Monday, April 25, 2011

Religious conversion

Randy McGuire reports that at the San Xavier del Bac mission in Tucson, among the little votive offerings pinned to Saint Francis as requests for healing or thanks for healing—metal charms representing body parts, photos, written prayers—he found someone's official deportation/repatriation ticket from INM (Mexican immigration). It could have been placed there by the person who had been deported, or by a family member.

At Albergue San Juan Bosco in Nogales, Sonora, the crucified Christ in the chapel wears dozens of prison ID bracelets, each with a name, mug shot, serial number, etc. The pink Maricopa County bracelet is prominent among them. If you don't need to hold onto your bracelet as a subsistence form of identification (which some people do because they've been deprived of all other ID), you can put it here.

I still haven't gotten over how certain religious contexts can incorporate elements that are fairly prosaic (though not exactly mundane and insignificant, in this case) and assign them a meaning. To me, this quality of prosaicness-compatibility increases these contexts' power and helps them be places where people can exert control, at least to some extent beyond the personal, at least by exerting the power of choice, over the meaning of experiences whose meaning is contested, including undocumented immigration, criminalization, and deportation. All very interesting.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


My mornings in Nogales were spent at a migrant bus station. I have found my place doing deportation impact surveys, which means interviewing folks who have spent a significant amount of time living in the U.S. It has been eye opening to see the impact that U.S. immigration policy is having on communities and families. I’ve been impacted most by folks who are willing to share with me their stories, so I’d like to share two that have stood out to me.

I sat down with a man in his late 20’s who was from Fresno, California. He’d lived there since he was a child. He had been working in the framing business, trying to save up money to attend college, when he was deported because he got a traffic ticket. It was hard for me to hear these stories because we talked about issues such as the tuition hikes in California and the Dream Act. He really had not options for higher education because the cost had become too high. These both were policies that I had worked on, and would have benefited him, but ultimately did not pass.

The day before I left Nogales I met a man in his mid 20’s from Phoenix. He had lived in the U.S. for almost his whole life. As of last year his partner became pregnant. This was a big step for them, as she is diabetic and they had been trying to have a baby for over 5 years. The baby was born, but there were a few complications, and he had to spend a week in the hospital with the baby. Three weeks after this joyous event, the couple was sitting in their car in a public park in Phoenix. For no reason at all, except racial profiling, a police officer asked for documentation. This happened over a year ago. Since that day, he was deported, spent a year and two months in a detention center, and was just released in Nogales. He had not been able to see his daughter since she was 3 weeks old. Currently he is in Nogales, waiting for his partner to send him pictures of his daughter. This is the reality when folks like Joe Arpaio are allowed to be in power, and the community suffers. I heard many stories of families being seperated because police officers are allowed to ask for documentation status for minor traffic issues. Is separating newborns from their parents something we want our immigration policy to do?

We are all complicit in this system that is separating families and damaging communities. Although not all of you have been the the border, I hope you can think about borders in your own community. We need new, more humane immigration policy in this country, and that’s something that all of us can push for. My time at No More Deaths was also extremely important to how I perceive what’s going on in the border region, I encourage you to spend a week there if you can.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I needed to take a few days before I wrote a reflection about my experience en la frontera. After a week of documenting abuses by border patrol, completing long term deportation impact surveys and overhearing conversation of families hearing the voice of their loved one for the first time since they left home, I am able to write. I am still wrapping my brain around the experience, when people ask me my "spring break" I am not sure how to respond. Do I smile and say it was okay so I don't need to engage or do I let them know of the heart ache I witnessed? I choose the latter.

I stand witness for people that have been subject to the mistreatment that agreements like NAFTA have created. I stand witness to the inhumane treatment of our neighbors. I stand witness to the cries of a father speaking to his family for the first time in 8 days. I stand witness to the children who travel with loved ones seeking to see their mothers and fathers, many for the first time in years. I stand witness to the young men that travel to el norte to seek a better future for themselves. I stand witness of the injustice that occurs daily at 1:30 pm at a courthouse in Tucson, where 70 migrants a day are charged with petty misdemeanors yet shackled by the waist, ankles and hands like violent criminals.

