The desert zipped by, a blur of cacti and sand, as J. Cole softly played in the background. The sand gave way to buildings as we entered Nogales, Arizona, and then the buildings in turn were dwarfed by a slatted 21 foot wall. As we drove by the beams, the spaces between them started blurring together, tricking my eyes into seeing only the city beyond. If you’re moving fast enough, it’s like the wall doesn’t exist.
I once heard someone say that Nogales, AZ, USA is essentially the same as Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. “It’s practically one city!” she proclaimed, incorrectly. In fact, I would argue that when you cross into Mexico it’s almost like you’re in another country! The buildings are more colorful, there are dogs in the streets, and you’re on the OTHER side of the border wall. I do agree that the two cities remain somewhat similar and blended- Spanish is heard in the streets, dollars and pesos populate both cities. However, because of the enormous, militarized divider, it’s impossible to confuse the two towns. Perhaps in the past, before the installation of the 21 foot dividing wall, the US and Mexican cities were indistinguishable.
The main streets of Nogales, MX are lined on both sides with shops and booths. Walking down the sidewalk you are offered tacos, flat-brimmed hats, and affordable cell phone service all within the span of a minute. After passing a particularly aggressive flag salesmen, we came upon a man with a donkey and a photo booth, primed to set anyone who wanted to down on the burro and adorn them with a sombrero so that they could know, for a split second, what it feels like to be Mexican. Obviously, this gimmicky photo opportunity was designed specifically for touristy Americans who are either ignorant enough to believe that the majority of Mexicans can be found romantically riding donkeys in sombreros, or just willing to spend ten dollars to immortalize themselves having international fun. The man was half-heartedly calling to all the passers-by, casually requesting business, until I walked by. He looked straight at me and said,
“Oh YOU. Now YOU look like you want a picture with the donkey. Look, these are the hats that you want to be remembered with!!”
Though I am fully aware that people often try a little harder to sell me things because I am blonde and pale and overtly American, I spent the whole day self-conscious that people see me and think that I am yearning to be photographed with a donkey– because I just have that look about me. The border wall and all that comes with it has created such a division between the two countries, and a division among those who receive the privilege to travel in that I can walk forty feet into Mexico and be immediately recognized as a noncitizen who clearly has enough status to be able to act as a tourist. There is no casual ebb and flow between the two Nogales cities.
We were in Nogales to volunteer with No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid group that works with migrants. No More Deaths was founded in 2004, as a response to a decade of rising death tolls in the deserts between the US and Mexico. Due to US policy shifts and increased militarization since the advent of NAFTA in 1994, and the War on Terror since 2001, undocumented migrants are effectively being funneled to cross into America through the deserts, because it’s become nearly impossibly to cross through cities. The US Border Patrol implemented policies specifically to CREATE this “funnel effect”–which is horrifying but true. Their plan is titled “Prevention by Deterrence”, and hopes to create a substantial enough amount of desert deaths to deter anyone else from trying to cross. The fact that people have not, in fact, been deterred by any of the horrifying policies the government has chosen to implement certainly says something about the crises that are pushing people out of their home countries. The fact that people are willing to risk their lives to make enough money to support their families back home says, to me, that perhaps the government should be addressing the conditions in their homes rather than using the desert as a lethal weapon. It may be a more pragmatic solution? But that is just my opinion, and I am certainly no politician.
No More Deaths started out addressing primarily physical needs in the desert, and has evolved to include documentation of abuse by the Border Patrol against migrants, and involvement in all aspects of the migrant journey–pre and post deportation and crossing the desert. Much of our Saturday work was with those who had been recently deported to Mexico. Specifically, our days consisted of visiting a few different shelters and offering migrants cell phones on which to make free phone calls, and cash in exchange for checks issued by detention centers. These services are unfortunately necessary due to the way the US does deportation.
In case you didn’t know, groups of people are often deported penniless to cities in which they have no ties, at odd times of the day or night. This is a tactic that I believe sits hand-in-hand with the Prevention Through Deterrence strategy. The policies are designed to marginalize undocumented migrants so greatly that they no longer deem it “worth it” to cross into the US without papers. Additionally, detention centers rarely give detainees phone calls while they are detained. This is an unbearably frustrating truth that I have learned through my work at the office of Derechos Humanos, a human rights promoting organization in Tucson. During my time working with Derechos Humanos I made countless phone calls to detention centers on behalf of family members who had no idea where their family members were because detention facilities are NOT allowing the phone calls they claim that they are. On one occasion, a family heard nothing from their son for about a year. They held a funeral service for him. Later, they found out that he had been detained the entire time, and just unable to make contact. It’s very hard to believe that something so simple and theoretically easy to correct is happening on a large scale–but I can tell you that it is in fact a reality.
