Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reflections on the Migrant Trail Walk, by Tom Acker

I recently returned from a symbolic journey. In the materialistic, pragmatic context of most of our lives, we tend to disregard those things which transcend our daily existence. But here I am writing to you, dear reader, of a place in which what are usually disquieting abstractions, life and death, are tangible constants. They are seen in bleached bones of animals, circling vultures, stupefying heat and dusty dry arroyos. These are elements that accompany you if you venture outside the air-conditioned comfort that most of the inhabitants seek in southern Arizona.

The hidden side of the folkloric Southwest border is deadly. The reality of the desert becomes a horrific and epic awakening for those unfortunate individuals that make up the thousands that attempt to traverse our hemisphere’s most forbidding region: the Sonora Desert that straddles both sides of the Mexican-U.S. border.

Since October 2007, 52 people have died in the desert (as of June 6th, 2008). They die from dehydration, hypothermia and hyperthermia. These statistics reveal the stark reality that unsuspecting economic refugees face upon encountering this inhospitable region for the first time.

Immigration is an act of desperation. The urgency to leave one’s home arises from the extreme poverty that exists in southern Mexico (the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca are famous for this) and Central America. The verdant rainforest of the Lacandona jungle of Chiapas bears no resemblance to the arid international desert with its cholla cactus and its mesquite trees. Add to the physically demanding geography the Sonoran desert’s socio-political chaos. As lethal as the desert are the gangs of narcotraffickers, human traffickers and those that prey on the ill-prepared migrants, the bajadores. This frightening no-man’s land also harbors stories of unscrupulous Border Patrol agents as well as Mexican border officials.

The migrants connect with traffickers, the coyotes, in the northern Mexican launching site of Altar. These entrepreneurs promise them safe passage across the Arizona desert in exchange for thousands of dollars, usually borrowed from relatives or loan sharks. I, on the other hand, felt well protected. My worries were few as I meet my friends and colleagues from the previous year’s Migrant Trail at the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson. Among them are members of innovative and courageous groups like Humane Borders, No More Deaths, Tucson Samaritans, Derechos Humanos and Green Valley Samaritans as well as good citizens from colleges, faith groups, and just interested humanitarians. We prepared to walk for 6 days the 75 miles between the Sonoran border village of S├ísabe into the increasingly treacherous Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.

The Migrant Trail walkers are following an natural south-north passage through the Altar Valley with mountain ranges to our east and west. It is as if we were literally passing through an altar where migrant men, women and children are tried to the extreme. It is an inhumane sacrificial altar on which there is a divine struggle between good and evil. In this large expanse of desert, the mistake of taking the wrong arroyo, separating from the coyote, joining up with the wrong groups of fellow migrants is paid for in human lives. In fact, this is sacred ground.

As we approach the outskirts of Tucson we camp in an old quarry which belongs to the Tohono O'odham people. Their disconnection from their traditional Mexican relatives and culture is testimony to the ill conceived immigration policies that castigate this beautiful and rich cultural environment. Many Tohono O'odham people are no longer able to participate in centuries-old events because they lack the recognized documentation necessary to cross at the border check points. Pre-1994, they could move relatively freely between their Mexican and US communities. Now they are prisoners resulting from laws about which they were not consulted.

Arizona currently has the nation’s harshest immigration laws. Colorado follows closely behind. Tucson resident and AZ native, Quaker Mike Gray, observed that the Arizona natives are not the motor behind the state’s cruel legislation. He observes that the influx of Northern retirees from the mostly white suburbs of Chicago and other Midwest areas, unaccustomed to living in multiracial communities, are largely responsible for the anti-Latino changes in the Arizona political climate. The irony in Tucson is the fact that the attraction for these Gringo immigrants fleeing northern winters are the “Spanish” motifs of the sprawling subdivisions popping up through out the desert. Every one of them sports a quaint “Hispanic” name like Corte El Rancho, Miramar, Maria Elena, etc.

I was fortunate, being on vacation, to be able to deliver a car-load of survival packages with varying contents donated by the good people of the Grand Valley to be used by the humanitarian organization No More Deaths at the Mariposa aide station in Nogales, Sonora. NMD ameliorates the suffering of the persons detained by the U.S. Border Patrol and deposited, blistered, dehydrated, disoriented and broken, far from their homes and families. Our shipment was utilized immediately the week we were walking. Jim and his wife Sarah from the Southside Presbyterian Church gratefully received this help from 600 miles north and asked that I convey their appreciation for the support this contribution gives. If you want more information about the border and the humane organizations working there, go to www.nomoredeaths.org/ There you will find more links to organizations affiliated with them as well.

~ Tom Acker is a professor of Spanish at Mesa State College and President of Grand Valley Peace and Justice. He is also a member of CIRC through the Western Colorado Justice for Immigrants Committee.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Denver Anti-Immigrant Ballot Initiative

This August's primaries aren't only about presidential politics. An anti-immigrant ballot initiative has made it onto the August ballot. The measure would force police to impound the car of anyone found not to have proof of residency on their person. See Wash Park Prophet for a detailed analysis and text of the bill.

Some may wonder why the group behind the initiative (CAIR) didn't ask for a November slot. That may be because they are counting on low turnout for the already decided presidential primaries to work in their favor.

Let's show up for justice, vote no on this ballot initiative and exercise our voting privileges this August 12th.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Deacon Daniel Klawitter on Satyagraha Hunger Strike

As some of you may know, Gandhi coined the term Satyagraha to describe his philosophy of nonviolent resistance to the British Empire. The word itself translates from the Sanskrit as: “the firmness of truth.” Well, I want to offer up some firm truths for those of us here today.

Many people are shocked to discover that 27 million slaves exist in our world today, half of them children under the age of 18. You may be surprised to know that nearly 200,000 people live enslaved at this very moment in the United States, and an additional 17,500 new victims are trafficked across our borders each year. Far too often, “guest” workers in America become trapped into arrangements that are nothing more than indentured servitude. Too often, workers are held against their will in this country and forced to work in slave-like conditions as domestic maids, agricultural workers, cooks, dishwashers and garment workers in sweatshops.

In fact, the commerce in human beings today rivals drug trafficking and the illegal arms trade for the top criminal activity on the planet.

So no matter what your religion might be, I would hope that we can all agree on one of the firmest truths of all: that all human beings, regardless of their country of origin, have a right to dignity, respect, and just compensation for their labor. The British Empire that Gandhi fought against may be gone, but we still have a class of financial and business tyrants who seek to build their empires by exploiting the vulnerable. So I would invite all people of good will to stand firm against these predatory practices and to lend your voice to the new abolition movement which seeks to end slavery once and for all in the 21st century.

Thank You,

Deacon Daniel Klawitter