Migracion si!

20190216_120831.jpg

Paths trod through oak woods,

Rutted roads span grassy plains.

Steel rails, son and asphalt mark lines on maps,

Roaming here, there, to and fro.

 

Trees sway in the breeze,

Flowers wing seeds to the sky.

Water sculpts the land, forming lakes and vales.

Glaciers shape the continents.

 

Movement is memory.

We walk on holy journeys.

Like Monarch waves flitting over nations,

We should also migrate free.

“Uncle Sam wants you to stay a dummy”

fencesWe have all seen pictures of “the wall.”  Usually, the pictures are taken in isolated desert areas with no sign of nearby human activity.

But, the wall is not just a barrier, or a fence.  The wall between the United States and Mexico is creating a Stammlager (you may be more familiar with the shorter version, Stalag). These were the camps the Nazis used to hold prisoners of war. Of course, Germany was not alone.

67e3e5f0-f6ae-11e6-bb3c-91cb59b9894d_AP_4111010163

America is not inexperienced when it comes to fencing in prisoners of war.  This country illegally interred more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans whose only crime was their ethnic heritage.  Thousands of German-American “enemy aliens” were also arrested and interred in 1917, when the U.S. entered World War One.

But now, we are building the biggest fence against our enemies in history. Who are these enemies? Not terrorists – most of them enter the country through visas, or are homegrown; not the drug dealers – most of them arrive via plane or boat; and not most human traffickers – their clients are wealthy businessmen with plenty of money to protect their modern-day slaves from detection.

20190213_161306.jpg

So, who are the prisoners of war being detained in Stalag 1776? Not the Mexicans, the Hondurans, the Guatemalians, or indigenous peoples fleeing violence in their homes – violence too often funded by the U.S.  No, the prisoners are you and me, and every American who does not speak out in opposition to the growing police state that is America. We are prisoners of a war of fear, a war of capitalist imperialism, a war of racial bigotry.

The title of this posting came from the back of a shirt worn by one of the managed migrants paraded before the federal judge on February 12.  I honor this man’s courage to wear such a message while imprisoned by vast paramilitary forces of our country.  Uncle Sam does want you to stay ignorant, to remain complacent, to focus on the needs of yourself and your loved ones.  To hell with these u wanted illegals, with their diseases, their gangs, and their drugs.

I say, to hell with Uncle Sam – an outmoded symbol of American imperialism.  Let us return to the Statue of Liberty, who greeted so many of our own ancestors to these shores.

The Wall

20190213_155337Nogales should be a unique and attractive city.  After miles of relatively flat desert and mountains in the distance, you enter on Interstate 19, and are suddenly faced with hills covered with homes of many styles.  It is a vertical city without the benefit of skyscrapers.

Nogales should be a unique city.  I imagine that in years past, the cultures of Mexican Nogales and Nogales, Arizona blended to make a fascinating town.  Streets literally feet apart must have shared neighborhood shops, festivals, and community.

20190213_160203Nogales should be an attractive city.  But now, Nogales is a wounded city.  A horrible gash splits the American and Mexican cities and a militarized gate makes passage between the two a burden, even a danger.  The lumbering monstrosity dominates the landscape, looking for all intent making each city look like a  prison.

20190213_161206

We approached the wall having seen news reports of the wall, fence, or whatever we are calling it today.  But nothing can quite prepare you for the horror of it all.  The horror just a few feet away is unspeakable; America is enclosing itself in a concentration camp that would have made the Nazis proud.

And yet, as if to magnify the irony of such a frightening visage of fear and violence, we turned and saw an incredible sight.  Across the street was a dirt driveway leading to a house.  In front of the house were about a dozen peacocks strolling casually and obviously oblivious to our presence.  One had its tail feathers spread full, and another was completely white (something I didn’t know existed.20190213_162509

Such magnificent color against the silver barbed wire; such fragility against the cold steel pillars.  Would that we lived in a world where one was the norm and the other had no reason to exist.

The American Reich

20190213_101309Migrants entering the United States face an incredible array of personnel and technology.  Beyond the standard local police, county sheriffs and U.S. marshals, they must also evade the Border Patrol.

