There aren’t many people who meet with Border Patrol agents in Nogales, Arizona and people preparing to migrate at a shelter in Altar, Sonora within the same 6-hour period.
And it’s hard to figure out what it means to be one of the few who has.
I saw a lot and I heard a lot in that period. At the Border Patrol, I mostly heard them telling us that they were out there trying to stay alive. They showed us the rocks that “rockers” had thrown at them, and asked us pointed questions: “Would you throw that at me? Do you think that could do some damage?” And pointed to a picture of 14 Border Patrol apprehending 140 people trying to cross: “10 to 1, they outnumbered us. Who do you think would win, if they decided to turn on us? Think about that.” The agents showed us all the guns they could bring in the field. We got the chance to hold them. They wanted us to be excited about getting the chance to shoot their “less than lethal weapons.” They told us about all the drugs they apprehend. They told us they had seen the effects of immigration “in their communities” but didn’t elaborate on what those effects were. They wanted us to be scared of the people crossing the desert.
I think the tour was designed to make us leave there feeling psyched about the Border Patrol, and how awesome their guns were, protecting them from the migrants who were going to assault them at any chance they got (They actually said this – “Any chance they get to assault us, they do.”) I left feeling shaken from being confronted with the grim reality that protecting a country that is “free” involves heavy militarization: M-16s, x-ray vision goggles, drones, huge detention facilities, and whatever else the Federal Government decides might be useful.
About ten minutes passed between leaving the Border Patrol and arriving at First at Kino Border Initiative, an organization for people recently deported, just on the other side of the border. We heard stories from two women there, each of whom was desperate to find a way into the United States: one, to be reunited with her family, the other, to escape from the husband she had been forced to marry. The stories they told starkly contrasted against the Border Patrol’s narrative of migrants being violent and aggressive, and revealed a different truth of people wanting to get to the US in order to survive.
From Kino, we continued on to Altar, a hub for migration further south of the border, where people meet up with Coyotes to guide them North across the desert. There we met men with a huge array of stories. Some had tried ten or fifteen times to cross, trying to get North to find work, any work. Others had been deported after putting down deep roots in the States, and were trying to get back. They all wanted to contribute to their families in some way, whether it was by working to send money home, or to go back home and reunite with their loved ones.
It’s hard to figure out what it means to be one of the few who has met migrants in Altar and agents at the Border Patrol in a quarter of a day. What do I do with this sort of perspective? I write about it here, and I hope that you also see the major discrepancy between the narratives of the “dangerous illegal aliens” that pervade through out the US and the narratives of the actual people who are trying to live. And then I continue to be here, and I continue to listen, and I continue to learn, and write and ask questions. I try and find the place where I fit in the powerful work for resistance happening in Tucson to secure a future where some day people will be able to live in community, on either side of the border, without fear.