As a class, the Border Studies students took a tour of a federal detention center which houses migrants. I inquired about the ability of migrants to contact loved ones from inside the prison walls, knowing full well that just the day before I had been on the phone for two hours with a list of 20 detention centers in Arizona attempting to locate a migrant for a family specifically because they were certainly NOT allowed to make their own phone call. The man replied, “Oh that doesn’t happen. Everyone is allowed to make phone calls. Everyone.” Maybe, in his thirty years working for the facility, this man has never witnessed the phenomenon flooding our phone lines with distraught family members. Maybe he personally hands out iPhones to each detainee upon their arrival. Or maybe he was not telling the whole truth.
In any case, there is a reality that post-deportation people need to make phone calls. Money is also kind of a necessity these days, to you know, travel or live. Things like that. So, in a charitable move, the government typically deports people with checks that are impossible for them to cash! They only receive these checks if they have the good fortune of being detained with some cash on them. After the Border Patrol confiscates their possessions, which are rarely returned at all, American money is transferred to the commissary of the migrant so that they may often make ridiculously expensive phone calls, if they have the good fortune of being granted the freedom to do so. Pesos are immediately disposed of, say the migra. The checks they write require documentation to cash, which many migrants do not possess. So, we act as a bank. WE can give people cash for their checks because it is not hard for us to cash them when we return to the US, flashing our passports and driving to the nearest bank. We, the US Citizens, are entitled to so many human rights that we can spare a few.
Another part of volunteering that I thoroughly enjoy is giving people rides to either the bank or the bus station. It gives us a chance to talk. Oftentimes after the first get-to-know-you-questions– name, where you’re coming from, where you’re going, the conversation turns light. Though sometimes there is heavy talk of reality, people oftentimes just want to chat about the mundane. When people find out that you are from America, the first question they often ask these days is, “Ahh, conoce Donald Trump???” Which means, “You know Donald Trump???” This saddens me on a lot of levels, and makes me self-conscious that the face, hair, and voice of America seems to be a racist man with too much money. Do people in Mexico assume that as Americans, we are all in favor of Trump’s ideals? I certainly hope not. However, I could not blame anyone for thinking that way because our national policies certainly reflect a racist, xenophobic attitude.
Spending Saturdays in Nogales, Mexico has been at times heartbreaking, frustrating, hilarious, colorful, delicious, and confusing. I’m left with the horrifying reality of being able to drive away, straight through a wall that is impenetrable enough to have killed thousands–all because I own a piece of paper that says USA right on it.
A couple days after our late August arrival in Tucson, us Border Studies students learned that we would have two main modes of transportation for getting around Tucson: a bus pass for the SunTran, automatically refilled by the BSP, and a Bicas bicycle on loan to us from the BSP. In the first week of the program, we got fitted for our bikes (I ended up with a handsome blue Bianchi!) and were also informed that a bus strike was taking place. As a person with a lot of experience relying on public transport to get around Boston and the suburbs and most of her biking experience on flat Ohio roads or clear Massachusetts bike paths, I was initially pretty nervous about biking around Tucson. Over and over again, the instructors assured us that “Tucson is one of the most bikeable cities!” and that we would, “totally get the hang of it and feel like you OWN the bike lanes by the end of your time here.” Nonetheless, I figured that I would be happier taking the bus to get around rather than biking on busy roads.
It turned out that the bus strike limited service more than I anticipated and busses only ran between 8:00am and 6:00pm on very few routes. At first, the strike was predicted to only last a few days, as SunTran bus strikes had been fairly short in the past. In actuality, the strike ended up lasting for over a month (find more information here) and had a much bigger effect than just pushing me to get on my bike.
I found it really interesting hearing two different sides of the conversation centered on the bus strike. Talking to people in class, both students and professors proclaimed their support of the strike in favor of gaining fairer wages for SunTran employees and announced when there was a need for more bodies to show up at a Ronstadt Center protest. In contrast, on the actual bus I heard regular riders expressing their upsetness that they had to alter their work schedules to make the bus on time, or that their walk to work was lengthened because their usual transfer route wasn’t running. One woman expressed to me that she definitely wanted SunTran drivers to receive fair wages, but that she also wanted to be able to make it to work in a timely and convenient manner.
Even though the extra walking and waiting that the strike caused regular SunTran riders, I experienced much kindness from people on the bus. People offered me a seat when I was standing, pointed at the books in my hands and inquired about where I went to school, and warned me about soaking wet seats on a rainy day. Even though I liked seeing the same folks on the bus every morning, after a week or two, I decided that riding my bike might make my commute to the classroom more swift, especially during the bus strike.
