From Derechos Humanos: A Time to Push for a Human Rights Framework in Immigration Reform

Continuing with the theme from this morning…….

“Immigration is an issue that has served as a lightning rod to divide communities.  It is not a “problem,” as it is commonly portrayed, but rather an issue across the world-the inflow and outflow of workers, tourists, capital, etc., especially with the global economic restructuring.  Since 9/11, the successful marriage of the concepts of “immigration” and “national security” has created a disconnect for the majority of the U.S. public, failing to acknowledge the complexities of immigration issues, while providing a permanent scapegoat for all societal ills.  When public opinion became increasingly negative toward immigration as a result, this was then used as a justification for “enforcement-only” policies, leading to the bloated budget and alarming size of the Department of Homeland Security…

“The militarization of the U.S.-México border has resulted in the documented deaths of at least 2,400 migrant men, women and children on the Arizona border alone.  Across the border, more than 6,000 remains have been recovered. These policies of funneling migration into the deadliest and most desolate areas have created a human rights crisis, and should be denounced by the international community.  They are a disgrace to the spirit with which border communities live and work together.  We demand the dismantling of the wall and the “virtual” wall along the border.  National Guard troops must be removed from the border, and the utilization of the military to enforce immigration and border policies prohibited.  We must end the privatization of border control and security operations on the border, putting the real security of our communities before the profits of corporations.” – For Immediate Release: Dec. 18th: A Time to Push for a Human Rights Framework in Immigration Reform.

from La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, in Tucson, AZ, where I worked during my semester in the Borderlands. Derechos knows what’s happening in Tucson, and the communities immigration reform will affect most directly need to be heard.

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Senators Agree on Blueprint for Immigration – NYTimes.com

“Under the senators’ proposal, border security would be immediately strengthened with new technology, including aerial drones, for border patrol agents, while the Department of Homeland Security would work to expand the exit control system. The United States currently has some exit controls to track departures of foreigners at most airports and seaports, but it does not track exits by land.”

via Senators Agree on Blueprint for Immigration – NYTimes.com.

When increased border security goes hand-in-hand with immigration reform, it results in more policing, more profiling of latin@s, more invasions of privacy, more fear in border and immigrant communities, more deaths of people crossing in the desert.  This story is being lost in the dialogue about immigration reform.  I don’t want drones patrolling our borders (or anywhere, for that matter), I don’t want people to walk for days through the desert, I don’t want a bigger border patrol, I don’t want exit controls (really? exit controls?).  I want people to have the right to migrate AND the right not to migrate, and for people to be able to be able to live free from fear, wherever they choose to live.

Migration is Beautiful


Check out this incredible new documentary series featuring artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez.  Migration is Beautiful shows the multi-layered roots of immigration, and highlights the art and activism happening in Tucson and around the country for migrant justice.  On one of the first days of my internship with Derechos Humanos, I entered the office, not expecting to find Isabel Garcia giving the artists featured in this film a presentation on Operation Streamline. I am so fortunate to have been able to spend time in this incredible community of activists, to have gotten to know and learn from Isabel and her colleagues at Derechos.  There are a lot of familiar faces and places here, especially in part 2.

Many of you have asked me, “So what do we need to do about immigration?”  And my answer has been probably a lot more complicated than we all would like it to be, as I’ve tried to explain the problems with NAFTA and Border Patrol and prisons and the culture of fear created in this country.  This film offers a solid and multi-dimensional analysis, often from the mouths of the people from whom I heard it first.  I hope you enjoy it!

“People want to move so they can better themselves, and no matter the reason we need to allow people the safe right and the ability to move freely so that they can fulfill their best self.” –Favianna Rodriguez

In three parts:


80 Hours on Amtrak

Arrival

I was definitely the only person on New Jersey Transit who had just spent four days on Amtrak, coming from Arizona, traveling by rail from southern border to northern border, almost from coast to coast.

The train from New York to Chicago got into NYC about ten minutes early, and so I was able to catch the 6:52 commuter train back to Madison, NJ, but with only minutes to spare.  It was one of those split-level trains, where you enter on the same level as the platform, and then you have to either go up or down half a flight of stairs to get to the seats. The train was full.  Rather than try to navigate the narrow aisle, I stayed in the alcove designated for people with bikes or who otherwise cannot use the stairs.  Men in suit pants and pressed shirts watched me from the corners of their eyes, trying to maintain their dignified stares at their iPhones without letting on how hard they were judging the flustered 21-year-old woman, shining from sweat, with two giant backpacks, a guitar, and an empty sport bag.  I hoisted the guitar, sport bag, and smaller backpack onto the rack, and sat, holding my big backpack steady with my knees, between two men who didn’t look up from their iPhone games for the duration of the trip.