Close to 20,000 border patrol agents stand between a migrant and the dream of living and working in America.  Border Patrol trucks are everywhere in southern Arizona, some hauling horse trailers so agents can get to off-road locations.  Checkpoints – permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary stop vehicles on roads and highways.  Towers dot the landscape with motion and heat detectors.  Once located, quickly dispatched helicopters locate whoever is walking in the desert.  One must wonder how any migrant escapes their surveillance.

20190213_153319.jpgAnd what does it take to become a border patrol officer?  A six-month course (only recently expanded from three months) and passing a test.

In Nazi Germany, many men failed the entrance exams to become soldiers of the Wehrmacht.  Thousands joined Ordnungspolizei units – police battalions often stationed in the Eastern front.  There they traveled from town to town rounding up enemies of the Reich and shooting them, filling mass, unmarked graves in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere.  Report of Ordnungspolizei brutality only came to light decades later in Daniel Goldhagen’s book Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

The Southern Borders Community Coalition reports 83 deaths of migrants in the past eight years at the hands of border patrol agents, along with many reports of brutal treatment.

One must wonder how these vast resources could be used in a more constructive, humane, and moral way.

In the Desert

When I heard that we would make a desert water20190213_130149 drop on this trip, I was excited.  I prepared for the walk carrying gallons of water jugs, as well as my own water and supplies.

What I failed to prepare myself for was the terrain of the Sonoma Desert.  The area surrounding Tucson is largely flat.  One hour south, near tiny Arivica, the desert consists of steep hills and dry water beds, all covered with stone and sandy earth.

20190213_134259The area is beautiful and inhospitable at the same time.  Huge temperature fluctuations, torrential rainstorms, and land that supports only thorny trees, scrub grass, and cacti make for a unique climate.

The first hill winded me badly.  I was assured that the way would get easier (it didn’t).  Going was slow going down the hill and I took my first tumble of the day, catching myself before rolling 100 feet to the river bed below.

At the bottom, we drank water and ate fruit, rejuvenating ourselves for the next mile or so along the rocks.  Steep cliffs overlooked our way.  We passed under barbed wire and constantly had to avoid low-hanging branches. Rocks m slid beneath our feet on every step that could easily turn an ankle.

20190213_115427We arrived at a water drop.  A shady area with a dozen or so water bottles and a few cans of beans.  People had written messages on the many empty water bottles, such as “Via con dios!” Some food cans were empty.  The pull top tab had corroded on others and we could tell that migrants had tried to open them.

We pressed on another half a mile or so, reaching another water drop site.  More empty bottles and cans.  The group decided to leave our water jugs here, and we cleaned up the used containers.

On the way back, I tripped stepping over a log and took my second fall of the day.  I hit the exact same place on my shin, scraping the shin nastily.  When we reached the first drop off point, most of the group cleaned up used containers while two colleagues bandaged my leg.

At this point, my pride was beyond repair, because I later took one last spill when my knee gave out just as a reached the crest of a hill.  I finally managed to get back to our van without further harm (or embarrassment).

I had walked a few miles, with a guide, on a cool, sunny day, with plenty of water and food.  Migrants by the hundreds walk these same paths daily in the hopes of living in this country.  They walk miles just to get to these drop off points and then miles more to get beyond the 100 mile range of authority of the Border Patrol.  Many are caught and brought to the federal court we witnessed the day before. And some die on their journey to freedom.

Gangs at the Mexican border routinely rob them.  Women, children, and LGBTQ individuals are particularly vulnerable.  Even able bodied men fall victim to the cold, to flash floods, and getting lost until their supplies are gone.

So, please do have the tiniest bit of sympathy for my clumsiness and lack of  physical conditioning.  But share the bulk of your concern and love for the thousands who simply want to work for a fair wage and to raise families without fear of government terror and murder.

Here’s What You Can Do

Whenever I speak about social justice and social action, this question invariably pops up: “But, what can I do?”

20190212_111001This morning, we met Lois Martin, an 84-year old who moved to Tucson 10 or so years ago to work on immigration justice.  She is a member of No More Deaths, an initiative of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson.  No More Deaths is a humanitarian organization based in southern Arizona working to end death and suffering in the Mexico-U.S. borderlands through civil initiative.  Their work focuses on direct aid (such as water drops in the desert), witnessing and responding, cons iousness raising, and promoting humane immigration policy.