So, I ended up converting from a busser to a biker and making the Blue Bianchi my primary form of transportation around Tucson. When I expressed my nervousness about riding a bike around a city after having most of my bike experience on a smooth path or on flat Ohio roads to Rachel, one of my supervisors at Mariposas Sin Fronteras, she gave me a great, bite size piece of advice. She told me that it would be unfortunate to let feeling intimidated by my bike get in the way of going to the places and doing the things that I wanted to do here and that a good way to get used to biking around the city is to make the time and mental space to get lost. She reminded me that I’m lucky to have a GPS on my phone if I got seriously lost, and if not, I can just treat getting lost as an unexpected way to see different parts of Tucson.
For the most part, I took Rachel’s advice. I got lost many, many times and as a result ended up on Tucson streets I would not have seen otherwise. I eventually got the hang of my daily routes from my host family’s house on the South side of Tucson to my field study at Casa Mariposa and the classroom in the Historic Y downtown. And biking became something that I looked forward to in the mornings. My bike made me feel very independent in a way: with a little bit of time, I can get almost anywhere that I want to go and put almost anything that I want to take with me in my basket. And it feels good knowing that my bike is powered by my own two legs that get a little stronger every time I pedal! I’m really fortunate that I have the physical ability to be able to ride a bike to transport myself and my backpack around Tucson to pretty much wherever I want to go and whenever I want to go there. I am also lucky to be able to move around Tucson in public without constantly feeling fearful for my safety, as many people who live in this city –whether it be because of race, documentation status, or gender identity– might not feel safe doing.
Although my Blue Bianchi quickly carved out a place in my heart, relying on a bicycle has its shortcomings. Biking home at night still really freaks me out. I’m not a huge fan of the dark and it can be scary feeling like cars speeding by might not be able to see me. It’s a bummer to show up to everywhere I go sweaty, to have big dogs barking at me behind fences and small dogs chasing me down the street, to encounter near misses by car mirrors passing me by, and experience unwanted catcalls and whistles as I’m trying to concentrate on staying upright and peddling straight. Sometimes, biking feels like a huge inconvenience and other times when I’m riding I feel weightless and carefree. Often, my daily bike ride feels like 40 minutes of me-time; time to process the day before and gear-up for the day ahead. I love being the only person on The Loop and belting a song with the mountains as my audience during a solo bike trip, having a 10.5 mile bike workout built into my daily routine and accidentally catching a purple and orange sunset behind the Tucson Mountains on my way home.
My Blue Bianchi has trudged through El Niño rainstorms with me, has taken me to beautiful neighborhood streets, has been the recipient of my butt sweat, has been patient with me as I cried over being far away from my friends and family, has chased the ice cream truck with me because it’s worth it for the coconut popsicle, has listened to me sing, has taken a major tumble in a pile of sand with me and encouraged me to get back on the saddle afterwords, has carried my books every day, has felt with me as I sobbed after visiting Streamline proceedings and Florence Detention Center, and and has waited for me as I ran into Epic Cafe to buy my morning coffee. My Blue Bianchi has been a dear friend to me here in Tucson.
Alien: A creature from another galaxy. Something different. Not human. An unknown.
Alien: A term used by Border Patrol for people without papers from other countries that shows the disconnect from humanity, accountability, and context that often exists in Border Patrol and among its agents.
Separation is the word that sticks with me the most after visiting the Border Patrol station in Nogales. Both of the agents we talked to as well as Border Patrol policy convey that people crossing the border are other than human; calling people aliens and illegals reinforces this state of mind. Calling someone illegal implies that one type of person is the wrong type of person while another is the right type of person. Border Patrol literally values US citizen lives over migrant lives. For example, when we visited Border Patrol and asked about expenditures the agents replied using a hypothetical situation of a dirty bomb killing a US citizen; “wouldn’t you spend six million dollars to save a life? Isn’t any amount of money worth saving a life?” Yet this logic applied only to the lives of US citizens. Millions of dollars a year are spent funneling people without papers into the most dangerous parts of the desert. The same millions spent to save the life of an American citizen are also spent to kill non-US citizens in the desert. Prevention Through Deterrence, a border strategy, increased border spending, heightened surveillance, and closed down urban areas of crossing, making people cross through the most dangerous parts of the desert. This relies on the mortal danger of the desert, high death rates, and tales of gruesome death to de-incentivize people from crossing.
