city:arivaca

  • Arizona border residents speak out against Donald Trump’s deployment of troops

    Residents from Arizona borderland towns gathered Thursday outside the Arizona State Capitol to denounce President Donald Trump’s deployment of at least 5,200 U.S. troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

    The group of about a dozen traveled to Phoenix to hold the event on the Arizona State Capitol lawn. The press conference took place as a caravan of migrants seeking asylum continues to move north through Mexico toward the United States.

    “The U.S. government response to asylum seekers has turned to military confrontation,” said Amy Juan, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, who spoke at the event on the Arizona State Capitol lawn.

    “We demand an end to the rhetoric of dehumanization and the full protection of human rights for all migrants and refugees in our borderlands.”

    Juan and her group said many refugees confronted by military at the border will circumvent them by way of “dangerous foot crossings through remote areas.”

    “Already this year, hundreds of remains of migrants and refugees have been recovered in U.S. deserts,” Juan said. “As front-line border communities, we witness and respond to this tragedy firsthand.”

    While she spoke at a lectern, others held a sign saying, “Troops out now. Our communities are not war zones.”

    As the press conference unfolded, the Trump administration announced a plan to cut back immigrants’ ability to request asylum in the United States.

    Those from Arizona borderland towns are also concerned that border communities, such as Ajo, the Tohono O’odham Nation, Arivaca and others, may see an increased military presence.

    “I didn’t spend two years in Vietnam to be stopped every time I come and go in my own community,” said Dan Kelly, who lives in Arivaca, an unincorporated community in Pima County, 11 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

    A major daily hiccup

    Many border-community residents complain the current law enforcement presence, absent the new U.S. troops, creates a major hiccup in everyday life.

    “Residents of Arivaca, Ajo, the Tohono O’odham Nation, they are surrounded on all sides by checkpoints. They are surrounded on all sides by border patrol stations. Every time they go to the grocery store, they pass a border patrol vehicle,” said Billy Peard, an attorney for ACLU Arizona.

    Juan says she gets anxiety from these checkpoints because she has been stopped and forced to get out of her car while federal agents and a dog search for signs of drugs or human smuggling.

    Juan calls the fear of these type of situations “checkpoint trauma.”

    “It’s really based upon their suspicions,” she said of authorities at checkpoints. “Even though we are not doing anything wrong, there’s still that fear.”

    Many of those speaking at Thursday’s event accused the federal government of racial profiling, targeting Latino and tribal members. They said they are often subjected to prolonged questioning, searches, and at times, harassment.

    “A lot of people can sway this as a political thing,” Juan said. “But, ultimately, it’s about our quality of life.”


    https://eu.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/border-issues/2018/11/08/arizona-border-residents-speak-out-against-trumps-troop-deployment/1934976002
    #murs #barrières_frontalières #résistance #asile #migrations #réfugiés #frontières #USA #Etats-Unis

    • In South Texas, the Catholic Church vs. Trump’s Border Wall

      A charismatic priest and the local diocese hope to save a 120-year-old chapel near the Rio Grande.

      Around the Texas border town of Mission, Father Roy Snipes is known for his love of Lone Star beer, a propensity to swear freely and the menagerie of rescue dogs he’s rarely seen without. At 73, Father Roy, as he’s universally known, stays busy. He says around five masses a week at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in downtown Mission, and fields endless requests to preside over weddings and funerals. Lately, he’s taken on a side gig: a face of the resistance to Trump’s “big, beautiful” border wall.

      “It’ll be ugly as hell,” said Snipes. “And besides that, it’s a sick symbol, a countervalue. We don’t believe in hiding behind Neanderthal walls.”

      For Snipes, Trump’s wall is no abstraction. It’s set to steal something dear from him. Snipes is the priest in charge of the La Lomita chapel, a humble sandstone church that has stood for 120 years just a few hundred yards from the Rio Grande, at the southern outskirts of Mission. Inside its walls, votive candles burn, and guestbooks fill up with Spanish and English messages left by worshippers.

      Snipes belongs to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the congregation of priests that built the chapel in 1899. Nearly 40 years ago, he took his final vows at La Lomita, which was named for a nearby hillock. At sunset, he said, he often piles a couple canines into his van and drives the gravel levee road that leads to the chapel, where he prays and walks the dogs. Local residents worship at La Lomita every day, and as a state historical landmark, it draws tourists from around Texas. For Snipes, the diminutive sanctuary serves as a call to humility. “We come from a long line of hospitable, humble and kind people, and La Lomita is a reminder of that,” he said. “It’s the chapel of the people.”

      If Trump has his way, the people’s chapel will soon languish on the wrong side of a 30-foot border wall, or be destroyed entirely. Already, Border Patrol agents hover day and night at the entrance to the 8-acre La Lomita property, but Snipes thinks a wall would be another matter. Even if the chapel survives, and even if it remains accessible via an electronic gate in the wall, he thinks almost all use of the chapel would end. To prevent that, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, which owns La Lomita, is fighting in court to keep federal agents off the land — but it’s a Hail Mary effort. Border residents have tried, and failed, to halt the wall before.

      Here’s what the La Lomita stretch of wall would look like: As in other parts of Hidalgo County, the structure would be built on an existing earthen river levee. First, federal contractors working for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would cut away the levee’s sloped south half and replace it with a sheer concrete wall, about 15 feet high, then top the wall with 18-foot steel bollards. In total, the levee wall and metal fencing would reach more than three stories high. Longtime border activist Scott Nicol has called the proposed structure a “concrete and steel monstrosity.”

      And it doesn’t end there. The contractors would also clear a 150-foot “enforcement zone” to the south, a barren strip of land for patrol roads, sensors, camera towers and flood lights. Because La Lomita stands well within 150 feet of the existing levee, activists fear the historic structure could be razed. In an October online question-and-answer session, CBP responded vaguely: “It has not yet been decided how the La Lomita chapel will be accommodated.” The agency declined to answer questions for this story.

