the group approached he didn’t know who they were, if they were Border Patrol or bandits trying to rob them. After being kicked, he heard one of them yell, “We are the migra! Don’t move!” The agents yelled at them that they were, “Pendejos” and “Idiotas.” They were held in the Tucson detention center for one day, and were continuously cursed and ridiculed.

Unfortunately, this kind of physical and verbal abuse is a common element of stories migrants tell of being detained.  We should expect and demand professional behavior from all law enforcement officials.

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A Town Hall on the Border

Federal policies affect border communites in ways that aren’t always obvious.  For years, border activists have talked about “militarization,” which refers to the increasing presence of Border Patrol and othe federal agencies.  While most of these agencies are not technically “military” (with the exception of the National Guard, which has a continued presence along the border), the effect is often similar.  Border residents pass through checkpoints, are observed by drone flights, and are frequently questioned by Federal agents when travelling on rural roads.  For new residents, the idea of militarization seems very strange, but living here brings a new perspective.  For this East Coast newcomer, it was quite a shock!

It is no surprise then that when a group of Federal agencies under the Department of Homeland Security came to Douglas for a town hall meeting, there was good attendence and many questions.  Below you can watch a video of the entire event.  To jump to specific questions or presentations, see a helpful time point breakdown of the event by click “read the rest of this entry.”

Watch live streaming video from voiceofdouglas at livestream.com

Though many residents have conflicting views, a dominent theme seemed to be a desire for faster transit through ports and easier access to Douglas by Mexicans coming from Agua Prieta (many of whom shop in Douglas).  A few residents expressed concern at the ever-increasing presence of Border Patrol and other agencies, especially given the lack of a clear understanding about how to measure success.  However, other residents defended Border Patrol’s presence, and even suggested that more be done to make sure that rural areas are “secure.”  Yet many residents agreed that it is problematic when the border is depicted in the media as violent, especially when statistics routinely prove that border communities are safer than many large US cities.

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Benjamin’s Story

Benjamin’s story was recorded by No More Deaths abuse documentation volunteers.  To learn more about No More Deaths, visit their website, or download their 2011 report, A Culture of Cruelty.

Documented 10/31/11 – Benjamin, male, 43 years old, originally from Michoacán. He was crossing with a group on October 13th-15th when after 10:30 pm his group was found by the Border Patrol. He was hidden in a wash where there were a lot of trees, and he could tell they were being approached but didn’t realize the agents were on motorcycles. He was lying face down on the ground, hiding, when a motorcycle ran over his back, from upper left to bottom right, and then over his leg. They had come from behind him and he could not have seen. When the agent who hit him realized what had happened, he yelled, “Why didn’t you get up? What if we ran over your head?” with no sign of regret or sympathy. His left thigh was very bruised and purple and the agents took photos. He could still walk, though, and was brought to the Border Patrol truck where they took him directly to Copper Queen Hospital in Bisbee. He was alone in the back of the vehicle, injured, and while driving to the hospital they turned the temperature from very hot, to very cold, and back again, which he believes made him sick as later he had a sore throat. Because Benjamin does not present himself in a gender-normative way, the agents were asking if he was a man or a woman, and then laughing and making fun of him. At Copper Queen he was seen by Dr. Waytuck, who said he was OK and that no bones had been broken. He was provided with a medical information handout but only in English, which he could not read on his own, about his condition – “contusion of the back.” He was given discharge instructions, also in English, and told to go to the hospital in Mexico when he arrived. From there, Border Patrol brought him to Naco, and deported him alone. Three days later he began to have very severe pain in his lower back.

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Mr. Obama, Tear Down This Wall

What is this “wall” everyone keeps talking about?

The border will dividing the city of Agua Prieta / Douglas is a relatively new phenomenon.  Long-time residents of the city talk about the days when the fences were designed to keep cows, not people, from crossing.  For those of us who are new to the city, however, the wall sometimes seems like a permanent piece of the landscape, as immune to human desires as a river or a mountain.  It’s only when the wall changes that we realize it is human in origin.

A tall human stands at the bottom of the moat of the US-Mexico border wall.

This correspondent (6'2") stands in the partially completed "moat." The United States is to the right.