Border Patrol’s refusal to remember migrants who have died further illustrate their failure to recognize migrant’s basic humanity and their devaluing of migrant peoples lives. A plaque of Border Patrol agents who died in the line of duty, or more commonly driving to and from work, is the first thing you see walking into the Border Patrol station. Since Border Patrol’s founding in 1924, roughly a hundred agents have died nationally. In Border Patrol school, each agent in training has to learn the story of someone who died. Juxtapose this with hundreds of people who die in the desert each year as a result of Border Patrol policy and action. These people’s stories aren’t learned. Their faces aren’t displayed. They are simply numbers that fit into categories like illegal, alien, and Other Than Mexican- words that agents use to describe the people they apprehend. Border Patrol policy and mentality addresses non-U.S. citizens as people whose lives don’t have value or narratives.
This theme of separation and devaluing life is magnified in the lack of agents accountability for their actions. Appropriate action in a given situation is “all based on the officer’s perception.” Thus, if a person doesn’t respond to an agent’s vocal commands because they don’t understand English, the officer is authorized to use whatever force they deem necessary. If a person grabs a rock, the situation has escalated enough for an agent to use deadly force. When we questioned these policies, we were told “that’s above my pay grade.” Agents follow orders. A daily separation between thought, action, and effect is the normal function of Border Patrol. Officers are conditioned not to question; they are taught the policy governing their actions is not their business.
Causes of migration seemed irrelevant to the daily operations of Border Patrol although they are incredibly interconnected; action is void of a larger context. When asked what dialogue existed at Border Patrol about root causes of migration, the agents giving us the tour responded “that’s not in my pay grade.” Yet, there are direct correlations between US involvement in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala with immigration/refugee rates. The United States has supported and supports violent pro-US regimes that force people to flee for their lives. Examples include Rios Montt in Guatemala, Manuel Noriega in Panama, and the current Honduran government. United States’ free trade agreements such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement passed in 1994) and CAFTA-DR (the Dominican Republic Central American Free Trade Agreement) prioritize US corporate investment and production while undoing subsidies and tariffs that protect small businesses in foreign nations. These agreements prioritize big US businesses over everything else. This makes it very difficult for subsistence farmers and local business to survive consequently promoting people to search for livelihood elsewhere. Both NAFTA and CAFTA-DR have provisions where companies can sue host governments for interfering with profits. US international policy plays a large role in promoting immigration; if the goal is to actually slow immigration, US foreign policy needs to be addressed.
Border Patrol policy on the border itself and in the US is also void of reality. As the border is increasingly militarized, crossing becomes more difficult necessitating people to use cartel infrastructure. A militarized border means that billions of dollars worth of military equipment and technology is used on the border, and the Border Patrol prides themselves on functioning similarly to the military. Consequently cartels are the ones that have the resources to smuggle humans across the border. Thus US Border Policy stimulates the very cartels the US government says they want to fight. Furthermore, the rationale of protecting US jobs and livelihood is not backed by fact. Numerous studies (for example: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/high-school/top-10-myths-about-immigration) have shown that immigrants contribute to the economies they live in through purchasing power. Most immigrants pay into Social Security, but do not receive Social Security benefits.
At Border Patrol I witnessed a very real border between action and reality. Root causes, context for migration, and humanity are not viewed as pertinent to daily border policy. By defining migrants as illegals and aliens, border policy, and consequently the agents enforcing policy, separate people crossing the border from humans thus legitimating inhumane treatment.
Operation Streamline feeds in a grand building with pillars and neck-craning ceilings, and I am reminded of a medieval courtroom with a monarch sitting high above, surveying his property. Pictures are prohibited so although this Tucson Tyrant wears no curled wig my mind’s a fool and I remember a king. Or does he resemble a forefather, face emblazoned in stone in the Sioux Nation’s land in South Dakota.
Like a black hole hope drains. The room is Despair, this is despotism, and whatever naïve conviction of General Human Decency held dear in my activist group is hacked apart as one brown man after another choruses “si” to mechanical questioning in erudite English translated to erudite Spanish that rots in the ears of those who speak native dialects. The judge’s words are stale. Isn’t he a good actor? We are scarecrows, juiced vegetables, beings fighting against and for sentience, blocking out for numbness, for self-protection while searching eagerly for mercy. My brain repeats, “there is no justice,” like elevator music to the proceedings, my own cyclical soliloquy. I’m surprised at this statement and my surprise is why I am permitted to leave at the end of the proceedings while others shuffle out, still in chains.
I check Yahoo News over the shoulder of a Federal marshal on his phone. “There is no justice.”