Lois is an amazing person.  She has traveled extensively through Central America and has served as an election observer in Honduras and Guatemala.  She minced no words – the violence people are fleeing in these countries came about and continues because of American support of illegal regimes.  For the last century, groups like the United Fruit Farmers and a handful of wealthy landowners have terrorized the compesinos into fleeing for their lives.  And the U.S. has used these countries as staging points for immoral acoins in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

She taught us about our government’s goal to criminalize migration and to deter migration through death and imprisonment.  She explained how people caught by the border patrol agents (who perform police functions without proper police training) are remitted to the criminal justice system, not the immigration system.  Border patrol can hold migrants for 72 hours with no guarantee of even the basic services such as bedding. Claims of asylum are ignored and victims are processed through Operation Streamline, which results in a criminal record and immediate deportation.

Since the hearings take place in federal court, victims are not provided any translators but Spanish.  As a result, defendents (who may be members of many indigenous people’s with their own dialects) may have no understanding of what is happening to them.

We then spent the afternoon at the federal courthouse watching close to 100 people led into the courtroom in shackles.  Looking confused and frightened, shuffling because of the ankle chains, groups were led before the judge charged either with misdemeanor illegal entry or felony re-entry after removal. Pleading guilty to the former means immediate deportation and a criminal record.  All of the latter cases made plea bargains resulting in dropping the felony charge, but serving 30 to 180 days in prison.

20190212_161651Only after the hearing are migrants remitted to immigration services, where claims of asylum may be heard.  But, often the only person who may hear the claim is the bus driver taking them to Nogales, or an officer who simply chooses to ignore it.

The futility and inhumanity of this charade of justice was brought home by one man.  The judge asked if he had been in her court before.  He affirmed her recollection.  She told him, “I don’t want to see you here again, because next time it will be a felony.”  He replied, “Not anymore…what’s the point?”

What is the point?  What can you do?  See.  Think.  Plan.  Act.  Reflect.  And repeat.

Spreading the Message

20190212_083622My week here on the border will change me.  My hope is that this time will also help me to change others.

But words only go so far.

Throughout human history – from cave paintings 50,000 years ago to today – art has been the universal language of our species.

20190212_083730The Borderlinks offices are filled with art of all kinds, displaying a world that many only read about or hear described on the news.  Even before we begin our immersion into the world of the undocumented, we are surrounded by their message, from photos to posters to original artwork.

Not surprisingly, images of Jesus and Mary are common.  Whatever the faith tradition, however, most striking are the themes of devotion, of belief, of love.  The people seeking freedom from oppression and violence in our country are people devoted to the moral teachings of a fellow traveler, whose ancestors also walked to new lands to escape oppression.  Their law teaches them to welcome the stranger, to love even one’s enemies, and to treat every person as brother or sister.

20190212_083814One of the sources of Unitarian Universalism is the teachings of the Jewish and Christian traditions – the laws of Moses, the justice of Isaiah, the wisdom of Solomon, and the gentleness of Jesus.  We, too, can find meaning and inspiration in art, regardless of the theology of its creator.

Art is not neutral.  Art does not discriminate.  Art can be used for evil purposes.  But art always reveals a truth; a truth about the artist as well as a truth about ourselves.

Another World

I have been to Arizona before.  But this time, the landscape seems unfamiliar – almost alien.  I know this is still America, so perhaps the purpose of my journey offers a different and even a little scary perspective.

I am here with other Unitarian Universalist ministers and seminarians for a week-long border witness program, coordinated by the UU Service Committee’s College of Social Justice.  Our goal is to explore the circumstances affecting people seeking to live in the United States who lack the money and other privileges that make such travel easier.

Tucson is flat, desert country.  Saguaro and other cacti grow everywhere.  In the distance, the rocky Tucson Mountains jut quickly into the blue sky.  Definitely not the mountains of Appalachia.

I am not a tourist, nor am I here to effect any lasting change on the people of this arid clime.  I am an outsider, an observer, but I am not neutral.  I have set aside the routine matters of church and life to expose myself; to open myself to new perspectives.  I expect some of my worst fears to be confirmed – the immoral treatment of refugees; the heartlessness of a racist system of incarceration; and the madness of using centuries-old solutions to address a nonexistent problem.

But, I also seek signs of hope.  I want to see firsthand how people combat this injustice; how we can welcome the traveler without fear or reservation.  I want to find how to reverse my growing pessimism caused by the erosion of American ideals and basic tenets of human decency.

It is only a week, but I am ready.