While a great many Arizonans have compassion for undocumented immigrants, those most outspoken on the issue are a ruthless bunch. Their venom includes those like us who work for human rights, but it's primarily directed at the immigrants themselves. Of course, most of them have little or no contact with the real situation of immigrants.
A few weeks ago I was working with a friend from No More Deaths in Nogales Mexico when I met a recent deportee whose trouble has become ever more common. Several months before, Antonio had driven to the neighborhood grocery store to pick up some food for his family’s supper while his wife was cooking dinner. A police officer stopped him, but wouldn’t say why. He asked Antonio for his (immigration) papers.; knowing his rights, he told the officer he did not have to answer that question. Then the officer informed him that he had an outstanding warrant, which turned out to be false when he got to court, “an unfortunate case of mistaken identity.”
By the time he had his day in court, however, he had spent more than 60 days in detention. Not for any crime. Simply because he refused to provide the officer with proof of his legal status. When threatened with deportation, he insisted on a hearing. He was told he would probably spend 60-90 days in detention. The unspoken threat was that, unless he would plead guilty and accept deportation, he would be unable to to help his family for the next two months.
Then he was transferred to a holding prison in Eloy, Arizona -- too far from Phoenix for his family to visit. No prior conviction and no priors, for a misdemeanor!
The Eloy facility houses 1500 immigrants awaiting judicial hearing. If detainees have not been convicted of any crime, they are not supposed to be kept in prison, cut off from their families. So why are they imprisoned at Eloy? Therein lies another issue that I will address at another time. Let me simply point out that this is a private prison and that the per diem cost to the federal government is just short of $70 a day. For 1500 prisoners, the bill is over $100,000 per day. What is the logic of this, you ask, in this time of huge government deficits. No logic is money. However, what drives this process is the rising political influence of the “prison-industrial complex,” led by CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) and the Geo Group (formerly, Wackenhut). I'll explain this in an upcoming blog.
The day I met Antonio in Nogales, was one day after he had been deported. He was hoping to get a ticket to Mexico City, where he had a cousin and was able to obtain employment. NMD helped him to call his wife so she would know where he was. She hopes to join him once he gets established in Mexico City, even though she and the children are all American citizens. NMD also assisted him to get some of his clothing transported from Phoenix to Nogales, to find a place to eat and sleep for a few days and to document his treatment by the police, the Eloy prison, and his 10-minute deportation hearing in court, without a lawyer. The ruthless critics say, Why bother? They’re illegal!
Antonio had been steadily employed for the past 12 years; he felt his job was secure. His English, while not from a book, was easily understood. His children were all in school and progressing nicely. He wondered why he was stopped, and jailed, and deported, and what would happen to his family. Since then, I too have wondered about each of these questions.
The part of Antonio's situation that gnaws at me the most has been a breakup of his family. I freely admit that being a recent first-time grandfather has altered the way that I think about his situation. I suspect it would have the same effect on most grandfathers…if they allow themselves to think about it.
Our grandson Pedro is 11 months old now. He and his mother have lived with us since his birth. He is the dominating reality of our lives, just like our daughter and her brother were when they were growing up.
Our everyday highlights are the changes in Pedro's life, any new achievements, any new awareness of what we can do to help him to have an additional opportunity in life. I imagine myself as an immigrant like Antonio, and ask myself how far I would go to give him the opportunities he now has.
Like all grandparents, I worry about all the crazy things that might happen that would take him from us, or us from him.
Fortunately, I don't have to worry about the one thing that all immigrants have to worry about – the fear that Jean or I, or his mother Barbara might, at the whim of a police stop for no reason, suddenly disappear from his life. And while my first thought is probably about my own loss, my most persistent thought is about his. Because I know it would be incomprehensible to him, and would undermine the trust that now makes him so joyful.
So, when I think about why we do what we do to support deportees in Nogales, I think most of all about Antonio’s family. I have no doubt that he will spare no effort to be reconnected with them, even if it means they must move to Mexico City and face a more difficult situation than they face in Phoenix. I worry about the days and months ahead. When his three children will wonder every day, what happened to Papi? And I worry about whether they will even be able to reconnect in Mexico City due to the cost. And I ask my self, what are we trying to do!? What is our political "leadership" thinking about, other than their own political futures?
This is a question that weighs on me every day when I read the Daily Star in Tucson. In a later blog I will try to describe what is happening in the Arizona Legislature. Meanwhile, I ask you to think about Antonio too. And think about your own child or grandchild, and the impact this kind of a justice system would have on them. And think about how you would try to explain it to them. And think about what you would do to try to protect them. And think about how you would act politically to change the political climate that is deaf to the pain of these children.