The Wall is Real

I can count how many times I have been truly shocked by something on one hand. It’s been nearly three months since my time in Arizona, yet the image of the Mexico/USA border still burns in my eyes.

As some of you may have known, I went to Arizona for Advanced Facilitation Training through Me To We last month. It was, again, a life changing experience. We created a family, and I am forever grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from every single person there.

Okay, to get to the point of the post. I’m going to make a few posts discussing the things I’ve learned about in Arizona, beginning with the Mexico/USA border.

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The Mexico/USA Arivaca border.

Border patrol calls this a fence – because you can see through it. But this is a wall. That’s right, the wall is not something that Donald Trump just came up with, it was established in 1990. At that time, it was 106 kilometers along the California coast from San Diego to the Pacific Ocean to deter illegal immigration. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The act increased fines for migrants provided additional funding for border patrol and surveillance, and also approved the installation of an additional 22-kilometer wall near San Diego. And it kept growing and growing. Now, the wall is around 3,200 kilometers, with the rest of the border covered by a “virtual wall”, with cameras, sensors, radars and other technology constantly guarding it.

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Looking into Mexico through the “fence”.

Once we arrived at this section of the wall, we were told to take a walk and observe what’s around us. We walked along the border for a few minutes. I began to notice strange looking markings on the rusted metal poles that made up the wall. They were scuff marks, from people’s shoes as they slide down to the other side.

The wall only stops people from crossing the border for around 5 minutes. Then they would have to outrun border patrol and enter the Sonoran Desert, where they face traps, more border patrol, and dehydration. Two out of five people survive crossing the border. I was speechless as our facilitators told us what would right where we were standing later tonight. While I would be tucked in bed or chatting with my friends, there would be people risking their lives for a shot at a new one in the US.

Shortly after our group discussion by the border, we went to a nearby town called Arivaca, a small rural community located in the militarized zone of the border region between the United States and Mexico. It was a lovely town, filled with some pretty awesome people. Particularly two women named Patty and Corlotta at People Helping People Arivaca. 

“PHP is a place where locals and visitors can access humanitarian aid resources, including food, water, medical supplies, clothing, and more. PHP hosts events and educational workshops in the community, such as Know Your Rights Trainings, Medical Trainings, Spanish Classes, and various presentations about the border crisis.”

 

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Patty, Corlotta and the AFT fam all gathered in People Helping People Arivaca.
These powerful women taught us about their humanitarian work to help migrants in dire need and about the horrors they face while trying to cross the desert, and what will happen if they don’t make it. It was at this moment that we learned about Operation Streamline.

Operation Streamline is a joint initiative of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice in the United States, started in 2005, that adopts a “zero-tolerance” approach to unauthorized border-crossing by engaging in a criminal prosecution of those engaging in it.”

And just like that, we were off to court.

We walked into a huge room with benches for spectators to sit in,  countless lawyers on the other side of the wooden blocker, and 35 people sitting in a group of chairs shackled from their hands and feet with earphones in their ears. Some men were wearing camouflage, which indicated that all of these people were still in the same clothes they were wearing when they crossed the border. 34 people spoke Spanish alone, and there was once young boy (around 19) who spoke English. And, out of 35 shackled people, one of them was a woman. All of them were caught by border patrol from two weeks ago (from the day I was there) to the early hours of the morning when I was sleeping in a bed that same day.

The judge was actually very fair and understanding that the migrants might not understand every word that she would say (there was a translator, but it was still hard for them to understand her fancy law lingo). She made sure they all understood what was ging to happen, even if it meant going overtime with just one person who couldn’t understand. While the session went on, I heard nothing but the word “culpable”, meaning “guilty” in Spanish, one after the other after the other… we then heard their sentence, which would be however many days until they are deported back to Mexico or a transfer to a prison somewhere else.

But this system is for show. It is not justice. If it were, they wouldn’t be picking out a handful of people who were caught (not kidding, they only pick a few out to put them through the system, and these individuals get this on their permeant record forever). And the people have no choice but to plead guilty because if they do, #1 they either get to go to the local prison, which sometimes is better than going back to Mexico depending on the individuals personal life back at home. #2 they can get transferred to a prison closer to their family in the US. And #3 if they plea “not guilty” it’ll take longer to get the case going, which means staying in prison longer than if they plead guilty and it’ll be useless, as it’ll be proven that they did illegally enter the US without going to a checkpoint.

This is a lot to process, I’m still processing and I’ve been home for months now. If you, reader, want to learn more about operation streamline, here are a few links to some youtube videos. (If you want more statistics, email me!)

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