      This month, Congressional Democrats and Trump are feuding over further funding for the wall, but the administration already has the money it needs to build through La Lomita: $641 million was appropriated in March for 33 miles of wall in the Rio Grande Valley. In October, the Department of Homeland security also invoked its anti-terrorism authority to waive a raft of pesky environmental and historic preservation regulations for a portion of that mileage, including La Lomita’s segment. No contract has been awarded for the stretch that would endanger the chapel yet, so there’s no certain start date, but CBP plans to start construction elsewhere in Hidalgo County as soon as February.

      Unlike in Arizona and California, the land along the Rio Grande — Texas’ riverine border — is almost entirely owned by a collection of farmers, hobbyist ranchers, entrepreneurs and deeply rooted Hispanic families who can truly say the border crossed them. Ninety-five percent of Texas borderland is private. That includes #La_Lomita, whose owner, the diocese in #Brownsville, has decided to fight back.

      Multiple times this year, court filings show, federal agents pressed the diocese to let them access the property so they could survey it, a necessary step before using eminent domain to take land for the wall. But the diocese has repeatedly said “no,” forcing the government to file a lawsuit in October seeking access to the property. The diocese shot back with a public statement, declaring that “church property should not be used for the purposes of building a border wall” and calling the wall “a sign contrary to the Church’s mission.”

      The diocese is also challenging the government in court. In a pair of recent court filings responding to the lawsuit, the diocese argues that federal agents should not be allowed to enter its property, much less construct the border wall, because doing so would violate both federal law and the First Amendment. It’s a legalistic version of Snipes’ claim that the wall would deter worshippers.

      “The wall would have a chilling effect on people going there and using the chapel, so in fact, it’s infringing or denying them their right to freedom of religion,” said David Garza, the Brownsville attorney representing the diocese. “We also don’t believe the government has a compelling interest to put the wall there; if they wanted to put technology or sensors, that might be a different story.”

      It’s a long-shot challenge, to be sure. Bush and Obama already built 110 miles of wall in Texas between 2008 and 2010, over the protests of numerous landowners. But this may be the first time anyone’s challenged the border wall on freedom-of-religion grounds. “I’ve been looking for the needle in the haystack, but a case of this nature, I’m not aware of,” Garza said. A hearing in the case is set for early January.

      When I visited the Mission area in November, Father Snipes insisted that we conduct our interview out on the Rio Grande at sunset. Two of his dogs joined us in the motorboat.

      As we dawdled upriver, watching the sky bleed from to red to purple, Snipes told me the story behind something I’d seen earlier that day: a trio of wooden crosses protruding from the ground between La Lomita and the levee. There, he said, he’d buried a llama and a pair of donkeys, animals who’d participated in Palm Sunday processions from his downtown church to La Lomita, reenactments of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The animals had carried Jesus. So close to the levee, the gravesites would likely be destroyed during wall construction.

      As the day’s last light faded, Snipes turned wistful. “I thought the government was supposed to protect our freedom to promote goodness and truth and beauty,” he lamented. “Even if they won’t promote it themselves.”

      https://www.texasobserver.org/in-south-texas-the-catholic-church-vs-trumps-border-wall
      #Eglise #Eglise_catholique

  • Poll finds U.S.-Mexico border residents overwhelmingly value mobility, oppose wall

    Residents who live along the U.S.-Mexico border overwhelmingly prefer bridges over fences and are dead set against building a new wall, according to a Cronkite News-Univision-Dallas Morning News poll.


    http://interactives.dallasnews.com/2016/border-poll

    #sondage #murs #opposition #résistance #USA #Mexique #frontières #barrières_frontalières

    • Vigilantes Not Welcome : A Border Town Pushes Back on Anti-Immigrant Extremists

      In late August last year, 39-year-old Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer exited La Gitana bar in Arivaca, Arizona, took out his phone, and started recording a video for his Facebook page: “So down here in Arivaca, if you like to traffic in children, if you like to make sure women and children have contraceptives before handing them off to the coyotes to be dragged through the desert, knowing they’re going to get raped along the way, if you’re involved in human trafficking or dope smuggling, these individuals have your back.”

      Meyer, who had a trim red beard, dark sunglasses, and a camouflage American flag hat, aimed his cellphone camera at a wooden awning on a small white bungalow across the street from La Gitana, panning between two signs with the words “Arivaca Humanitarian Aid Office” and “Oficina De Ayuda Humanitaria” in turquoise letters.

      The video went on for nine and a half minutes, as Meyer, the leader of a group called Veterans on Patrol, which had more than 70,000 followers on Facebook, talked about stopping border crossers and searching abandoned mineshafts for evidence of trafficked women and children. Every couple of minutes he would return to the aid office.

      “If you’re ever down here in Arivaca,” he told his audience, “if you want to know who helps child traffickers, if you want to know who helps dope smugglers, if you want to know who helps ISIS, if you want to know who helps La Raza, MS-13, any of ’em, any of the bad guys, these people help ’em.”

      The claims were false and outrageous. But Meyer had an audience, and people in town were well aware of how media-fueled anti-­immigrant vitriol and conspiracies could spill over into real-world violence. It had happened there before.

      Arivaca sits just 11 miles north of the Mexico border in a remote area of the Sonoran Desert. For about two decades, anti-immigrant vigilante groups have patrolled the region to try to remedy what they perceive as the federal government’s failure to secure the border. In 2009, the leader of one of these groups and two accomplices murdered two residents—a little girl and her father—during a home invasion and robbery planned to fund their activities. Meyer’s video brought that trauma back and was quickly followed by a series of incidents revolving around various vigilante groups, La Gitana, and the humanitarian aid office. When I visited in mid-September, the town was clearly on edge. “If we don’t do something about [the situation], we’re going to have bodies here again,” Arivaca’s unofficial mayor, Ken Buchanan, told me.

