A Moral or a Human Law? Should There be a Difference?

Today, we walked to a human rights organization in downtown Tucson that advocates for border and immigrant communities. Their Policy Director is a Tohono O´odham and activist who advocates that everyone can contribute to ending human suffering on the border. If people know that others are dying in their backyard, they have a moral obligation to prevent these deaths.

The person we spoke with became an activist after acknowledging that around 50% of immigrant deaths occurred on the Tohono Nation, according maps of migrant deaths in the Sonoran desert created by a local humanitarian aid group. He asserts that, sadly, the vast number of immigrants dying make immigrant death seem natural. When people start seeing migrant death as a natural process, people do not do anything to prevent it. Before working for the organization we visited, our host was a Presbyterian minister on the Tohono O’odham Nation. During this time, he became frustrated when people from the community´s Church were not doing anything to prevent deaths happening around 5 miles away from their community. When he tried to challenge them, they, especially the elders, replied asking “why would you help people who are doing illegal activities, people who are criminals?” Our host replied “yes, legally immigrants without documents are breaking the law and because of this, you can argue they are doing a criminal activity. However, we have to accept this even if we do not like it and move on, the point is that people are dying outside.” Then he asked the elders “what is more important? A migration law or a moral law?” He tried to convince them by saying that we should all try to meet the moral and the law arguments in the middle to prevent more human suffering.

After this, the speaker learned that, the same as the Government of Tohono Nation and the U.S. government, the people in his Church wanted to stay in the “safe position.” Then, he became and an O´odham activist by leaving water for immigrants crossing through the Nation´s territory as well as working with local organizations to fight for immigrant´s rights. He argues that his job as an activist stays faithful to culture, roots and O´odham´s tradition of hospitality and moral code. Unfortunately, the Government of the Tohono Nation complains about his work since they argue that the numbers of people dying in O’odham territory are exaggerated in many reports and that leaving water encourages people to use the Nation’s territory as a migration route. He says that the Nation police often confiscate the gallons of water he leaves in this territory. He used to have 4 water stations, 100 gallons each and all of them were confiscated.

In October 21, 2011, the newspaper of the Tohono Nation, The Runner, Volume 18, Number 20, published an article in which the Nation Police and Pima County Council proved the percentage of immigrants´ deaths occurring within the Nation Territory. In this edition Sargent May says that “sometimes we have four to five (deaths) a week. Last year in 2010 there were a total of 125 immigrant deaths, and 63 of those were recorded in July.” Our speaker currently uses this article to defend himself of being accused of defamation.

Our speaker acknowledges that the construction of the border wall was intentionally to move migration patterns to the Western desert, in the mountains and harsher climate conditions thinking these will reduce migrants crossing. However, as a result of this, the number of deaths increased. Even though, the Tohono Nation obtains money from the US Government, our host thinks that the Nation Council is afraid of risking that money by resisting the Border Patrol policies. He asked “if we hold Border Patrol for the deaths of immigrants, shouldn´t we also hold people in the O´odham Nation Government for not doing anything?” He also expressed his anger at other local humanitarian aid organizations for refusing to put water inside the O´odham Nation claiming that they do not want to break the tribe´s laws. And he asked how it is possible that one group calls themselves humanitarians but they allow the Nation to break moral laws? He called this moral hypocrisy. He also spoke about how easy it is for people to talk about the number of deaths without acknowledging that they are talking about people, people with families, people suffering, trying to cross the desert.

When one of our classmates asked him how different violations of the Tribe´s laws and territories is modern colonization, he replied that this kind of concerns is part of “White Society Burdens” when some people focus too much on the things that have passed in the past and they do not allow themselves to act in the present. He said that it is important to acknowledge how Tohono O’odham territory is being occupied and destroyed and it is still not respected by the US government, however, this gives us no reason to avoid preventing deaths.

And so! Me, as María Ramos, Earlham College student, student at BSP 2013, Spring semester, would like to ask, taking into consideration how privileged we are that we can even consider this question, is it valid argument to do not do anything to prevent human suffering in order to respect the boundaries of religious/cultures/nations spaces?

Much love,
María Ramos

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