It is close to 1,000 miles to Nogales, Ariz., on the U.S.-Mexico border, yet repercussions from what is happening there are having an obvious impact in Northern Colorado. The week before Thanksgiving, Amy Hoeven and Marge Norskog of Fort Collins joined a BorderLinks delegation and traveled to the border to see for themselves.
In a powerful presentation in early December at Plymouth Congregational Church, they joined other members of the delegation to share their experiences. The problem is not new. BorderLinks was formed more than 30 years ago in Tucson to facilitate educational trips to raise awareness of border and immigration policies and to inspire action. Rules have become more harsh and discriminatory and the number of people seeking to enter the U.S. has increased enormously in the passing years.
The local trip was organized by Plymouth Congregational and Interfaith Solidarity and Accompaniment Coalition (ISAAC). Participants, ages 18 to 70, spent nearly a week learning first-hand about the current border situation. The speakers were visibly moved by what they saw and what they learned. “It was a transformational journey,” R. B. Miller said.
The group spent time, viewed and learned that part of the 700 miles of barriers that have been erected were being encased in razor wire by U.S. troops as they watched. Yet migrants continue to attempt to climb the wall. The delegation visited a memorial to Jose Antonio, a 16-year-old who was shot and killed through the border fence by a border agent.
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Hoeven said she was strongly affected by a court proceeding called Operation Streamline, a zero-tolerance approach to unauthorized border crossing. The proceeding is an effort to expedite the fate of would-be refugee and asylum seekers, shackled and deemed criminals by the U.S. government, by processing them in large groups, with little to no opportunity to plead their cases. “The U.S. is the only country in the world that criminalizes immigration,” Hoeven explained.
As many as 75 people are processed in a single day. While they are technically allowed to speak up for themselves, they are warned that anything they say can be used against them, effectively silencing their stories. First-time offenders get six months in prison, then deportation. Those who have crossed the border for a second time are incarcerated for two years before they are sent back to their home countries.
Programs such as “prevention through deterrence” and “chase and scatter” are designed to keep migrants from entering the United States successfully, often losing their lives in their attempts. The nonprofit organization called No More Deaths stashes water and food in the desert in hopes that migrants in need will find them. When border agents find these stashes, they destroy them, pouring out precious water into the desert sand.
Following the presentation, Hoeven and Norskog explained the existence of the “prison industrial complex,” commonly referred to as the criminal justice system that has recently turned over the operation of prisons and detention facilities to private for-profit corrections firms. It has become a lucrative business, dependent on immigrant populations to keep their beds filled.
“Major immigration reform is desperately needed now. It is the humane thing to do,” Hoeven said. “We have given this administration a blank check to spend our tax dollars in support of inhumane activity.”
There are two horrors, Norskog believes. The first is what is being done by our government to immigrants and asylum seekers. The second is the damage being done to all Americans who, by default, have become part of the system.
ISAAC has compiled an extensive list of ways to support immigration injustice, ranging from monetary donations to volunteering, advocating and voting to becoming educated through programs such as BorderLinks.
Donations can be made to NoCo Emergency Immigration Fund, Immigrant Freedom Fund of Colorado, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, La Familia (The Family Center), The Community Dreamer Fund, Fort Collins Community Action Network and Alianza NORCO. All are easily accessed through the Internet.
There are volunteer opportunities to support or host an asylum seeker, visit immigrants at the Aurora ICE Detention Center, accompany immigrants to court or provide them with transportation, low-cost housing, childcare and pro-bono health care.
Call, email or visit U.S. and state legislators and make your feelings known, take part in vigils and demonstrations, and make sure to vote. Join a BorderLinks delegation, get on ISAAC’s mailing list for quarterly reports on their activities, and take the time to read books and reports, and watch films such as Immigrants for Sale, 13th, Undeterred, and Harvest of Empire.