      Shortly before making his video, Meyer had been sitting in La Gitana with several volunteers from Veterans on Patrol. Megan Davern, a 30-year-old meat cutter with work-worn hands and long brown hair, was tending bar. She had heard that a rancher living along the border was having issues with a vigilante group trespassing and flying drones over his property.

      “I walked into the bar at four o’clock one day to start a shift, and I saw this big group of people in fatigues with empty gun holsters and a drone on the table, and I felt it was probably them,” Davern recalled.

      Davern had heard the group’s name before and quickly did some internet research, reading highlights as the men drank. The group was founded to provide support to homeless veterans. Then, in May 2018, Meyer—who is not a veteran and has a criminal history—claimed he had discovered a child sex trafficking camp at an abandoned cement factory in Tucson. The camp, he said, was part of a pedophilia ring, and on his Facebook page he shared posts linking it to the Clintons, George Soros, and Mexican drug cartels.

      Meyer, who showed up for rancher Cliven Bundy’s 2014 armed standoff with authorities in Nevada and was present during Bundy’s sons’ occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016, declined an interview request. But the story he was spreading mimicked right-wing conspiracies like Pizzagate and QAnon, and though Tucson police investigated and debunked his claims, Meyer gained tens of thousands of social-media followers. With donations of supplies and gift cards pouring in from supporters, he vowed to gather evidence and save the women and children he claimed were being victimized.

      Davern watched as Meyer and the other Veterans on Patrol volunteers left La Gitana and started filming the first video. Toward the end of the video, she stepped out of the bar to confront them. “We’ve been hearing about you for a long time,” she said, as Meyer turned the camera on her. “I’d appreciate if you don’t come in anymore.”

      Banning Veterans on Patrol, Davern told me, was an easy decision: “We have a strict no-militia policy at the bar because of the history of militia violence in this town.”

      Arivaca is a quirky place. To start with, it’s unincorporated, which means there’s no official mayor, no town council, no police force. The 700 or so residents are an unlikely mix of miners, ranchers, aging hippies, artists, and other folks who stumbled across the odd little community, became enchanted, and decided to make it home. A single road runs through it, linking an interstate highway to the east and a state highway to the west. The next town is 30 minutes away; Tucson is 60 miles north.

      There’s no official mayor, no town council, no police force…The next town is 30 minutes away.

      Jagged hills covered in scraggly mesquite spread in every direction until they meet towering mountains at the distant southern horizon. The vast landscape swallows up the dividing line with Mexico, but the presence of the border looms large.

      By the early 2000s, a federal policy called Prevention Through Deterrence had pushed border crossers from urban areas to more hostile terrain like the desert around Arivaca. Migrant deaths skyrocketed, and Arivaca eventually became a staging ground for volunteers caching water and food in the desert. Some settled down, and residents opened the humanitarian aid office in 2012.

      The border crossers also caught the attention of vigilante groups, many of which had formed in the late ’90s in Texas and California, and which ranged from heavily armed paramilitary-type organizations to gangs of middle-aged men sitting on lawn chairs with binoculars. “They realized that ground zero was really on the Arizona border,” said Mark Pitcavage, who researches right-wing extremism at the Anti-Defamation League.

      One group known as the Minutemen started organizing Arizona border watches in 2005. “It was a big deal in the press,” said Heidi Beirich, a hate group expert at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Beirich credits the Minutemen with helping mainstream the demonization of undocumented migrants, calling the media-savvy group “probably the thing that started off what ultimately becomes Donald Trump’s anti-­immigrant politics.”

      But by 2007, the organization was splintering. One spinoff, Minutemen American Defense (MAD), was led by a woman named Shawna Forde, a name that no one in Arivaca would soon forget.
      “The whole town has those emotional scars.”

      Just before 1 a.m. on May 30, 2009, Forde and two accomplices murdered nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her 29-year-old father, Raul, in their home. They also injured Brisenia’s mother, Gina Gonzales, before she drove them away by grabbing her husband’s gun and returning fire.

      Raul Flores was rumored to be involved in the drug trade, and Forde, a woman with a long criminal history, had devised a plan to rob his home and use the money to finance MAD.

      The murders shook Arivaca. “The whole town has those emotional scars,” Alan Wallen, whose daughter was friends with Brisenia, told me.

      The day that Meyer filmed that first Facebook video in Arivaca, Terry Sayles, 69, a retired schoolteacher with a long-standing research interest in far-right groups, was at his home in Green Valley, some 45 minutes away. Sayles had been following Veterans on Patrol since the cement plant conspiracy theory first surfaced. When he saw Meyer’s video outside La Gitana, he called the bar with a warning. “You guys know that you’re on Facebook?” he asked.

      “Oh, great,” Davern remembered thinking. Until then, she hadn’t realized Meyer’s video was online. “I didn’t know what the ramifications would be. Were people going to come into my work and harass me? Threaten me with violence? Were they going to find out where I live?”

      Around the time of Davern’s confrontation outside the bar, La Gitana put up a sign saying that members of border vigilante groups were not welcome inside. It didn’t mention Veterans on Patrol but instead singled out another group: Arizona Border Recon (AZBR).

      Tim Foley, the leader of AZBR, had moved to Arivaca in the summer of 2017. Before starting the group in 2011, Foley, who has piercing blue eyes and leathery skin from long hours in the sun, worked construction jobs in Phoenix until 2008, when the financial crisis hit. “Everything fell apart,” he told me over the phone.