United States Law requires the judge to confirm that each man accepted the plea bargain “without coercion.” Another chorus of “si,” another row of crisp crisp crisp suited-up lawyers bending down to whisper in the ears of the blue-jeaned hombres, que bajan son ellos. One man fingers his hat and once again my mind’s a fool because his hat is a pageboy cap and he’s a Newsie in Newsies and there’s a strike and Labor Wins and The System Changes For The Better because of teamwork and the Pursuit of Happiness and because they’re pulling up at each other’s bootstraps. This strike is supposed to happen, the Newsies are supposed to redeem and create anew because “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”
A compañera says that the Government of the Free World pays $161 per day per prisoner. 2,910 total days sold this Thursday and my jaw drops because that’s $468,510. The machine – and what a marvelously efficient machine it is, with its click-clacking parts all in line, starting promptly at 1:30, no time to waste – spurts out $500,000 today and then gobbles it up again quickly. No one can realize that it is just one beast, his singular meal going in and out, swallowing and shitting and eating and shitting the money again.
Arizona is an “open carry” state so anyone can have a gun in public without permits but if you want to live here you must have papers on you.
The parade ends with a man in a government issued army-green shirt and no shoelaces telling the courtroom, in English, that his wife and children are being held hostage at “gunpoint.” They’re being “forced.” He uses the words “gunpoint” and “forced.” He got caught and they too are still in danger. The grand finale, he receives 180 days in prison, the maximum sentence given. The machine chugs on with haste. It has been re-oiled with this sentence and can carry on another day.
I expect a climax, an epilogue, a triple dismount stick it, a sense of weight, of remorse, of acknowledgement, anything for closure. I’m frantic for something in the grand room – I think in English they call that pulling at strings, is there a Spanish idiom too? I rise for the King when they tell me to but don’t I already do that every day? and I walk out, truncated, monotonous, cut.
Operation Streamline functions in seven United States border cities with the intent of efficiently convicting multiple migrants of “illegal entry” at once. While each migrant is given the option of a trial, he or she almost always opts out in favor of the “assembly line justice.” Essentially, each migrant meets with a court appointed lawyer for a few in order to accept the ‘deal’ put forward by the U.S. government by pleading guilty to “illegal reentry” and therefore avoiding going to court. It is important to note that Operation Streamline is considered a ‘proceeding’ not a trial. The purpose is to expedite the process of placing migrants into detention centers before they are eventually repatriated into their home countries. Streamline has created a new economic niche with jobs such as public defenders, court marshals, judges, interpreters, Border Patrol agents, clerks, and other legal staff now necessary to fill the courts. However, it has also cost the United States millions of dollars in fees and payments to personnel and corporations. Most importantly, it is a humanitarian disservice that provides a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of (in)justice to many whose only crime was a desire for ‘a better life.’
For more information visit:
“Reflections on my time at La Coalición de Derechos Humanos: Barriers to finding people in immigrant detention” // “Reflexiónes sobre mi tiempo en La Coalición de Derechos Humanos: Barreras a localizando a personas en centros de detención inmigratoriasPosted: May 11, 2015
Durante mi pasantía aquí en La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, he tenido la oportunidad de participar en el Programa de Personas Extraviad@s haciendo entrevistas, el Equipo de Llamadas a Centros de Detención localizando a migrantes extraviad@s, proyectos de escribir y traducir reportes, y en juntas de la comunidad. Todos los proyectos y juntas en Derechos se han basado en trabajar dentro de redes de comunidad que proporcionan apoyo mutuo, que ha sido beneficial para los proyectos y mi proceso de aprendizaje. Como parte del Programa de Estudios Fronterizos, Derechos Humanos ha enriquecido mi conocimiento sobre la sistema industrial de prisiones que afecta a personas indocumentadas, los derechos de inmigrantes, y la militarización de la frontera que son todos fenómenos con consecuencias graves para personas reales cada dia. Ha sido un honor y una inspiración poder trabajar con personas quienes están resistiendo estos sistemas opresivos en nuestra comunidad de Tucson y de más allá. Mi proceso de conocimiento me ha presentado con preguntas y la curiosidad de explorar respuestas, y aunque lo que conozco mejor es mi proceso de complicar esas preguntas más que encontrar sus respuestas, quiero compartir un poco de lo que he aprendido.
Porque están cruzando personas por el desierto?