Today, construction began on a section of the Douglas / Agua Prieta border wall.  My first reaction, biking along Calle Internacional on the Mexican side,was “Wow!  They’re taking down the wall, that’s beautiful!”  And it really was a marvelous sight, even that brief glimpse.  It opened my eyes to the possibility of a city without a dividing wall.  A city where the desire of all of humanity, the desire to be in community, is realized.

Unfortunately, the new construction is a step backward for this divided city.  The new style of fence is 23 feet tall – 5 feet buried in concrete below ground, and 18 feet above ground.  Replacing the rusting “aesthetic” fence is one of thick, burly bars of metal topped by a vertical slab of the same material, facing the Mexican side.  No pretense is made that this wall is designed to keep people — you know, those people — out.  The plan calls for this construction to extend three miles on either side of the port of entry.  And then there is the moat.

The moat is double-layered fence.  In between, there is a deep, wide trough of concrete that slopes toward Mexico and rises abruptly on the US side to meet the second layer fence, combining to make a truly awe-inspiring climb.  Surely our border wall gives Mr. Gorbachev’s best a run for its money.  The moat, too, is growing longer.  One can only hope it will not also cover the same six-mile stretch.

Our cities now have Berlin-style construction in cities, “Normandy” vehicle barriers in more remote areas, and spread throughout cameras, lights, and roads with skid marks from high-speed chases. Washington — not Douglas — built this wall.  A quiet border city now looks like a war zone.  Those who follow that national political discourse might believe that Agua Prieta / Douglas is a war zone.  It is not.

So why is Washington treating it as such?

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Hanging on by a Thread

IMPORTANT NOTICE! The following story contains an intense account of sexual assault and violence. This may be triggering and extremely emotional. If you decide to read on please treat this with the utmost of respect and care.

            I walked into the ‘comedor’ (the hall where free meals are served to deportees and migrants) and prepared to give my small introduction to the group and let them all know that I would be documenting stories of abuse and separation from anyone who wanted their story shared. Before I could even introduce myself one of the long-term volunteers who knew me asked if I could set some time aside to speak with a woman named Lorena (name changed for her protection). After Lorena ate, her and her mother-in-law Guadalupe (name changed as well) cautiously approached me. Lorena is 21 years old and Gloria 59. The family (Lorena, her husband, nephew, uncle, mother-in-law and father-in-law) had all crossed the desert together into the US after being deported from their homes in Los Angeles, California. Lorena was crossing in an attempt to return to her US citizen, 1-year-old son who had stayed with a relative when the family was uprooted and sent away to a city they did not know. Lorena is currently pregnant. Our time together was short because the whole family was getting on a bus to Tijuana to search for other deported relatives and to devise a plan to get their child back.

                When they were caught in the desert by Border Patrol agents after days of treacherous hiking the male agents wasted no time in promptly took off the women’s jackets to feel them up and down. Lorena was then hit in the stomach with the fist of a Border Patrol agent who she described as a tall, white, bald man who is on the heavier end physically. “Yo no se si sabia.” Through tears Lorena questioned if he knew she was pregnant or not. (She has a thin build and her pregnancy is obviously showing.) Since the incident she has since been going through severe physical pain alongside unspeakable psychological trauma. She was so traumatized that each word that came out of her mouth seemed like a huge accomplishment in of itself. She was shaking and jittery the entire time. She was walking slowly and it was abundantly clear that she was scarred physically, emotionally and mentally. She bravely chose for this testament to be heard, but is terrified of the possibility of the agent finding out that she ever told anyone. I felt invasive and wanted her to only share what she was able to. She decided to continue on and both of them made sure we knew exactly what type of torturous conditions they had survived.

                The Border Patrol agents then threw their food, water, and hygienic products into the desert. They were not given any water and once they had been placed in detention they were given nothing but crackers to eat until the next day when they were transferred. No medical attention was given for Lorena who was in urgent need of care for her and her baby. The detention facilities were freezing cold and while they were held captive and shivering they were not informed of their legal rights and were forced to sign documents that they did not understand. They also witnessed a man get thrown into a wall and attacked by officials while they were in detention which augmented their fear and trauma. Lorena was finally deported alone and left hanging on to life by a thread to somehow find her loved ones later in Nogales, Sonora. With the help of others who were in similar crises themselves she did.