      Foley said that after years of seeing immigration violations on work sites go unpunished, he went down to the border and decided to dedicate himself to stopping undocumented crossers. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers AZBR a nativist extremist group, but Foley now says his main mission is gathering intelligence on Mexican drug cartels.

      Just before I visited Arivaca, Foley was in Washington, DC, speaking at “The Negative Impact of Illegal Alien Crime in America,” a rally hosted by families of people killed by undocumented immigrants. Other speakers included former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is also a Trump pardon recipient; presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway; and Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa with a history of racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

      A few days after Meyer filmed his video, a BearCat armored vehicle—the kind used by SWAT teams—came rolling into Arivaca. It had a mock .50-caliber machine gun affixed to a turret on its roof and belonged to the Utah Gun Exchange, a marketplace and media company based near Salt Lake City with a mission to build what one of its co-owners, 46-year-old Bryan Melchior, described as “web platforms that allow free speech and that promote and protect the Second Amendment.”

      Before coming to Arivaca, the group had followed survivors of the Parkland high school shooting around the country during the teens’ “March for Our Lives” tour. But after President Trump threatened to shut down the government over funding for his border wall, Melchior shifted his attention. “Ultimately, we came here to tell stories from the border, and that’s what brought us to Arivaca, because there are some outspoken public figures here. Tim Foley is one of them,” Melchior told me.

      Melchior, stocky with a scruffy salt-and-pepper beard and an ever-present sidearm, and his crew decided to get dinner at La Gitana. Davern was tending bar and asked the group what they were up to. When Melchior said they were a media company in town to tell border stories and that they were in touch with Foley, “the whole thing went to hell in a handbag,” he recalled.

      Davern said she left their initial conversation feeling optimistic that the Utah Gun Exchange’s platform could be a good avenue to reach a different audience with information about what life was actually like at the border. But when she found out it had a channel called BuildTheWallTV, she changed her mind.

      Melchior was down by the border when somebody sent him a picture of a new sign in La Gitana’s window listing the Utah Gun Exchange and Veterans on Patrol as groups that were not welcome. He later went into La Gitana with an open container of alcohol from a store across the street to ask about the sign. The interaction did not go well.

      The next day, Meyer came back to town ready to film again. Playing to an audience watching in real time on Facebook Live, he walked up to La Gitana, showed the signs hanging in the window, and knocked. “Do you stand by your convictions to tell tens of thousands of supporters [that they’re not welcome]?” he asked the bartender working that day.

      “Sure. Absolutely,” she replied.

      Meyer went on to say that Veterans on Patrol was going to build a wall around Arivaca to make it part of Mexico. He then walked across the street to again film the humanitarian office: “This town’s made it apparent they don’t want us. They’d rather have the illegals crossing over. They’d rather help traffic the children and the women.”

      To many Arivaca residents, it felt like things were building toward cataclysm. “People are terrified,” Davern told me. “These people come to town and they’re threatening. Extremely threatening.”
      To many Arivaca residents, it felt like things were building toward cataclysm.

      So they called a town meeting. It was held on September 9, and about 60 people came. Terry Sayles, the retired teacher from Green Valley, was there. He suggested that the town report Veterans on Patrol’s page to Facebook. The residents set up a phone tree in case they needed to quickly rally aid—local law enforcement is at least an hour away. Kelly and a couple of others formed a neighborhood watch of sorts. “We had a strategy that we had rehearsed so that if in fact there was some attempt by somebody to do harm, we could de-escalate it in a hurry and quietly defuse it,” he said.Arivacans weren’t so much concerned about Foley, Meyer, or Melchior, but about their followers, who might see their inflammatory videos and posts about Arivaca and take matters into their own hands. “Our greatest fear was some person incensed at the thought of this community engaged in sex traffic would come out here and have a shootout at our local tavern,” Dan Kelly, a Vietnam War veteran who lives in Arivaca, told me.

      One of the most important things, though, was channeling the spiraling fear into a productive reaction. “We worked hard to separate the emotional response to it and try to look at it logically and coldly,” Kelly said. “The visceral side, the emotional side, was the impetus to get organized and take a rational response.”

      Their containment approach worked. A couple of days after the meeting, Veterans on Patrol’s main Facebook account was taken down, stripping Meyer of his audience. The Utah Gun Exchange eventually packed up and left. Many people had refused to talk to the outlet. “Arivaca is the most unwelcoming town I’ve ever been to in my life,” Melchior complained to me.

      In January, Melchior was charged in Utah with felony drug and weapons possession. Meyer also faces legal trouble, some of it stemming from videos he took of himself trespassing on private property around Tucson. He currently has several cases pending in the Pima County court system.

      “There’s been significantly less obvious militia activity in Arivaca, which I contribute to a victory on our part,” Davern told me during a recent phone call. “There’s a lot less fear going around, which is great.” Town meetings continued for a while but have stopped for now. But to Davern, as long as Tim Foley is still in town, the issue isn’t resolved. “That person needs to leave,” she said, describing him as a magnet for conflict. High Country News detailed an incident in early March when locals eager to keep the peace dissuaded a group of reportedly self-described anarchists who had come to town to confront him.

      Foley knows what Davern and others in Arivaca think about him but insists there’s a silent majority in town that supports his presence. “They can keep calling me the bad guy. I already know I’m not, or else I still wouldn’t be walking the streets,” he told me. “I’m not moving. I’m staying in Arivaca. They can keep crying for the rest of their lives. I really don’t care.”

      Even at the height of their fear, a question hovered over the town’s residents: Were they overreacting?

