The refugee crisis is impacting countries all across the world. Many of the people that flee from their homes in Central America are asylum seekers looking to start anew in the U.S. because there is political turmoil and unrest in their countries. Others come to the U.S. because the Cartel is threatening their families’ lives or they are looking for work so they can send money home. Their journeys are often difficult and painful, but the hope for a better future is strong enough for families to leave everything behind or parents to send their children to travel hundreds of miles alone. There are countless reasons why people immigrate to the U.S. from Central America and Mexico, and each person that journeys to the U.S.faces individual hardships that the media often doesn’t address and combines millions of stories into only a few narratives. While we were in Nogales and Tucson, we were able to speak with and listen to migrants who have come to the border in hopes of living a better life in the U.S. It’s these stories I now take back with me along with a deeper understanding of the complexity of the immigration crisis occurring today.
During our time in Nogales, we visited two shelters for asylum seekers; Las Torres and La Roca, which are supported in part by Cruzando Fronteras. One man we met named Miguel Angelo traveled from Guerrero in southern Mexico with his wife and two young children. He owned a food store, but the Cartel demanded money for ‘protection’ and continuously raised the price until Miguel could no longer pay. He was in fear of his families’ lives and was forced to decide to sell his store and car and use that money to travel by bus to the border in hopes of applying for asylum to live in the U.S. He has plans to live with his father in San Francisco and work in construction.
We also went to an Operation Streamline hearing in Tucson, which is a “zero-tolerance” initiative by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice that criminally prosecutes people who cross the border illegally. All of the prosecutions are done en mass, with 75 people at a hearing in the morning and 75 people in the afternoon, four days a week. The hearing is translated as the judge speaks, as most of those being prosecuted only speak Spanish. We witnessed a man and his lawyer come forward and after pleading guilty to crossing the border illegally, the man’s lawyer speaking on his behalf in English. She said that when he was in the desert, coming into the U.S., he found two dead bodies on the ground. She said, as she was choking up, that he was traumatized from the experience and that before he was deported, he wanted to work with Border Patrol to find the remains and lay them properly to rest. The lawyer also requested that he see a therapist or counselor before deportation. This story is powerful to me because it is a reminder that people do die trying to come into the U.S. and that anyone who tries puts their life at risk. “Zero tolerance” policies put migrants who come to the U.S. in danger, many of whom strive for a better life. And so many of the stories of those that have died will be forgotten and bodies left to rot in the desert. The majority of the American public will never know how many people die coming to the U.S. because those numbers can be unreported or narrowly defined by agencies such as Customs and Border Protection.
We met and spoke with Border Patrol agents at their offices in the Nogales sector on Monday. Before going, I had very low opinions of CBP and what they do. While now, I have more respect for Border Patrol, I still have mixed feelings. They have a job to protect the border that involves detaining and processing people. The agents rescue a lot of migrants and they do realize that it is very difficult for people to receive asylum, leading them to crossing illegally. CBP try to separate themselves from some of the work they do, saying they are a “law enforcing agency, not a law writing agency” and that “Border Patrol wasn’t separating the families, it was the court system.” While I know that the actions of some Border Patrol agents do not represent the entire agency and that they follow the written law, there are still countless stories that reflect poorly upon the general attitude and beliefs of CBP. For example, the xenophobic, racist, CBP Facebook group that the news uncovered several weeks ago show videos of Border Patrol agents slashing water left for migrants. On Wednesday, we went to a store that was on the Tohono O’odham Native American reservation. While there, we spoke with Agatha and Jorge. Agatha spoke about how she accidentally took a wrong turn and was stopped, surrounded, and harassed by CBP agents. She told another story about her nephew; one day, he was tending to cattle and didn’t have his ID with him. Because he has lighter skin and doesn’t look like a stereotypical Native American, he was going to be detained but was saved by being able to speak the Tohono O’odham language, therefore proving he lived on the reservation. She says this harassment has been happening for the past 20 years, since a checkpoint was put up on the reservation. Jorge told a story about his white friend from the U.K. His U.S. visa was expired, but was still able to pass over the border without issue while Native Americans with passports get harassed when they cross. Jorge said “Peace and forgiveness is an art. People are so full of hate.” All of these stories reiterate that CBP is to protect the border — but sometimes it seems they end up protecting the border from people with brown skin.
I am saddened by this and hope that our country can pass thoughtful laws that deal with the refugee and immigration crisis understandingly, empathetically, and in a way that respects all races, traditions, beliefs, skin colors, nationalities, and reasons why that person is coming to the U.S.
- Emily, St. Elizabeth’s, Sudbury