En los últimos veinticinco años, la frontera entre EEUU. y México se ha transformando bajo una serie de operaciones fronterizos trabajando en parar la fluidez que ha caracterizado la región por siglos. Antes de los 1990, las ciudades en la región fronteriza funcionaron como centros de migración documentada y no documentada saliendo y llegando a los EEUU. En los primeros años de 1990, el fiscal general de los EEUU. (United States Attorney General) y el centro de servicios de inmigracion y naturalizacion estadounidense (Immigration and Naturalization Services; una agencia gobiernatal luego reorganizado bajo el departamento de seguridad de la patria estadounidense conocido como U.S. Department of Defense) anunció la Estrategia de la Frontera Suroeste (Southwest Border Strategy) para parar la migración indocumentada empleando una estrategia conocida como prevención por disuasión (“prevention through deterrence”). La estrategia incluye militarizar la frontera entre EEUU. y México por medio de expandir el número de agentes en la patrulla fronteriza por 117% entre 1993 y 1998, construyendo paredes dentro y alrededor de ciudades fronterizas, y implementando nuevas tecnologías como torres de vigilancia, vehículos militares, helicópteros, y zumbidos para patrullar la región fronterizo de EEUU.-Mexico por completo. Una serie de operaciones estatales se comenzaron en Tejas (“Operation Hold the Line” & “Operation Rio Grande”), California (“Operation Gatekeeper”), y Arizona (“Operation Safeguard”) entre 1993 y 2003 para parar la llegada de migrantes indocumentados a los EEUU. en puntos de entrada históricamente populares. El propósito de estas operaciones federales y estatales es filtrar migrantes a regiones desolados y peligrosos que puedan funcionar como una barrera “natural” para las personas entrando a los EEUU. La combinación de estos esfuerzos ha sido referido como el “efecto embudo,” (“The Funnel Effect”) y es una estrategia directamente conectado a la muerte de migrantes.
Qué le pasa a un migrante después de ser aprehendido?
Después de ser aprehendido, una persona es sujeto a una continuidad de custodias. Las agencias y instalaciones de las cuales esta continuidad de custodia puede incluir son los siguientes: la policía local y estatal, patrullas de autopista, del Departamento de Seguridad Interior (DHS) hay El Servicio de Aduanas y Protección de Fronteras (CBP) y el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE), del Departamento de Justicia hay El Cuerpo de Alguaciles (USMS) y El Servicio Federal de Prisiones (BOP), y las prisiones estatales, cárceles del condado, y prisiones privados que forman parte del Departamento de Correcciones. Al inicio de estar en la custodia de CBP, una persona puede ser detenido por hasta 72 horas en celdas de corto plazo antes de ser transferido a otra agencia. En otros casos, personas tienen la opción de ser deportados voluntariamente o repatriados expeditamente. Ser deportado voluntariamente no se considera un deportación formal, y no significa que la persona nunca puede regresar a los EE.UU., mientras que un repatriado expedita no requiere una audiencia judicial pero si se considera una deportación formal. En el evento de que una persona elige la opción de ser deportados voluntariamente o repatriados expeditamente, bajo El Sistema de Consecuencias (CDS), una persona puede ser repatriado lateralmente. Bajo El Programa de Salidas de Extranjeros (ATEP) de CBP, se ha visto la práctica de repatriación lateral con el sentido de interrumpir a redes de contrabando. Repatriación lateral deporta a migrantes a diferentes sectores de la frontera de las cuales entraron, dejándolos en áreas desconocidos.
En otras instancias, personas pueden ser puestos en la custodia de otras agencias, como ICE, que normalmente deporta a personas quienes han estado en centros de detención por períodos extendidos. Detención de largo plazo puede suceder porque una persona esta buscando asilo, solicitando una audiencia judicial formal, o porque han sido procesados al nivel federal. Un ejemplo del fenómeno de procesamiento federal es Operación Streamline en Tucson, AZ. Operación Streamline es un juicio en masa para inmigrantes indocumentados que resulta en cargos federales por entrada o reingreso a los EE.UU, con consecuencias que pueden resultar en penas obligatorias de entre 180 días a 20 años dentro de prisiones federales. En estos casos, personas están puestos bajo la custodia de USMS o BOP, y al final de la sentencia son transferidos a ICE y deportados por el programa de Operaciones de Ejecución y Repatriación (ERO).
Cuales son barreras que afectan la búsqueda de personas detenidas?
Hay muchas barreras afectando la búsqueda de personas detenidas. Es común que personas cruzando sin documentos usen identidades e identificaciones falsificadas con la intención de proteger a ellos mismos y a sus familias, que puede tener el hecho de complicar el proceso de localizar a personas extraviadas. Alternativamente, si personas si presentan identidades correctas a agencias y centros de detención, sus archivos pueden ser descuidados y no actualizados por el sistema burocrático de transferir a personas. En estas instancias, también en casos en que la información de agencias no es brindado durante la búsqueda, puede dificultar la precisión y eficacia de sistemas de base de datos por el teléfono y internet. Ya que una persona entra a un centro de detención, en el dia lunes que sigue su llegada, la persona está asignado un número de comisario, que funciona como una cuenta de bancaria dentro de prisiones por la cual una persona puede pagar por llamadas telefónicas y otras materiales que puedan necesitar. Dinero depositado en la cuenta no es procesado hasta el dia lunes que sigue el depósito. Esto quiere decir que este proceso atrasado puede privar a personas de la oportunidad de comunicar su local con personas quienes lo están buscando. En detención de corto y largo plazo, se ha visto una serie de casos en que la propiedad de personas deportados o transferidos no han sido regresados a la persona (ej. teléfonos celulares, dinero, ropa etc.), limitando la habilidad de ponerse uno en contacto con familia y amigos. Aunque estas barreras en la búsqueda de personas extraviadas no incluyen la posibilidad de situaciones en que la persona se pierde en el desierto, en hospitales, en morgues, en otros países después de ser deportados, o son implicados en crimen organizado, esto es un breve resumen sobre la falta de humanidad que se ve en centros de detención y sistemas relacionados que pierden y confunden a personas.