                I cannot describe even a portion of the feelings that came over me as I sat with Lorena. She reminds me of a close friend of mine from my hometown. That is all I can say. Any attempt here for me to try to give some well-worded response to sexual assault on the border would be a slap in the face to her. I feel it would be disgustingly inappropriate for me to try to tie together a theory about how the border allows those in uniforms and those not to sexually assault our people in their most vulnerable moments. I refuse to throw around any academic analysis around as if it matters. It doesn’t. All that matters is the love and rage of our people. All that matters is solidarity.

                 As I walked through customs that evening entering back into the US I could hardly contain myself. I felt a deep sorrow for this stolen indigenous land (Tohono O’odham) which is being desecrated by this violence, and a boiling anger at the ugly legacy I was born into. “Are you bringing anything back with you from Mexico today sir?” The agent inquired. “Yes I am. I’m bringing the stories of the people you beat, assault, and kill. I’m carrying the heavy testimony of a survivor of your inhumanity. I’m bringing the worthy rage and fury of the displaced. I’m bringing the love, smiles, and hugs of my ‘compas’.”

I paused and took a deep breath, biting my tongue for future moments of action and instead only answered, “No I am not.”

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Border Memorial for Carlos LaMadrid

Carlos Lamadrid, de 19 años de edad, residente de Douglas y ciudadano de EE.UU., fue asesinado por un agente de la Patrulla Fronteriza el 21 de marzo 2011, mientras que escalaba el muro fronterizo tratando de entrar a México.

Muchos detalles sobre su muerte siguen sin conocerse. Al parecer él llevaba drogas en su vehículo y estaba tratando de eludir a la policía. Las autoridades han mencionado que rocas fueron lanzadas contra los agentes desde el lado mexicano durante el incidente. Mientras que otros lanzaban piedras, Carlos fue baleado en múltiples ocasiones mientras escalaba la valla. Sin embargo, si Carlos era culpable de un delito o no, la Patrulla Fronteriza no es responsable de determinar la culpabilidad y la realización de las penas para los delitos, y mucho menos la imposición de la pena de muerte. Por el contrario, los Estados Unidos tiene un sistema judicial establecido por nuestra Constitución para determinar la culpabilidad a través del debido proceso.

La muerte de Carlos es sólo uno de muchos ejemplos de un patrón preocupante de cuestiones relacionadas con el uso inadecuado y excesivo de la fuerza por agentes de la Patrulla Fronteriza, un patrón que afecta a muchos residentes fronterizos. En junio de 2010, agentes de la Patrulla Fronteriza aplicaron la Taser (una arma que aplica un shock eléctrico) y golpearon a un hombre mientras era deportado a Tijuana, resultando en su muerte.   Ganó la condena de grupos de derechos humanos, y posteriormente clasificaron su muerte un homicido.  En otro incidente en el que se alegaba que arrojaban  piedras, los agentes de la Patrulla Fronteriza mataron a un inmigrante en Douglas, de nuevo condenado por grupos de derechos humanos como “otro trágico ejemplo de la urgente necesidad de la rendición de cuentas y la supervisión de la Patrulla Fronteriza de los EE.UU. y sus prácticas. ”En las últimas semanas, otroasesinato en la frontera de Tijuana / San Diego volvio a provocar  la condena del gobierno mexicano, la ACLU y otros grupos de derechos humanos. El diario Los Angeles Times publicó un artículo acerca de este incidente el cual se se titula “Disparos a hombre por agentes de la Patrulla Fronteriza, renueva el debate sobre el uso de la fuerza”, reconociendo que la importancia de esta conversación para las comunidades fronterizas. La muerte de Carlos nos recuerda que estos hechos no se limitan a los migrantes.

Poco después de la muerte de Carlos, su familia inició la colocación de coronas de flores y otros artículos en el lugar de su muerte. Poco a poco, se han convertido en un monumentoimpresionante para él, y un recordatorio para todos de la violencia de la Patrulla Fronteriza. El monumento, al igual que las ciudades de Agua Prieta y Douglas sí mismas, es dividido por el muro en la frontera - la mitad de el memorial está en el lado mexicano, la mitad en el lado de EE.UU.. El monumento es un recordatorio importante de la violencia física real en la frontera. Más importante aún, es un lugar para los familiares y amigos para llorar a Carlos.

Siga leyendo para conocer el futuro de el memorial y ver las fotosde ambos lados de la Barda.