      It’s a question more people across the country confront as they wake up to the reality of right-wing extremism and violence. When I was in Arivaca, the answer was clear to Clara Godfrey, whose nephew Albert Gaxiola was Shawna Forde’s accomplice in the Flores murders. He and Forde had met at La Gitana. “We can never say, ‘We didn’t know,’ again,” Godfrey told me. “If anything happens, we have to say, ‘We knew, and it was okay with us.’”

      https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/04/immigrant-vigilantes-arizona-border-arivaca

      Commentaire de Reece_Jones sur twitter :

      A truism of borders: the people who live there hate the way people in the interior politicize and militarize their homes.

      https://twitter.com/reecejhawaii/status/1116404990711492608
      ... ce qui me fait penser au fameux effet Tur_Tur !

    • #border_angels

      Border Angels is an all volunteer, non profit organisation that advocates for human rights, humane immigration reform, and social justice with a special focus on issues related to issues related to the US-Mexican border. Border Angels engages in community education and awareness programs that include guided trips to the desert to place water along migrant crossing routes as well as to the border to learn about the history of US-Mexico border policy and experience the border fence firsthand.

      Border Angels also works to serve San Diego County’s immigrant population through various migrant outreach programs such as Day Laborer outreach and our free legal assistance program held in our office every Tuesday. Border Angels works to dispel the various myths surrounding immigration in the United States and to bring back truth and justice.

      http://www.borderangels.org
      #solidarité #anges

    • Water in the desert. Inside the effort to prevent migrant deaths at the US-Mexico border

      “I had no idea how many people had died. I had no idea the extent of the humanitarian crisis.”

      In the lead-up to the US midterm elections, President Donald Trump has stoked fears about undocumented immigration. After repeatedly saying that immigrants from Latin America are criminals and peddling baseless claims that unidentified people from the Middle East are part of a “caravan of migrants” making its way north from Honduras, Trump ordered the deployment of more than 5,000 soldiers to the southern US border.

      Decades of acrimonious public debate over undocumented immigration in the United States has focused on security, crime, and economics while largely overlooking the people at the centre of the issue and the consequences of US attempts to prevent them from entering the country.

      One of the starkest facts about this humanitarian emergency is that at least 6,700 bodies have been found since 2000 – likely only a fraction of the actual number of people who have died trying to cross the southern US border over this period. More than a third of these bodies have been found in the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona, where migration routes have been pushed into increasingly harsh and remote terrain.

      Seldom reported and virtually unheard of outside the border region, these bodies have become a cause for a small constellation of humanitarian groups in southern Arizona, spawning an unlikely effort to prevent deaths by placing drinking water along migration trails in the desert.

      “I found it shocking,” Brian Best, a volunteer who moved to Arizona a couple years ago, says of the situation in the desert. “I had no idea how many people had died. I had no idea the extent of the humanitarian crisis.”

      Trying to save lives in this way is not uncontroversial. Undocumented immigration is one of the most polarising issues in US politics and aid groups operate in the same areas that cartels use to smuggle drugs into the country. Inevitably, humanitarian efforts are caught up in the politics and paranoia surrounding these two issues.

      The intensity of the situation has led to a strained relationship between the humanitarians and the Border Patrol, the federal agency tasked with preventing undocumented immigration. Nearly two decades after aid efforts began, the numbers crossing the border have reached a historic low but the proportion of people dying is rising.

      Early on a Friday morning, Stephen Saltonstall, 74, sits behind the steering wheel of a flatbed pickup as it shakes and rattles towards the US-Mexico border. The back of the truck is loaded with equipment: a 300-gallon plastic tank of drinking water, a gas operated pump to pull the water out, and a long, lead-free hose to deliver it into barrels at the water stations Humane Borders, the NGO Saltonstall volunteers with, maintains across southern Arizona.

      It’s mid-September and the temperature is already climbing. By midday it will reach well over 100 degrees (38 celsius), and there are no clouds to interrupt the sun as it bakes the hardscrabble landscape of the Sonoran Desert, surprisingly green from the recently departed monsoon rains. Scraggly mesquite trees and saguaro cactuses with comically tubular arms whir past as Saltonstall guides the truck along Route 286 southwest of Tucson. A veteran of the civil rights movement with a lifelong commitment to social justice – like many others involved in the humanitarian aid effort here – he has made this drive more than 150 times in the three years since moving to Arizona from the northeastern United States.

      Around mile marker 38 – signifying 38 miles north of the border – 13 miles north of an inland US Border Patrol checkpoint, Saltonstall eases the truck off to the side of the road. Stepping out, he walks to the top of a small hill about 10 feet from where the asphalt ends. Stopping next to a small wooden cross planted in the cracked earth, he puts his hands together and offers a silent prayer.

      “I’m sorry that you died an awful death here,” Saltonstall says when he’s finished praying. “Wherever you are now, I hope you are in a better place.”

      The cross is painted red and draped with a strand of rosary beads. It marks the spot – on top of this small hill, in plain sight of the road – where the body of someone who irregularly crossed the border into the United States was found in July 2017. The person likely succumbed to thirst or hyperthermia after spending days trekking through this harsh, remote environment. But no one knows for sure. By the time someone came across the remains, scavenging birds and animals had stripped the body down to a skeleton. There’s no official cause of death and the person’s identity is unknown.

      Nearly 3,000 human remains like this one have been found in southern Arizona since the year 2000. Many more are probably lost in this vast and sparsely populated desert, lying in areas too remote and infrequently trafficked to be discovered before they decompose and end up being carried off in pieces by feasting animals, scattered and rendered invisible.

      Prevention through deterrence

      It wasn’t always like this in southern Arizona.

      The office of Pima County medical examiner Dr. Greg Hess receives all the human remains found near the migration trails in three of the four Arizonan counties that border Mexico.

      “In the 1990s we would average about 15 of these types of remains being recovered every year,” says Hess. Starting in 2002, that average jumped to 160 bodies per year, he adds.