During my time as an intern at La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, I have had the opportunity to participate in the Missing Migrant Project, conducting intake interviews, being a part of the Detention Center Call Team locating missing migrants, report writing and translating projects, and partaking in community meetings. All the projects and meetings at Derechos have been centered around working in community networks of mutual support, which has been beneficial to the effectiveness of the work itself and my own personal learning growth. As part of the Border Studies Program, Derechos Humanos has enriched my knowledge of the prison industrial system as it pertains to undocumented peoples, immigrant rights, and border militarization as they seriously impact real people every day. It has been a true honor and source of inspiration to work with people seeking to address and resist these oppressive systems in our Tucson community and beyond. My conscientization process has led me to ask questions and explore their answers, and although what I know my personal process in complicating the questions more than their answers, I would like to share a bit about what I’ve learned.
Why are people crossing through the desert?
Over the past twenty-five years, the U.S.-Mexican border has transformed under a series of border enforcement operations working to stop the fluid migration that has characterized the region for centuries. Before the 1990s, cities along the Southwestern border served as major centres of both documented and undocumented migration to and from the U.S. In the early 1990s, the United States Attorney General and Immigration and Naturalization Services (a government agency later absorbed and reorganized under Department of Homeland Security) announced a Southwest Border Strategy to stop undocumented immigration in an approach known as “prevention through deterrence.” The strategy included increasing militarization along the U.S.-Mexican border by expanding the number of border patrol agents by 117% between 1993 and 1998, putting walls up within and around major border cities, and implementing new technologies such as surveillance towers, military grade vehicles, helicopters, and drones to patrol the entire border region. A series of state operations were begun in Texas (“Operation Hold the Line” & “Operation Rio Grande”), California (“Operation Gatekeeper”), and Arizona (“Operation Safeguard”) between 1993 and 2003 to halt entries into the U.S. along historically popular crossing points. The purpose of these state and federal operations was to filter migrants into more desolate and treacherous regions of the border, focusing on Arizona, that would then function as “natural” barriers to entering the U.S. The combination of these efforts is referred to as “the funnel effect,” and is a strategy directly related to the death of migrants because migrants are now pushed out of urban centers and into rural areas if they want to cross–often unaware of the distances they will have to travel and the extreme hot and cold tempuratures of the Sonoran Desert.
What happens to a migrant once they are apprehended?
There are several chains of custody that a person can be subject to upon detention. The agencies and facilities that these chains of custody might include are the following: local and state police or highway patrol, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) U.S. Marshals (USMS) and/or the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and the Department of Corrections’ state prisons, county jails, and/or private prisons. When a person is initially put into CBP custody, they are held for up to 72 hours in short-term holding cells before being transferred to another agency, or in other cases, before being given expedited removal or voluntary departure. Voluntary departure is not a formal deportation, and does not ban a person from returning to the U.S. while an expedited removal does not require a hearing before a judge but is considered an official form of deportation. In the event that a person chooses voluntary departure or expedited removal, under CBP’s Consequence Delivery System (CDS), a person may be laterally repatriated. Under the Alien Transfer and Exit Program (ATEP), CBP has been known to practice a lateral repatriation strategy in an attempt to break up smuggling networks. Lateral repatriation deports migrants to different sectors or cities along the border from which they entered, leaving them in unfamiliar areas.
In other instances, people can be placed under in other agency’s facilities, such as ICE, which usually carries out deportations that occur after longer periods of detention. Longer periods of detention might occur because a person is seeking asylum, requesting a formal court hearing, or because they have been federally prosecuted. One example of such federal prosecutions is Operation Streamline in Tucson, Arizona. Operation Streamline is a mass trial for undocumented immigrants resulting in federal charges for either entry or reentry into the U.S., with consequences that can range between 30 days to 20 years in federal prison. In such instances, people are placed into the custody of USMS or BOP, and at the end of their sentence are transferred to ICE and deported through their Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).
What are barriers to finding people in detention?