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A Migrant’s Story

(Note: This story is part of a series of personal accounts by volunteers from the Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta, Sonora (MRC).  Chayito is a volunteer with many years of experience, and she lives in Agua Prieta.  This is her story.)

At the very beginning when I began working for the MRC, a young man came to me very beaten up for having spent 10 years of his life in prison.  When he decided to cross into the USA, it was because he had been left a widower, his wife died giving birth to his third little daughter.  He, desperate, was trying to send his mother who had been left in charge of his young daughters some little bit of money to get by.

But such was his bad luck that once he got to Tucson, Arizona recently arrived, he was invited to a party (a carne asada) and as he was new, he never thought that in that place there would be drugs.  He hadn’t been at the party for much time when the police showed up and he found himself involved.  To get to the point, he was taken prisoner.  There he spent 10 years of his life, without being able to communicate with anybody, not even with his mother.  That man cried inconsolably like a child.

That’s why he tried to return to the United States, but he failed at that, and he arrived here with his feet all blistered.  When I tried to take care of his feet, he resisted.  In the end, he allowed me to wash his feet.  He began to cry inconsolably and to tell me the sad story of his life.  He moved me to the most profound part of my being.  I believed that is what marked my life to continue on this path.

He cried because he didn’t know if his mother was alive.  Because he didn’t see his little daughters grow up for those 10 years.  How would they receive him?  Would they they know him?  How could he show up empty-handed?  He asked himself many questions.  I couldn’t find the words to comfort him at that moment.

But God inspired me.  I don’t remember what I told him, but I do know that he was comforted.

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Last minute invitation

Hello all!  I apologize for the last minute nature of the invitation!   The Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta, Sonora is turning fivethis month, and we are celebrating with a film festival.  All are invited today (Thursday, June 23) and tomorrow (Friday, June 24) at 7:30 pm for films, popcorn, juice, and a chat about the movies.  We will be displaying the films outside, at the Migrant Resource Center.  The Migrant Resource Center is located at the port-of-entry into Mexico, right next to the Aduana (customs) revision area.

For more information, see our flyer (pdf).  We hope to see you here!

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The Thirsty Desert

A note from Danielle: I just want to reiterate that I did not write this. Another volunteer who decided to publish anonymously did. I am glad to help get it in the hands of as many people as possible.

One of our volunteers recently wrote this powerful reflection on their experiences providing humanitarian aid in the Arizona desert. The stories people share with us in Nogales are often times a tangled web of the reasons they find themselves at the border,  where they hope to go, and the things that stand in the way. The desert is always present, another harrowing step on the journey already encountered or looming in the back of the mind.

Designed to Kill: Border Policy and How to Change It

For a number of years now I’ve worked in the desert on the Mexican-American border with a group that provides humanitarian aid to migrants who are attempting to enter the United States—a journey that claims hundreds of lives every year. We’ve spent years mapping the trails that cross this desert. We walk the trails, find places to leave food and water along them, look for people in distress, and provide medical care when we run into someone who needs it. If the situation is bad enough, we can get an ambulance or helicopter to bring people to the hospital. We strive to act in accordance with the migrants’ wishes at all times, and we never call the Border Patrol on people who don’t want to turn themselves in.

During this time I’ve been a part of many extraordinary situations and I’ve heard about many more. Some of the things I’ve seen have been truly heartwarming, and some of them have been deeply sad and wrong. I’ve seen people who were too weak to stand, too sick to hold down water, hurt too badly to continue, too scared to sleep, too sad for words, hopelessly lost, desperately hungry, literally dying of thirst, never going to be able to see their children again, vomiting blood, penniless in torn shoes two thousand miles from home, suffering from heat stroke, kidney damage, terrible blisters, wounds, hypothermia, post-traumatic stress, and just about every other tribulation you could possibly think of. I’ve been to places where people were robbed and raped and murdered; my friends have found bodies. In addition to bearing witness to others’ suffering, I myself have fallen off of cliffs, torn my face open on barbed wire, run out of water, had guns pointed at me, been charged by bulls and circled by vultures, jumped over rattlesnakes, pulled pieces of cactus out of many different parts of my body with pliers, had to tear off my pants because they were full of fire ants, gotten gray hairs, and in general poured no small amount of my own sweat, blood, and tears into the thirsty desert.

There is nowhere on earth like the place where we work. Continue reading…