      Most people irregularly crossing the border used to simply sneak over in urban areas where it wasn’t too dangerous. But things started to change in the mid 1990s with the introduction of a federal policy called “prevention through deterrence”. The policy directed Border Patrol to concentrate agents and resources in the urban areas where most people were crossing. The architects of the strategy predicted that “illegal traffic will be deterred, or forced over more hostile terrain, less suited for crossing and more suited for enforcement.”

      The construction of border walls between urban areas in northern Mexico and their neighbouring towns and cities in the United States soon followed. That funnelled the movement of migrants decisively into remote areas like the desert in southern Arizona, but had no discernible impact on the number of people irregularly entering the United States.

      Corlata Wray, 62, watched in the early 2000s as federal policy brought a humanitarian crisis to her back yard. Born in Durango, Mexico, Wray has lived in the small, rural town of Arivaca, Arizona, 12 miles from the border, for the better part of four decades. A slow trickle of people has always moved through Arivaca given its location, but in the late 1990s the number of people trekking across the desert close to Wray’s home dramatically increased.

      In the early years people would knock on the door and Wray would give them water and a little bit of food before they continued on their way. Helping migrants in this way was a normal part of life, according to many people IRIN spoke to living in the border region. But as enforcement efforts ramped up, “everything changed”, says Wray, who now volunteers regularly with organisations providing aid and support to migrants. “I started to see more suffering with the migrants.”

      Now the people who end up on her property are usually in a desperate situation – parched and sunburnt, with bloodied and blistered feet and twisted or broken limbs. “They don’t know which way to go, and that’s when their life is in danger because they’re lost. They have no water. They have no food. And then the desert is not beautiful anymore. Es mortal,” Wray says, switching into Spanish – “It’s deadly”.
      “We have to do something”

      As the “prevention through deterrence” policy came into full effect in the early 2000s, the fact that migrants were dying in the desert at an alarming rate was hard for some people to overlook. Ila Abernathy, a long-time resident of Tucson, 65 miles north of the border, remembers a point in July 2002 when a dozen or more bodies were found in one weekend.

      Fifty-nine at the time, Abernathy had moved to Tucson as a young adult and had been active in the waning years of the sanctuary movement, which sought to provide safe-haven to refugees fleeing civil wars in Central America in the 1980s as the US government restricted their ability to seek asylum. A decade and half later, the network from that movement was still intact.

      Following the news of the deaths in July 2002, a meeting was called at the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson. “This is a new crisis. We have to do something,” Abernathy recalls of the meeting’s conclusion. “We need to advocate and we need to get out there and search for people before they die.”

      In the beginning, that meant giving aid to people directly. Between 2002 and 2008, Border Patrol apprehended between 300,000 and 500,000 people every year in the area south of Tucson. “You’d just drive down the road early in the morning and there would be clusters of people either ready to give up or else already in Border Patrol capture,” Abernathy says.

      The group that formed out of the meeting at the Southside Presbyterian Church, the Tucson Samaritans, travelled the roads providing food, water, and medical aid to people in need. Two other groups, Humane Borders and No More Deaths, formed around the same time with similar missions. Their members tended to be active in multiple groups at the same time and were often veterans of the sanctuary or civil rights movements, like Abernathy and Saltonstall. Others were young people who came to the region on educational trips and decided to stay, or longtime residents of southern Arizona who had watched the crisis develop and felt compelled to try to help.

      But their work soon got harder. In 2006, the administration of US president George W. Bush announced a massive expansion of the Border Patrol. With nearly double the number of agents in the field and more resources, it became increasingly rare to find migrants along the roads, or even close to them, according to Abernathy. Unable to deliver aid to people directly, groups started hiking into the remote desert to find the trails migrants were using and leave behind gallon jugs of drinking water in the hope they would be found by people in need. It’s an effort that has continued now for close to 12 years.
      Into the desert

      On a Sunday morning, Best, 59, is picking his way along a migration trail deep in the Sonoran Desert with two other volunteers from the Tucson Samaritans. If you could travel in a straight line, the nearest paved road would be about 10 miles away. But moving in a straight line isn’t an option out here.

      Best and the other volunteers left their four wheel drive SUV behind some time ago after following the winding, rocky roads as far as they could. They are now hiking on foot towards the US-Mexico border. The landscape doesn’t distinguish between the two countries. In every direction, cactuses and mesquite trees carpet low, jagged hills. At the far limits of the vast, open expanse, towering mountains run like rows of crooked shark’s teeth along the horizon.

      This is the “hostile terrain” referred to by the architects of “prevention through deterrence” where migration routes have been pushed. There’s no man-made wall at the border here – just a rusted barbed wire fence. But someone would have to hike about 30 miles to make it north of the inland Border Patrol checkpoint on Route 286 to reach a potential pick-up point, or 60 miles to make it to Tucson. Humanitarian aid volunteers say the trip usually takes from three to 10 days.

      In the summertime the temperature reaches 120 degrees (49 celsius) and in the winter it drops low enough for people to die of hypothermia. There are 17 species of rattlesnakes in this desert, which is also home to the venomous gila monster lizard, tarantulas, scorpions, and other potentially dangerous animals. Natural water sources are few and far between, Border Patrol agents traverse the area in all-terrain vehicles and pickup trucks, on horseback and in helicopters; and there’s surveillance equipment laced throughout the landscape. “I’m really surprised that anybody gets through,” says one humanitarian volunteer, “but they do.”

      On the trail where Best is walking, the ground is uneven and rocks jut out at menacing angles. It’s easy to twist an ankle and impossible to move forward without getting scraped by mesquite branches or poked by cactus spines.

