It's hard to believe that a couple of short months ago, I was living in Cut Bank, Montana—about 50 miles away from Canada. After a northern/southern cross-country drive, I am now about 50 miles away from Mexico in Tucson, Arizona. And these two places couldn't be more of a world apart.
I've heard from a handful of people that the city of Tucson itself is remarkably similar to an earlier Austin—and much to my delight, I've found that to be true. The cost of living in Tucson itself is remarkably affordable and there is a vibrant activism/progressive scene here. It has been a welcome change of pace from spending a couple months in some of the most conservative parts of this country—I'm looking at you Montana, Idaho, and northern Arizona (and subsequently feeling pretty isolated).
Later this week, I will be visiting the Florence and Eloy detention centers here in Arizona along the border—I'm sure the entirety of next week's blog post will be dedicated to that experience. As for the remainder of my time here, I am simultaneously laying down the groundwork for the Virtual Law Office (launching in early Spring 2016!) and volunteering at Casa Alitas, a project of Catholic Community Services here in Tucson.
Most migrants arriving at Casa Alitas are mothers, children, and pregnant women from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Most have traveled from their homes, through Mexico, to reach Arizona, a journey of several days to weeks. In Arizona, the Border Patrol turns them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE provides them with documentation and orders to report to an immigration hearing. Then, ICE drops them off at Casa Alitas. I'll be providing legal counsel as well as helping Casa Alitas update their legal materials that are distributed to migrants to help ensure that they are protected.
There was an article on the front page of the Tucson newspaper on Saturday that featured Casa Alitas: http://tucson.com/news/tucson-sees-new-spike-in-central-american-families/article_33303fce-bfc0-516f-86a4-f495217b1b34.html
The article shares the stories of some of the mothers and children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador who are facing unlivable conditions in their home countries—including some of the highest murder rates in the world, sexual assault, extortion, gang violence—creating an atmosphere where there is absolutely no other option but to leave to try to save themselves and their families.
The United States' high deportation rates (in 2015, out of 987 completed cases of detained parents who crossed the border with their children, 788 were ordered to leave) are absolutely shameful. The stigmatization of labeling our migrant friends as "illegal" and deporting them is essentially a death sentence for so many who are innocent and who unbelievably don't "qualify" for asylum in the US.
Yesterday, I was at Casa Alitas and I met A.—the little boy who is described in this article. He and his mother traveled for 2 months from Honduras to Nogales, AZ in search of a safer life. Yesterday, I saw A. move huge bags of donated clothes nearly the size of him, helping out with a smile on his face—running around playing games & exuding the innocence of a small child—despite the terror he has seen. It is heartbreaking & infuriating how our country turns away so many children like A. How could we?
Educating ourselves on their individual stories and our country's miserable deportation record are essential to a necessary collective outrage. Deporting these asylum seekers denies our own collective humanity. They are looking for compassion and safety—and are all too frequently met with even more aggression and hostility upon reaching the US. What an insult to say the least. Just think of A. and the others mentioned in this article. What would any of us do if we were in their shoes—what about the literal hundreds of miles they have walked in their own?
The next couple of months here in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas will shed even more light for me in terms of how our friends are being treated here along the US/Mexico border. I look forward to sharing with you what I find in these upcoming weeks. Here's to continuing to move out the community silos we live in here in the United States and forging ahead to a more woke future.