Sunday, February 6, 2011

No More Deaths! - INTRODUCTION

Hi! I’m Charlie Rooney, a longtime Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR) board member and former chair. In this blog, “TROUBLE ON THE BORDER,” I will be sharing impressions about the human rights and general political climate in Southern Arizona. Jean and I have been living here in Tucson six months or more every year since 2005, and it feels like it's time to share some thoughts.

I decided to start with an overview of the work being done by “No More Deaths!” (NMD), the human rights group we work with to save immigrant lives. In upcoming weeks I will be flushing out the outline below, and hope that this will keep you abreast of what's happening here in Arizona.

FYI---On the following dates Jean and I will be in Detroit, explaining our work with NMD and showing a recently released film. “The 800 Mile Wall” is a documentary about the U.S. strategy to funnel undocumented immigrants into the most dangerous areas of the border.

Thursday, Feb. 10, 7:30 pm at Gesu parish community house, 17180 Oak Drive, Detroit, MI
Thursday, Feb. 17, 5pm at the University of Detroit Mercy, 310 Briggs (classroom building)

Originally Jean and I migrated to Tucson during the coldest months in Detroit because of her health. Before long, we became involved in the work of “No More Deaths!”

Understanding our new environment has proven to be quite a challenge! Increasingly during this period, Arizona has become a national proving ground for the most extreme elements of the anti-immigrant movement. In this blog, I will try to explain some of the issues here in Arizona of greatest concern to human rights advocates everywhere. I will begin with an outline of some of the issues that I will be explaining further in upcoming blogs.

I hope this will be more than a report from a distant land. It seems to me that the same problems we are facing here in Arizona affect, and infect, the rest of the country, and indeed, the world. The most important way to demonstrate those connections is for you who read the blog to add your point of view. Please respond! Add, challenge, illustrate, ask about things you read about Arizona. Let us know how you see the issues relating. Help me and your fellow readers too “Connect the dots” between Arizona and Detroit.

If this was emailed to you via Constant Contact, it’s because we at MCHR thought you might be interested. If you want to read it regularly after this short ‘trial period,’ use this link:


No More Deaths! focuses its efforts primarily in several areas: 1. Rescue Work in the desert north and west of Nogales (twin border cities: Arizona/AZ and Sonora, Mexico); 2. Medical Relief and general support for deportees arriving daily in Nogales, Sonora. 3. Human Rights treatment of immigrants. 4. Legislation, especially by the Arizona authorities; and Enforcement policies of the federal authorities (mainly Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE)

1. Rescue Work. Traditionally, this has been the specific role of NMD. We are one of seven or eight human rights groups involved in one way or another with protecting the rights of immigrants in the border area. I'll explain how this work has become more complicated since 2000 by the federal policy of "funneling" immigrants into the most dangerous areas of the desert in southern Arizona.

2. Support Work with Deportees. Though the number of deportees has ebbed and flowed considerably in the past several years, during the past year the numbers have been lower than recent years. In the last few months, however, the numbers are ballooning. When migrants are deported from this area, they usually wind up in Nogales, Sonora, with no money, often significant medical problems, no documents, and almost no resources for contacting their families.

3. Human Rights Treatment. There are a great many abuses that NMD has been documenting through migrant interviews for the past several years. These were published in a sizable book about two years ago (“Human Rights Abuses of Migrants in Short-Term Custody on the Arizona/Sonora Border.”), and an updated version is expected to be published soon. The number of migrant deaths in the desert last 10 years is staggering; most readers are astonished the first time they hear the facts.

4. Legislation/Enforcement. Legislation by the Arizona Legislature has become notorious in the past year with the passage of SB 1070, which opened the door to a flood of anti-immigrant proposals across the USA. Fortunately the ruling of the federal judge in response to the federal government's challenge to 1070 has put the brakes on the most extreme legislative proposals in other states. But here in Arizona, where the extreme right wing holds sway in the legislature and to a lesser degree in the governor's office, extreme legislation is proposed routinely. The most remarkable recent one is a a direct contradiction to the 14th amendment of the Constitution, threatening to deny citizenship to children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants.

Enforcement. In some important respects, Enforcement policies have improved under the Obama administration. In other respects, they have worsened. The number of deportees has increased. The focus has changed and is now focused more on prosecuting businesses who employ illegal immigrants. The bottom line however is that our work has become slightly less menacing for human rights workers, but not so for immigrants. Much of the problem starts here in the private sector, the "prison industrial complex."

All of the foregoing needs to be explained in much greater detail. For those not very familiar with the border problems I'll explain in blogs to come, and at the same time highlight the human dimension, how all this affects immigrants. Stay tuned.

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