      Best has been visiting this area of the desert for a little over a year. In the beginning, there were a lot of signs that migrants were passing through – black plastic water bottles from Mexico, food wrappers with recent expiration dates, even discarded backpacks and clothing – so the Samaritans started putting jugs of water here hoping it would help fortify people against the dangers of the long journey ahead. But recently the jugs have been sitting untouched. It looks like the route has shifted elsewhere.

      During the second half of the morning Best will explore new territory – literally bushwhacking through the desert – to try to figure out where the route has moved to and where water should be placed. More than a decade after humanitarian aid groups started hiking out into the desert, there are still plenty of places they have yet to set foot in. Figuring out where people are moving and then putting out water is a time-consuming and labour-intensive process of trial and error. “It is very slow and inefficient in some ways, but I think really important,” Best says. “There’s no other way to do it.”

      In the 12 years since they started, over the course of innumerable hikes like this one, the Samaritans have mapped somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 miles of trails south of Tucson, according to volunteers. Two different groups go out every day, bringing water to hundreds of locations over the course of any given week. In total in the past two years, according to one volunteer, the group has placed 3,295 gallon jugs of water in the desert. No More Deaths, which also relies on volunteers to hike water into the desert, says it has put out 31,558 gallons in past three years, 86 percent of which was used.

      Humane Borders, the organisation that Saltonstall volunteers with, operates using a slightly different model. It maintains fixed water stations at 51 locations on public and private land in southern Arizona that it services by truck. Each station consists of a 55-gallon barrel with a blue flag flying high in the sky to mark its location. Last year the group put 70,000 gallons of water into these stations. Between the three groups, comprised of a couple hundred active volunteers, that’s equivalent to about 10 backyard swimming pools full of water placed along migration trails in the desert, one bottle or barrel at a time.
      Not so straightforward

      The terrain where the humanitarian aid groups put water is some of the most politically charged in the US, at the heart of debates about both undocumented immigration and the movement of illicit drugs into the country. Needless to say, not everybody supports what the groups are doing.

      Cartels have a strong presence in the towns and cities of northern Mexico, and control and profit from the movement of both people and drugs across the border. Critics of the humanitarian groups say they are helping people break the law both by assisting migrants who are irregularly entering the United States and by putting water out that cartel drug runners and scouts can drink just as easily as anyone else.

      Humane Borders receives public funding from the Board of Supervisors in Pima County, but the vote to approve the funding is split: three Democratic members in favour and two Republican members against. Both Republican supervisors declined to comment when IRIN asked about their opposition to the funding – a spokesperson for one said the vote “speaks for itself.”

      The relationship between the humanitarian aid groups and Border Patrol has also been rocky. In particular, No More Deaths has been openly critical of Border Patrol, documenting agents destroying water drops and arguing that the agency’s tactics are contributing to deaths and disappearances in the desert. Border Patrol says it doesn’t condone the destruction of humanitarian aid drops and that it ultimately views its work as humanitarian as well.

      Nine members of No More Deaths have also been arrested on various charges related to their humanitarian work, ranging from trespassing and littering to harbouring illegal aliens, in what volunteers see as an effort to criminalise aid activities in the desert. One of those arrested faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, and the Intercept has reported that court documents and other evidence suggest some of the arrests were retaliation against No More Deaths for publicising Border Patrol abuses.

      As far as whether water drops are benefitting cartel members or helping people break the law, the questions aren’t really important to many volunteers. “The real basic, humane argument is that nobody should be dying out here,” Best, the Samaritans volunteer, says.

      A more important question is whether the water drops are effective at saving lives. There’s anecdotal evidence from migrants who are caught by Border Patrol and later deported to northern Mexico that it is reaching people in need, but there’s no way to tell how many.

      There’s also the fact that, even as the number of people crossing the desert south of Tucson has decreased, the number of bodies found has remained relatively consistent. Also, not every death in the desert is caused by dehydration. “If somebody has heat stroke it may not be a process of having water available,” explains Hess, the medical examiner. “They may have water with them. It’s just that you’re too hot.”
      “What value can you put on saving even one life?”

      Considering that Border Patrol apprehended an average of over 100 people per day south of Tucson last year, and that an untold number of others crossed without being caught, and that the water isn’t necessarily in all of the places where people are trekking, the volunteers are aware of the limits of what they do. One estimated that over the course of an eight- to 10-hour hike a group of four people could only put enough water out to sustain 15 migrants for one day.

      “What we do is small, and we know it does some good,” Abernathy says. “We don’t want to delude ourselves into thinking this is the solution… [But] what value can you put on saving even one life?”

      Short of a major change to the “prevention through deterrence” policy, many don’t see an alternative to what they are doing. And humanitarian aid efforts have expanded over the years westward from the area south of Tucson to even more remote and sparsely populated parts of the desert where people have to walk 85 to 100 miles through nearly empty wilderness before reaching a point where they can be picked up.

      The old copper mining town of Ajo, Arizona – home to around 3,000 people – is in the heart of one of these far flung, desolate places. One hundred and thirty miles west of Tucson, this outpost of old clapboard and adobe houses is bordered by a national park, wildlife refuge, and US Air Force bombing range that combined constitute a relatively uninhabited and untouched area of desert the size of the state of Connecticut.

      On a warm dry night, volunteers from various humanitarian aid groups are gathered here in the town square, under the light of dim street lamps and a nearly full moon, to pay homage to what binds their community together: the people who have died in the desert.

      Some of the volunteers will wake at 4:45am to try to avoid the heat as best they can and hike out along the trails carrying their gallon jugs of water. But tonight at this vigil they form a line and one by one pick up white wooden crosses, holding them in front of their bodies. Each one represents the remains of a person that were found in the area surrounding Ajo in 2017 and is inscribed with a name or the word desconocido – Spanish for “unknown”. There are about 30 volunteers, and they have to pass through the line more than once. There are more crosses than people to hold them.

      https://www.irinnews.org/news-feature/2018/11/06/migrants-US-Mexico-caravan-elections-Trump-water-desert
      #eau #résistance #désert #frontières #mourir_aux_frontières #hostile_environment

    • Four women found guilty after leaving food and water for migrants in Arizona desert

      A federal judge on Friday reportedly found four women guilty of misdemeanors after they illegally entered a national wildlife refuge along the U.S.-Mexico border to leave water and food for migrants.

