Charlie & Jean Dietrick Rooney, longtime Detroit activists, now spend half each year as volunteers with “No More Deaths,” (www.NoMoreDeaths.org) a humanitarian group working to prevent migrant deaths in the Sonoran desert south of Tucson.
"What's going on in Arizona?" is a question that inevitably comes up when we phone our Michigan friends these days. Most often it refers to S. B. 1070, otherwise known as the Immigration Enforcement Law.
In the past year, Arizona politics have gone from right-wing-leaning to extreme-right-dominated. While the causes are many, the most proximate is Gov. Janet Napolitano's promotion to Secretary of Homeland Security. She was succeeded by the Attorney General Janet Brewer, a Republican, who signs legislation previously vetoed routinely by Napolitano.
A few examples: Abolition of all restrictions from carrying concealed weapons other than for previous felony conviction -- even eliminating mandatory safety classes. The same legislature that has rejected all proposed tax increases despite a $2 billion budget deficit, has found time to pass legislation to eliminate the Hispanic studies program in the Tucson public schools.
But undoubtedly the biggest stir, and terror, has been created by SB 1070. The key part of the law requires police to ask those they have stopped for other reasons about their immigration status if they reasonably suspect the person is an illegal immigrant. Lawsuits challenging 1070 have been filed, charging that it is an illegal intrusion by the state into federal immigration policy and that the law will result in racial profiling. The original wording of the law excluded "solely race" as a basis for reasonable suspicion. This created a national uproar, since it approved race, along with other factors, as a basis. Within a week the Legislature changed the wording to exclude race but that resolved nothing. At the press conference when she signed the bill, Gov. Brewer could not explain how an officer could have reasonable suspicion except by the color of the detainee's skin, or an Hispanic accent.
From a human rights perspective the most disturbing part of this law is that it attempts to blame immigrants, who are struggling to survive, for the failure of our legislators to find an appropriate formula to allow immigration when the need for it is obvious, and so many are eager to apply. As Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson wrote to the Catholics of the diocese: "The great majority of persons -- women and men and children -- who have entered our country without documentation are not criminals. The new law makes them criminals by their mere presence." In addition, the force that is driving so much immigration is “Free Trade,” a reality that few Americans know about. These unfair trade policies imposed on Latin America by the US have destroyed the domestic agriculture market in Central America, especially in Mexico. In other words small farmers in Latin America can no longer survive as farmers; and their families are starving.
Since the onset of NAFTA in the mid-1990s, over 6000 women, children and men, double the number of 9/11 victims, have died attempting to cross the southern Arizona desert. With very few exceptions, they have been simply seeking a way to make a living and to improve the future of their children. These immigrants only want to feed their families, and have almost no opportunity in their home countries. In similar situations migrants from all over the world cross borders because they see no other way to provide for their families. The tragedy of the Mexican-American border is that our legislators have defined no reasonable way to allow people desperate to support their families to legally fill jobs that the American economy desperately needs them to fill
Unfortunately, most Americans don't know enough about the real situation at the border to have an informed opinion. A good way to start a dialogue about this issue, is to discuss with fellow Americans what they would do if they were in one of the following situations, which are commonplace along the border.
Manuel sat with nine other men at a crowded table in Nogales, Sonora. He had found his way to a soup kitchen for migrants. The day before he was deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a raid on a factory where he had worked for several years. His wife and two daughters, all three US citizens, did not know where he was until he called from a pay phone. There were tears in his eyes as he expressed his determination to return to his family in spite of the risks involved. What would you do in his situation?
Rosa and her husband were in the desert for two days before the Border Patrol arrested them. They had left their home village in Guatemala where there were no jobs to support their family. They left their children in the care of relatives, and spent three weeks traveling to "el Norte." After just one day of walking in Arizona's rugged desert wearing thin-soled shoes, Rose's feet were blistered. On the second day, when a Border Patrol helicopter "dusted" her group and they scattered for cover, she fell and hurt her knee. She continued on, despite her injuries, until they were captured several hours later by Border Patrol. Now, sitting on a street in Nogales, Sonora, as a volunteer treated her feet and knee, Rosa and her husband wondered out loud about where they would spend the night, and what their future holds. Do they return to the poverty of their village or try crossing again when Rosa is healed? What would you do in their situation?
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the current situation is that the real lives of people in these life-and-death circumstances are ignored. Solutions like SB 1070 blame the victim, increase militarization of the border, label immigrant communities as criminal, and result in a campaign of terror which tears families apart through increasing numbers of raids and deportations.
Fortunately, this reactionary legislation has unleashed a torrent of energy by defenders of human liberties, including all the organizations like “No More Deaths” that are advocating for those in imminent danger of death along the border because of current policy.
We ask your support for the work that hundreds volunteers are doing here with inadequate resources. Your support will make a big difference. For example, $62 will buy 100 sealed gallons of water for distribution on remote desert trails. Volunteers distribute 100 gallons daily from June through September to save migrants from the searing summer heat.
Make a contribution online at www.nomoredeaths.org, and select the "donate" button, then follow the directions; or mail a donation for any amount payable to our tax-deductible fiduciary, "Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson" (UUCT), (memo line: No More Deaths) and send to:
No More Deaths
P.O. Box 40782
Tucson, AZ 85717