Sunday, November 15, 2015

Part 1: The American Lens

View on the drive over to Tucson, AZ.

The situation on the U.S./Mexico border is very complicated. But thanks be to God for his many ways of teaching us compassion, I was able to get a small taste of both sides of the story this past week.  The YAVs from Hollywood, CA, Denver, CO and Tucson, AZ joined up for a retreat to Tucson and Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, MX. The week was full of laughter and tears, new friends and maybe a few new enemies, but most of all it was the one of the most eye opening experiences I have ever had.
Desert mountains look very different from WV!

We worked our way backwards, starting from our current perspective as Americans and moving farther South to the perspective of Central and South Americans.  This first blog is about the beginning of my change in perspective as an American. A second blog will follow as my perception moved to the South side of the border.

The border wall splitting
Douglas and Agua Prieta.
U.S. on the right, Mexico on the left.
We arrived Saturday, Nov. 7th in Tucson, AZ, but our first real day was Sunday. We went to church at Southside Presbyterian which has gained national attention for giving sanctuary to Rosa Robles Loreto for over 15 months. We were lucky enough to be there on the day they announced that the government has finally granted Rosa relief from her order of deportation! She went home on Wednesday morning to reunite with her husband and two sons. As an American who believes we should not be deporting anyone from this land of plenty, I saw this is a great victory helping to keep families together and move toward smarter and more caring immigration policies. To learn more about this situation, visit Southside Presbyterian’s website:
Sign outside Southside Presbyerian Church.

Southside Presbyterian Church entrance

On Sunday evening we participated in the All Souls Procession which draws a crowd of over 100,000 people in Tucson! People make all kinds of costumes and floats in order to creatively remember their loved ones who have passed away. The tradition has only been going since 1990, but it draws so much attention for its inclusion of every religion and cultural practice. I had my face painted as an artistic skull not to be gruesome, but to remind us that we all have the same skeleton underneath. They also told us to bring a memento for someone we have lost and are remembering during the procession. While I was packing to come to Hollywood, I had thrown a deck of cards in to my backpack, not knowing if I would ever need them or not. But I think I brought them to carry with me to remember my Granddaddy Violett. He was constantly playing solitaire and he taught me to enjoy the game as well. Although he was never very artistic, I hope he is proud of me for honoring him in this way. It was a truly moving night seeing how everyone chose to remember their loved one, whether it was a huge float or a simple pin with a picture on it. The celebration of life was phenomenal! To learn more, click here:

Molds of children's shoes to remember
Syrian children killed in the war zone.

Southside Worker Center
On Monday we went back to Southside Presbyterian to talk to day laborers in their Southside Worker Center. The main coordinator talked to us about how they assign different workers to different jobs depending on what skills they have. I was impressed at how adamant he was that each work site must be verified as safe and a fair wage must be paid. He repeated several times that they are all human beings and must be treated as such.

But this was the part where I began to realize how skewed my perception of their situation was.

Coordinator for the center showing us goals
they have acheived.
Somewhere along the line I was taught to think of Latino immigrants as slimy, untrustworthy workers. Maybe from movies, maybe from living in the south and hearing racist adults make stupid comments. But why?? All these people really want is to work and be paid a fair wage for their labor. I also realized how stuck they are in their situation. Their options of employment are so often limited to construction and maintenance, but what little boy grows up saying that’s what he wants to be when he’s an adult? I am so lucky to have had almost an infinite amount of options laid out for me. Why can’t it be the same for them?

Lois is in the middle giving us
information on Operation Stream Line.

In the afternoon we talked to this fabulous little lady named Lois. She came to tell us about Operation Stream Line; a government program that stream lines migrants arrested in the desert straight into private prisons as criminals rather than immigrants. After talking to her we sat through a hearing for 79 latino men and women who had just tried to cross the border less than a week before.

The experience was surreal. The ceiling was extraordinarily high, with a huge seal of the U.S. up on the wall behind the judge. If you’ve seen The Hunger Games movies, this court room could have come straight out of The Capitol. In the middle of the room sat 79 latino men and women who were caught crossing the border mostly within the past 2-3 days. They were all chained around their ankles and handcuffed to a chain around their waist. White lawyers in fancy suits strutted around talking to each other and occasionally giving a reassuring smile to a detainee as part of the show. The judge entered and started calling up the “criminals” 6 to 8 at a time. In the 30 minutes they were allowed to meet with their semi-fluent in Spanish lawyer before trial, they had to be informed of their charges, the plea bargain they were going to take, and the questions the judge was going to ask and how they needed to respond.
Could you climb it?

We were there to have a trial for people where the outcome was already preplanned.

They were all charged with a misdemeanor of not entering the country through a legal port of entry, as well as a felony for having been deported once before and trying to come back again. The plea bargain they all take says their felony will be dropped if they serve 1-6 months in prison before being handed over to immigration for deportation. Many of them received the full 6 months, but the criteria for deciding the sentences is left up to the prosecutor’s discretion. Many migrants were very confused during the whole process. I counted at least 5 who could not answer the judge’s questions correctly, for example one man wanted to answer every question with “Gulpable,” which means guilty. He clearly did not understand the court system, the questions asked of him, or the charges against him, yet he was ultimately coached through the answers with his lawyer and the judge was able to give him his sentence. The migrants are also barely given a chance to speak for themselves and explain their situation. When the judge asks "Do you have anything to say?" the attorneys all speak for them and say "No, they do not." But what if they are fleeing from violence and are seeking asylum? That should never be a criminal offense! This is not what I was taught to be a fair trial in our country. I found myself asking how much different it will be to sit before God on a judgment day when all are set free rather than all guilty.

By Monday evening, I was full of questions.
Why are people working so hard to come into our country?
And why are we working so hard to keep them out of our “free” country?
Why are some human beings considered to be illegal and the rest of us aren’t?
How can judges and lawyers participate in something that so clearly goes against their Constitutional oath?

Marker for the border line
As we travelled closer to the Border on Tuesday, several of these questions began to unfold with answers. Read Part 2 of this blog to find out what happens South of the border and hear the stories of real human beings who live there.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked your perspective on this piece. I am glad that I had the chance to see this with you and the rest of our YAV team.