There are several barriers to locating people in detention. It is common for people crossing without documents to use false identities and identifications in order to protect themselves and their families, which can often make searching for missing people a slower process. Alternatively, if the correct identities are provided to agencies and facilities, their records can be sloppy and not up to date because of the bureaucratic transferring of human bodies. Such instances, as well as information withholding, can hinder the accuracy and effectiveness of phone and online database searches. Once a person is placed into detention, on the Monday following their arrival they are assigned a commissary number, which is essentially used as a bank account within prisons with which a person may pay for phone calls and other material goods they might need. Money placed into the account is not processed until the Monday following the deposit, meaning that this slow process can deprive people of the chance to communicate their location to those looking for them. After both long and short term detention, there have been several noted cases of people being deported or transferred to new facilities without having their property returned to them (e.g. cell phones, money, clothing etc.), which seriously limits a person’s ability to contact their friends and family. Although these barriers to finding people do not include the possibility of people who become lost in the desert, hospitals, morgues, other countries after deportation, or are affected by organized crime, it is a brief look at the inhumanness and inadequacy of detention centers and systems that lose and confuse human beings.
This semester, I’ve been interning with Mariposas Sin Fronteras, an immigrant-run collective that advocates for LGBTQ immigrants, both in and outside of detention. The Mariposas themselves are primarily LGBTQ immigrants, many of whom have been detained previously, and all of whom are tackling injustice in Arizona from a whole myriad of angles. One approach has been working with people currently in detention, and I’ve been tagging along this semester, visiting one-on-one with detainees in Eloy and Florence, Arizona.
I’ve now visited the Eloy and Florence detention centers a total of five times. Each time, I am buzzed through the first door, then walk through a sort of chain-linked tunnel. Only after the first door closes can I be buzzed in through the second, and this always reminds me of the aviary section of the zoo. I pass through a door, a metal detector, and another set of double doors. By the time I arrive to the rubberized couches of the visitation room, at least an hour after arriving, I am always a bundle of nerves, apologizing for my Spanish. I feel worried the person I am visiting will not want a stranger probing at them, or worse, a student, especially one of my privilege, who cannot pretend to comprehend the magnitude of their experiences.
Xochitl was the first person I met in detention, early on in the semester. I was nervous about making small talk, about fumbling to find common ground, but Xochitl was patient and in good spirits. She’s only four months older than me, and has spent over seven months in Eloy. She wears her hair in a thin braid, the blonde highlights growing out, and we didn’t have much of a problem talking for an hour, leaning towards each other, sharing stories and plans. Xochitl is a Mexican woman seeking asylum for being lesbian, and she is hoping to get her younger sister out of CPS custody in Phoenix and care for her. We hugged goodbye tightly after that first visit, promising to keep in touch, saying good luck, and que todo vaya bien.
Each time I visit someone in detention, I promise to write, say goodbye with a firmer hug than that of our initial greeting, whisper suerte. I am buzzed out of four doors and two gates, passed the metal detector and sometimes a drug-sniffing dog, passed a room of families with restless toddlers waiting to see their parents. I pass the sign on the wall of Corrections Corporation of America, which tells me the share price of the company, in case I want to invest in the exploitative and white supremacist company that profits off the caging of immigrants. Each time, I leave aching. It is a painful thing to read about mass detention, to know theoretically about the prison industrial complex, but it is much harder to see things first hand, to speak with detainees, and to then turn on your heel and reenter your own life, a life of the outside.
I’ll be honest with you, writing this blog post has felt challenging. I want to capture the corporal sensation of entrapment one feels upon entering a detention center without sensationalizing the experience, or pretending my perspective is the valuable component of these interactions, when I am not the one facing xenophobic and racist laws, or a dim hope at a court case that will likely end in deportation. I don’t want to be voyeuristic, or exploit the generous storytelling of the people I’ve met inside. It is hard to capture the flood of relief I experience when exiting the facilities, and the inextricable collapsing I feel at leaving people behind. Suddenly, the world feels smaller and worse.
Xochitl and I mail cards back and forth. She sends me long letters with social and legal updates, and I send her postcards of Tucson and hand drawn maps of places I hope she’ll make it to. As I write this, I’m wearing the ring Xochitl gave me this morning. It’s braided out of foil from the packaging of a bottle, and bound together carefully with white thread. She told me it’s ok to post her story on the Internet, at least these parts of it. I told her when she gets out, I’ll buy her a beer for our birthdays. She turned 21 in detention, and I turned 21 last Tuesday.
Update: Xochitl called me to tell me she’s gotten out. She’s relieved and grateful, and is with family in Phoenix.
Xochitl’s release was possible in no small part because of the work of Mariposas Sin Fronteras. To donate to the bond funds for other detainees, you can follow the Mariposas on Facebook, and keep up with their campaigns. Here’s the link: Mariposas Sin Fronteras