I made small talk with the one man in business casual attire across the aisle, who asked if I had been hiking the Appalachian Trail.  No, I told him, I just took Amtrak from Tucson – 4 days, via Chicago.  Must have been quite the trip, he said.

Departure

I set out from Tucson on Saturday, December 1st, on the Texas Eagle, the train from LA to Chicago, which passes through Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and St. Louis.  It’s a long ride.  So long, in fact, that it has its own song, which you can find on the route’s website.  It’s a long song, and a tedious song, which is appropriate for the long, tedious route.

Movement

The Texas Eagle passes near Big Bend National Park, and through the Ozark Mountains, and St. Louis.  Sounds beautiful, right?  It goes through all of these places at night.  The first day, passing through desert and scattered mountain ranges in Arizona and New Mexico, is quite beautiful – an echo of places I’d visited during the Border Studies Program. The second day – and the third day – were flat plains.  I was interested to travel through a part of the country I’d never seen at eye level before, but the initial excitement wore off by hour 5.  The next 40 hours were less novel, but provided me with ample time to ponder what it means that I can travel across the country on train tracks, literally watching the seasons change as I move north.

Staring out the window of the train, I have a tour of what I’ve heard described as “Post-America America.”  Almost every city stop used to be an industrial area, and now it’s not, or if it is, it’s a fraction of the size it used to be.  In Erie and Rochester, and through Illinois, giant buildings sit, abandoned.  Most of the big buildings that look like they’re still occupied are prisons – it’s a profound statement on how and why our prison system has grown while our manufacturing industry has shrunk.

Most people I talk to about my train trip have asked if I have a bed while I’m on the train. I don’t.  Had I been able to split the cost of a sleeper, I would, but it costs two or three times the price, and I actually have no trouble sleeping in the coach seats, fully reclined and inside my sleeping bag.  The trickiest part about sleeping is the fact that the seat, for someone as small as I, wearing mostly synthetic material, acts as a slide, and I have to kind of wedge myself in between my seat and the seat ahead of me, so that I won’t slip off while sleeping.

You can’t smoke on an Amtrak car.  It must be a new federal law or something, because everyone seems outraged about it, from passengers to the train crew.  Almost every announcement is a reminder that, “Smoking Is PROHIBITED in all cars of the train. The next smoke stop is not until THREE AM in Little Rock, folks, so set your alarms if you need a smoke, because the next four stops WILL NOT be smoke stops.”  You can’t smoke on Amtrak, no, but you can carry a gun.

I meet some good people on the train. A woman, sitting across from me outlines her entire model for being an advocate for people experiencing domestic violence. A mom and her two kids, heading home to Missouri, get off at every smoke stop.  The mom blows the smoke away from the kids while they run around.  She says she isn’t scared about them falling off the platform; she trusts them.  A great-grandmother on her way to visit family sits next to me in the observation car and tells me about the five living generations of her family.  An environmental chemist, on her way to graduate from her masters program, sits beside me from Chicago to Syracuse and shares my dental floss. Life on Amtrak has a much slower pace than the whirl of traveling cross-country on planes.  No one is in much of a rush.

Home

I’m visiting Vassar, and walking across campus, and I hear the train whistle. The eerie note echoing across the city reminds me of being in Tucson, and it also reminds me that I could get on the train tonight and be in Tucson by Monday.  It’s an important reminder, because here, in the cold, drippy familiarity of campus, Tucson seems very far away.  The past two days have been a whirl of visiting old friends, hugging, catching up on campus happenings.  There has not been much room for deep conversations about the semester; only enough time to say, It was a really powerful experience.  Super intense.  The Border is really fucked up, maybe accompanied by a short anecdote about the Border Patrol, with a moment for us to shake our heads, fuckin’ unbelievable, before changing the subject to something easier to take on in the next fifteen minutes.  Pushing the reality of Tucson plus the reality of Vassar out of my head is a fairly straightforward process – far less complicated than trying to synthesize the two right now, while this familiar face comes in for a big hug after six months apart.  It is hard to even comprehend the fact that this damp, dreary city, with leafy trees and rolling hills, operates in the same time and space as warm, dry, Tucson.  In Tucson, the rough edges of cacti and the Catalinas rule the landscape, and the sky is so much larger. The flat expansiveness makes it much more difficult to hide the realities and injustices of our world.

But that train whistle blows, and I know it’s the same world, same continent, same country.  The two are connected, to each other and everywhere else.  I won’t forget.