Thursday, May 03, 2007

Photo Essay 1: African American Human Rights Investigation at U.S.-Mexico Border

By Arnoldo Garcia

Notes from the U.S.-Mexico border April-May 2007: Here you can see how ridiculous, impractical and deadly the strategy of militarizaton, resulting in wall-building and almost head-to-toe placement of Border Patrol agents along the border is.

At the edge of border wall, you can can see how it artificially separates the land, harms wildlife and divides people. Every several hundred yards or so, when washes and gulleys appear, the border wall had slat openings supposedly to allow the water floods from occasional monsoon rains flow through.

The border is open to goods, capital, investments, trade of the varying "free" kind and slats so that wildlife can come and go as they please across the international border -- but not for human migrants. Migrants have to go around the walls, which in most places end in literal wilderness, where humans can barely survive without outdoors training, gear, supplies and water and where Border Patrol all-terrain vehicles can't enter. It is in places like this -- but even more desolate areas further away from urban centers and towns -- where migrant dead are recovered; those who venture into the desert and mountainous wilderness and get lost or die are never found or recovered.

We took several individual and group pictures on the U.S. "side" of the border. This edge of the wall is abut seven miles from the center of Douglas, Arizona, U.S. and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, where it cuts into the communities in both directions, east and west.

Our border wall pictures were taken at the western edge of the wall, which will continue being built until it's over seven-hundred miles long, double and triple walls in some areas. On the left side, you can see the stadium lights that cause electric light pollution, disturbing the natural world and its lives.

As we were driving along the wall, a storm was threatening all around. Wind gusts, barely audible sprinkles could be felt, shook us a bit, mussing our hair, cooling our bodies. Then all of a sudden the storm and her winds dissipated and left altogether. We ran around taking pictures.

Some of us tried to scale the wall. Leilani, the youngest and bravest among us went to the other side and played peek-a-boo, defying the seriousness and intention of the wall. Later, Leilani would explain our romp at the border wall as a whithering blow for freedom.

"There have been so many migrant deaths on our land that our ceremonies used to cleanse the people and the land after wars or violence no longer work," Ofelia Rivas told delegation members of the "Braving Borders, Building Bridges -- A Journey for Human Rights," an African American community investigation into human rights violations at the U.S.-Mexico border organized by the Black Alliance for Just immigration with the Tucson-based Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Fifteen representatives from 10 cities and six states participated in this African American visit to the U.S.-Mexico border during April 26-29, 2007.

Ms. Rivas represents Tohono O'odam Voices against the Wall, an Indigenous community effort to reclaim Tohono O'odham sovereignty over their lands that have been bisected by the U.S.-Mexico border and to rollback militarization. She concluded saying, "Whenever we recover a migrant dead, we cleanse our land. But it's no use because other migrants come and die in the same spots or other places and we cannot cleanse the land from the violence." There is so much violence and deaths resulting from the militarizartion of border and immigration control, she explained, that we can't keep up migrant deaths on our lands.

Ofelia Rivas was part of a panel speaking on Indigenous peoples' issues during a meeting between the delegation and representatives of the Pascua Yaqui Nation, Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras (Indigenous Alliance without Borders), and the Tohono O'odham Nation. Ms. Rivas concluded by saying that after their ceremonies.

Photo below on right is a double exposure of two members of CDH "scalin"g the wall and a photo of Ron Wilkins, chronicler of Afro-Mexico relations and histories, posing beside the border wall near Douglas-Agua Prieta. All photos for this post by Arnoldo García.

Organized by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in partnership with Tucson-based Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, based in Oakland, CA, the 15-member "Braving Borders" African American delegation hailed from six states and ten cities from across the U.S. The delegation spent four days of intensive meetings, discussions, dialogue and travel April 26-29, 2007 in Tucson, Douglas and Sasave, AZ and in Agua Prieta, Magdalena de Kino, Altar and Sasabe, Sonora in Mexico.

The members of the BAJI human rights border tour learned first-hand the impact of U.S. immigration and national security policies on migrants, communities, Indigenous peoples, workers and people of color on the border.

[Right: Priscilla Hayes, from Community Coalition, viewing the desert where migrants beging their deadly trek.]

Ofelia Rivas heads up O'odham Voices against the Wall, organizing against the rampant militarization and Border Patrol violence on the Tohono O'odham lands that straddle both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. She told us with some sadness and a lot of determination: "What good is it if after we cleanse the land with our ceremonies, migrants crossing will die once again on the same spots?"

[Left: BAJI delegation meeting over a meal with members of the Pascua Yaqui Nation, Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras and O'odham Voice against the Wall.]

This is the face of the humanitarian crisis that begins at the U.S.-Mexico border and extends deep into our neighorhoods, workplaces, places of worship, where we study, shop and play.

In Altar, Sonora, three crosses, one each for the U.S. border states of California, Arizona and Texas, with the number of migrant dead recovered in each state, next to the CCAMYN migrant aid shelter.

Over 5,000 migrant dead have been recovered since 1994, when the U.S. government implemented the current border and immigration control strategy that forces migrants to cross through desolate and dangerous desert and mountainous regions of the Arizona-Sonora border. Members of University of Arizona's Binational Migration Institute presented the results of their study of the "funnel effect" of the border and immigration control strategy, called "prevention thrugh deterrence," that has created this deadly humanitarian crisis. Kat Rodriguez, staff of Derechos Humanos Coalition, reminded everyone that when we speak of migrant deaths we are talking about recovered bodies and remains. No one knows how many more have died and disappeared in the desert and mountains of Arizona and New Mexico, where border militarization increasingly pushes migrants further east into more dangerous and isolated parts of the border.

Left: Rev. Kelvin Sauls and other members of the delegation taking their first look at the U.S.-Mexico border wall, getting off the vans to see close up the border wall that slices Douglas, AZ-Agua Prieta, Sonora.

BAJI border tour members visited the wall that literally cuts Douglass, Arizona from its twin city neighbor in Mexico, Agua Prieta, Sonora. The only openings are wide slats in washes that allow rainwater monsoons seep across gulleys and rivulets. Humans must climb over and risk serious injury and almost immediate detection and arrest. Or take the deadly trek into the desert, where the risk of injury and death is even greater. The wall at Douglas/Agua Prieta extends several miles into the desert. As drove alongside the wall we ran into several lime-green and dreaded Border Patrol hummvees driving from the horizon towards and past us, hunting migrants.

Photos below, left: Gerald Lenoir, coordinator of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, speaking at meeting with human rights groups in Agua Prieta, Sonora. Right: Most members of the delegation in front of border wall.

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