      According to The Arizona Republic, the four women were aid volunteers for No More Deaths, an advocacy group dedicated to ending the deaths of migrants crossing desert regions near the southern border.

      One of the volunteers with the group, Natalie Hoffman, was found guilty of three charges against her, including operating a vehicle inside the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, entering a federally protected wilderness area without a permit and leaving behind gallons on water and bean cans.

      The charges reportedly stemmed from an August 2017 encounter with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer at the wildlife refuge.

      The three other co-defendants — Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick — were reportedly passengers in Hoffman’s truck at the time and were also charged with entering federally protected area without a permit and leaving behind personal property.

      Each of the women face up to six months in prison for the charges and a $500 fine after being found guilty.

      In his three-page order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco reportedly wrote that the defendants did not “get an access permit, they did not remain on the designated roads, and they left water, food, and crates in the Refuge."

      “All of this, in addition to violating the law, erodes the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature,” he continued.

      He also criticized the No More Deaths group for failing to adequately warn the women of all of the possible consequences they faced for violating the protected area’s regulations, saying in his decision that “no one in charge of No More Deaths ever informed them that their conduct could be prosecuted as a criminal offense nor did any of the Defendants make any independent inquiry into the legality or consequences of their activities.”

      Another volunteer with No More Deaths, Catherine Gaffney, slammed Velasco’s ruling in a statement to The Arizona Republic.

      “This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country,” Gaffney said.

      “If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?” she continued.

      According to The Associated Press, the ruling marks the first conviction brought against humanitarian aid volunteers in 10 years.


      https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/426185-four-women-found-guilty-after-leaving-food-and-water-for
      #délit_de_solidarité #solidarité
      signalé par @fil

    • Arizona: Four women convicted after leaving food and water in desert for migrants

      Federal judge finds activists guilty of entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit to give aid to migrants


      A federal judge has found four women guilty of entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit as they sought to place food and water in the Arizona desert for migrants.

      US magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco’s ruling on Friday marked the first conviction against humanitarian aid volunteers in a decade.

      The four found guilty of misdemeanours in the recent case were volunteers for No More Deaths, which said in a statement the group had been providing life-saving aid to migrants.

      The volunteers include Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick.

      Hoffman was found guilty of operating a vehicle inside Cabeza Prieta national wildlife refuge, entering the federally protected area without a permit, and leaving water jugs and cans of beans there in August 2017.

      The others were found guilty of entering without a permit and leaving behind personal property.

      https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jan/19/arizona-four-women-convicted-after-leaving-food-and-water-in-desert-for

    • Convicted for leaving water for migrants in the desert: This is Trump’s justice

      A FEW weeks ago, federal prosecutors in Arizona secured a conviction against four humanitarian aid workers who left water in the desert for migrants who might otherwise die of heat exposure and thirst. Separately, they dropped manslaughter charges against a U.S. Border Patrol agent who fired 16 times across the border, killing a teenage Mexican boy. The aid workers face a fine and up to six months in jail. The Border Patrol officer faces no further legal consequences.

      That is a snapshot of twisted frontier justice in the age of Trump. Save a migrant’s life, and you risk becoming a political prisoner. Kill a Mexican teenager, and you walk free.

      The four aid workers, all women, were volunteers in service to an organization, No More Deaths, whose religious views inform its mission to prevent undocumented migrants from dying during their perilous northward trek. They drove into the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, about 100 miles southwest of Phoenix, to leave water jugs along with some canned beans.

      The women — Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick — made no effort to conceal their work. Confronted by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officer, they said they believed everyone deserved access to basic survival needs. One of them, Ms. Orozco-McCormick, compared the wildlife refuge to a graveyard, such is the ubiquity of human remains there.

      Since the turn of the century, more than 2,100 undocumented migrants have died in that sun-scorched region of southern Arizona, according to Humane Borders, a nonprofit group that keeps track of the numbers. Last year, according to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, the remains of 127 dead migrants were recovered there.

      In the past, prosecutors declined to press charges against the volunteers who try to help by leaving water and canned food in the desert. But the four women, arrested in August 2017, were tried for the misdemeanor offenses of entering a refuge without a permit, abandoning personal property and, in the case of Ms. Hoffman, driving in a restricted area. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco, who presided over the bench trial, said their actions ran afoul of the “national decision to maintain the Reserve in its pristine nature.”

      In fact, prosecutors have broad discretion in deciding whether to press such minor charges — just as they do in more consequential cases such as the manslaughter charge against Lonnie Swartz, the Border Patrol agent who killed 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez in October 2012. According to Mr. Swartz, he opened fire on the boy, shooting 16 times in what the agent said was self-defense, through the fence that divides the city of Nogales along the Arizona-Mexico border. He said the boy had been throwing stones at him across the frontier.

      Mr. Swartz was acquitted on second-degree murder charges last spring, but the jury deadlocked on manslaughter charges. In a second trial, last fall, the jury also failed to reach a verdict on manslaughter. Last month, prosecutors declined to seek a third trial.

      While the aid workers seek to avoid prison time, Americans may well wonder about a system in which justice is rendered so perversely.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/convicted-for-leaving-water-for-migrants-in-the-desert--this-is-trumps-justice/2019/01/27/9d4b3104-2013-11e9-8b59-0a28f2191131_story.html?noredirect=on