What follows is a letter I received from Scott Nicholson, a community organizer who has been working on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. It is posted here in full with his permission.
“When we see people like you we don’t run and hide,” said José when I sat beside him at the Grupos Beta migrant center in Nogales on March 22. “When we see them with their backpacks, and at the beaches, we treat them well.”
José is 19 years old and from the southern state of Chiapas. He and two companions had traveled the entire length of Mexico and then crossed into Arizona. They hiked for five days in the desert and they ran out of water and food after the first three days. In their desperation, they walked into the town of Tubac and found a store where they bought drinks and food.
“People ran away and hid,” said José. “They looked at us like we were from a UFO. Someone called us ‘Mexican motherfuckers’ and they called the Border Patrol.”
“The agent shoved me to the ground, put my hands behind my back, and then put his boot on my neck.” José lifted his shirt and showed me the large scratch on his side.
“When we were in the prison, they threw the food at us like we were animals. They just gave us a small, cold hamburger and a carton of juice. They turned on the air conditioning (to make it cold) and we could only wear t-shirts.”
José had been deported to Nogales at 11 P.M. the previous night. There are people who prey on migrants here and dropping them at the border late at night puts them at risk of being assaulted, robbed and extorted.
“I don’t like America and I’m never going back,” concluded José.
Margarita told me she was 22 years old and from the state of Guerrero when I talked with her at the Migrant Resource Center in Agua Prieta on March 8. She had traveled two days by bus to get to the border. She and a cousin then hiked for a day in the Arizona desert and were arrested by the Border Patrol. Margarita was separated from her cousin in the detention center and she had just been deported to Agua Prieta that morning. Her cousin had been carrying her cell phone with all the numbers and she had no idea how to communicate with her family.
Margarita had hoped to travel to Oxnard, California to work with her cousins in the strawberry fields. I seem to be lacking the insight used by the government because I don’t see how a young woman who wants to spend her days stooped over picking strawberries poses a grave risk to national security.
“Because we live in an age where terrorists are challenging our borders, we can not allow people to pour into the U.S. undetected, undocumented, and unchecked,” said Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. He failed to mention that not a single terrorist has been caught crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S.
After being re-elected with the support of the Latino vote, Obama announced his plan for immigration reform. “I believe it should include a continuation of the strong border security measures that we’ve taken because we have to secure our borders,” he said. The Obama administration deported more than 1.5 million people during his first term. Making increased border security a top priority of reform will likely result in even more racism and brutality being used to protect freedom and democracy.
Robin Williams, in his starting role as the space alien Mork in the “Mork and Mindy” show, gave a more accurate description of immigration enforcement more than 30 years ago. He was almost deported from the U.S. for being an “illegal alien.” Mork always communicated with his boss at the end of the program to inform him about activities on earth. That week, he said “There’s this lady who is carrying a torch and she keeps saying ‘Send me your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses.’ Except there’s also a man down at the immigration office who says ‘Not too tired, not too poor, and not too many.’”
In love and solidarity,