Monday, December 15, 2008

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

An Activist reflects on the border region...

A major circle completed itself for me as I sat in Panchita's Salvadoran Food in San Francisco the other week. I took the tattered Modelo Especial label from my wallet and set it on the glassed-over tablecloth, trying to remember all that happened during the time it spent squished up against my right buttock. Three years ago, Joe the Mormon and I enjoyed some late night pupusas and beer at Panchita's. He had just graduated from Teach For America, and I had just started my first summer of No More Deaths on the border. My bottle of Modelo had an extra label dangling from it, and I stuck it in my wallet to keep the good memory with me. Joe went back to work with his students, and my label came back with me to the border. Three years later, with guidance from Joe's iPhone, I found myself back in the same spot on a spontaneous escape from a 3-hour airport layover. An older, silver-toothed waiter came to take my order, and grabbed the piece of trash off the table. I stopped him, introduced myself, and with some hesitancy began to try to tell what was so Especial about that label. The waiter told me his name, which I was pretty sure he shared with an old Chilean dictator. I was also pretty sure he would think my sob story was a cheap attempt at talking some free food out of him, but I told it anyway. He knew of the work of groups like No More Deaths, and thought it was neat that the label had wandered the border with me ever since I'd wandered into his restaurant three years ago and wandered back in again today. He had heard about the tragedy of little Josseline – they were both from El Salvador. I was happy to see him smile, saying he would keep the label for me there at the restaurant, and that he would tell the story to the woman making pupusas. And I was relieved when he charged me for my food and for my Modelo Especial.

I may not have been so relieved were I not finally gainfully employed again. After a lengthy interview process and lots of finger-crossing and name-dropping, the Sierra Club hired me as their Borderlands Campaign Organizer! I work from an office in downtown Tucson, helping put together a grassroots campaign against environmentally harmful border policies and infrastructure, especially the border wall. The opportunity to engage the nation's largest, oldest, most influential conservation organization, and its 1.2 million members, in this struggle is amazing and humbling. I am the only Sierra Club employee in Tucson, and, as far as I know, the only convicted litterer in the entire organization! Seriously though, right now is a time of unity, of solidarity between humanitarian and environmental causes working together against a destructive and absurd border policy. The future holds hope, and tons of work! If you'd like to help out or learn more, check us out at or look up Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign on facebook.

It's the day after Thanksgiving, and I'm writing this from the back of my truck, parked at the makeout point above Flagstaff, AZ. I have spent a lot of time here on recent visits to my hometown, sadly always alone. For whatever reason, it's my preferred place to practice crappy Garth Brooks renditions on my borrowed guitar, or maybe now to type up messages on the Sierra Club's laptop computer. Wow – there's even wireless signal! From here, the flash and whine of sirens stand out most, and the trains sever the city in half every few minutes, like a twisting steel wall rumbling over anything in its path. These things, and helicopters, often drag me back to memories and stories of our border emergency.

I have three border stories to tell you: one about a friend, another about a friend's friend, and the third about a stranger. Only my friend is still alive.

About a month before and not far from where I was ticketed for leaving water for migrants, Samaritans volunteer Kathryn Ferguson was parked along the highway. She was doing a routine trail check, looking for lost, injured or sick people in need of help. An unmarked truck pulled up behind her, and three burly plainclothes men confronted her, refusing to identify themselves. An experienced border volunteer, Kathryn smartly began writing everything down. They responded by shoving her against the truck, handcuffing her, and holding her for an hour and a half before our lawyers were finally able to convince them to let her go. She was charged with creating a nuisance, and a trial date was set. The day before she was to go to court, the charges were mysteriously dropped. Here is an article on the whole ordeal:

Francisco Dominguez Rivera was not so lucky. This month, for the second time, a jury failed to convict the Border Patrol agent who shot him under his left arm at point blank range in 2007. The bullet pierced his heart and lodged in his abdomen. When he died, Francisco was 22 years old and weighed 145 pounds. The 240-pound agent who claims to have shot him in a scuffle is still on the job. Eyewitnesses and official reports say there was no scuffle.

Just as tragic is the story of my friend's friend Luis. Early this year he was pulled over for a routine racial profiling – uh – I mean traffic stop by Phoenix police. Having no driver's license, Luis was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE is the same agency that has been in the news for rounding up and scapegoating brown people in Iowa, Florida and beyond, as well as conducting lesser-known raids like the one this month here in Flagstaff). Luis refused to sign voluntary deportation papers. His wife and three children are here in the U.S., where he had lived and worked for ten years. He sat in jail for six months before being deported in August. On September 15, Luis was found dead in our Arizona border desert. Trying to get back to his wife, his seven year old, his four year old, and the three month old baby daughter he had never met, he died of dehydration and exposure.

There are 182 more stories like this one; stories that end in lifeless bodies lying on our border. One of those is Josseline's story. She and Luis are just two of the 183 whose remains were found along the Arizona border this year. This does not include those found in the three other U.S.-Mexico border states, or the thousands found in the years since the invention of NAFTA and the walls. And only God knows how many thousands more are never found.

I cry every time I write one of these messages. I'm hoping the next time they'll be tears of joy, a happy report about winning the appeal we filed of my littering conviction. But most probably there won't be a next message. I'm stepping back from the "front-lines" work of No More Deaths, learning to plug into my new "command center" post with the Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign. If you would like to continue getting monthly updates from this new vantage point, please send an email to and I'll sign you up. I enjoyed sharing my experiences with you, not because the memories are fond, but because they are important. That 2,000-mile imaginary line between rich and poor, English and Spanish, ketchup and Tapatío, is like an endless scroll whose writings contain the saddest stories, the most absurd ironies, and the essential lessons. I implore all of us to continue to share what we witness, what we live. As always, you can share my memories with a click on Now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to push for real change in the way our government and society operates. Together we might close some of the mangled and bloody circles plaguing not just our borders but our very beings.

Thank you, so very much, for standing beside the migrants, the volunteers, and me, in the desert, in federal court, and in our common human heart.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Dear Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants,

I am delighted to share with you the wonderful news that the "Access to
Religious Ministry" bill unanimously passed the House and Senate
yesterday (see below.) There indeed is still a long way to go on this
Journey of Hope for immigrants, but as Advent approaches, passage of
this act is a hope-filled, concrete sign that we are beginning to see
the results of very, very many prayers and efforts. And now we are
assured that immigrant detainees will get the spiritual care they need
while they await the next step in their journeys. We will need your help
in implementing and putting into action this new law. Please call your
Senator and Representative to thank them for supporting this bill.

Thanks for all of your support! Praise God!

Elena Segura
CCIR Director,

Thank you for all your prayers, and letters/phone calls to
legislatures! This is a crucial victory for the basic human rights of
immigrant detainees in county jails in Illinois, as this bill assures
them the same access to priests, nuns, ministers, rabbis, imams, and
other clergy as the criminal populations in these jails. The Sisters and
Brothers of Immigrants (in particular the Sisters of Mercy) and the
Priests for Justice for Immigrants were instrumental in introducing the
bill earlier this year and building grassroots support until the bill
passed in Springfield as HB 4613 (originally HB 2747). Many lay leaders
of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform and the Catholic
Conference of Illinois also had important roles in this successful,
joint effort among many community-based and religious institutions

For background on the Lomas del Poleo situation check