Thursday, January 20, 2011
Me llamo Lourdes
Second in a series of posts about the January UUA Board Meeting
Her name was Lourdes. We met her at the comedor (eating area) in Nogales, where she was spending her third month, first as a deportee, then as a volunteer. She was desperate to get back home.
"Home" was California, where she had a 9 year old son and 14 year old daughter. She had lived in California for nearly 20 years -- without documentation. An aunt was caring for her two children.
Hers was one of many stories we heard in this border town, where hundreds of people are deported daily from around the United States. The couple from Guatemala, who would try again to cross that very night, the woman whose 8 year old daughter had been sexually abused, the 60 year old man who had lived in Chicago since he was a child.
Between UUA Board members and local Tucson congregation members, over 40 people spent two intense days talking to migrants and various groups who worked with those migrants -- No Mas Muertes, a ministry of the UU Church of Tucson; the Samaritans, who left food and water in the desert for those who crossed; Tierra y libertad organization, "dirt-roots" organizing for the barrios in South Tucson, and the hard-working public defenders who described the inhumanity and indignities of Operation Streamline. Operation Streamline is our tax dollars at work, designed to wage "war on terrorism" by prosecuting border crossings with mandatory jail sentences, under the illusion that this will deter someone whose children need food, or whose mother needs medicine. Currently over half of all Federal prosecutions are small scale immigration offenders -- nearly all of them are solely for crossing the border without papers. This means prosecution of serious offenses like violent crimes, forgery, larceny, and theft have decreased as the courts are clogged with migrants. And the cost is astronomical -- $7-$10 million per month in Arizona. In Texas alone the incarceration costs since 2005 have been $1.2 billion.
The beneficiary of this is the Correction Company of America, who is building the prisons and according to our hosts, helped write Arizona SB1070.
Most striking to me was the dehumanizing of migrants as the "other". We heard Border Patrol referring to them as "bodies". Operation Streamline runs 60-70 people through the court together, in chains at their ankles, waists, and hands. They show up in the clothes they crossed in, without showers, days or weeks later. Having eaten little, and with shoelaces and belts taken as standard procedure, it is not unusual for a migrant to approach to bench and lose their trousers -- and their dignity. Immigration attorneys are assigned as many as 80 clients at a time, leaving them little opportunity to do other then tell them their basic rights.
And it is not working. According to Heather Williams, who runs the Public Defenders office in Tucson, 30 days in jail is not about to scare people who brave robbery, rape, or death in a desert crossing.
There were several posters on the wall of the comedor, warning people not to cross. It included the one at the top of this post -- each of the red dots is where a body -- not alive -- was found.