I cringed as I heard forty times "culpable" or guilty as the judge charged them with the crime of seeking a better future for themselves and their families. I stand witness to their stories, for I will never forget.

-Brenda Ivelisse
Portland, OR

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Insanity on the Border

Made it back to DC late last night & want to post something today, while the experience is still fresh in my mind & in my heart. How do you sum up the week in Nogales, how can you put into words an experience like we had? On Thursday night Brenda asked us what we would take back with us, & for me it's the stories that I heard. I had been to the border once before, with Borderlinks, in October, 2009, & sad to say I learned this week that the insanity of our immigration policies continues unabated, & perhaps even worse than before. I heard so many stories of men & women who had lived a significant number of years in the US, who were stopped by police for something petty, or were caught up in a raid by ICE, & then deported, leaving behind husbands, wives, parents, & children, with very little chance of ever returning to the US, except for trying another border crossing, with all of the dangers of the desert. There was a woman, 7 months pregnant, from Oaxaca, who had lived 10 years in Florida & had 2 kids who are US citizens. She went back to Mexico with her kids in June, 2010, to see her family, but her kids haven't been allowed to enroll in school in Mexico, because they don't read Spanish. She spent a day & a half in the desert, hoping to return to FL, so that she could arrange to bring her kids back to US, but then was found by the Border Patrol. She was waiting in Nogales for bus fare to return to Oaxaca. Another young man with bad blisters on the bottom of his feet had lived for more than 10 years in California. He went to Mexico for his father's funeral, then tried to return to his family in CA, but was caught. Another man lived for 20 years in Arizona, with 3 kids (all US citizens). He went to pick up his daughter from her job & while waiting his youngest child started skateboarding in the parking lot. A local policeman came to stop this, then somehow with no justification whatsoever, questioned the father about his citizenship status, result, father deported, family broken apart. The stories went on like this all week. There were also many stories from first-time crossers, who simply wanted a chance at a better life, & were caught in the desert. Some were determined to try again. I think if people in the US could hear these stories & meet some of the people I met, they would be able to see that these are our neighbors, not "aliens" & not threats to our "way of life." I want to bear witness to the stories that I heard, so that maybe the anti-immigrant sentiment so rampant in our country can start to change, & hearts can be broken open, to welcome the newcomers. All week long & today I have been overcome by waves of sadness as I remember the stories I heard & the people I met. I expect these waves of sadness will continue for a while. In many ways I hope they will, because they keep me connected to those I met. I wonder what will become of them, in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years. I doubt that I will ever know. But I do know that they don't need my pity. There was great strength & resilience in those I met. Actually, I feel sorry for us, as Americans, that we don't get it, that we are refusing to change insane & broken policies, in the name of national security, or protecting our way of life, or whatever. We are diminished as a nation when we treat migrants inhumanely. In the mural at the Comedor Jesus breaks bread with the migrants, men, women, & children, & breaks down the borders & barriers that separate us. May we do the same in our home communities. Bill Jordan

Friday, March 25, 2011


Courage. Resiliency. Strength. Hope. Faith.

These are the words that come to my mind as I am writing right now. Today I had the opportunity to talk to two amazing and inspirational people – one of them a Franciscan priest and one of them a deported migrant. Two very different men with two very different stories, but both strong, resilient, and faithful men.

For over 30 years, the priest has been working tirelessly to fight against injustices perpetuated by the government. Since his involvement in the Sanctuary Movement (an underground religious movement in which churches offered shelter and services to refugees escaping Central America) in Texas in the 1980s, he has been fighting extremely hard for justice. He has protested against the School of the Americas and Lockheed Martin and has gotten arrested hundreds of times. He has spent more than 5 years combined in jail, and yet he still keeps fighting for human rights.

The other man I had the privilege to talk to was a migrant from California. He had just been deported into Nogales after having spent 3 months in prisons in California and Arizona. So here is he in Nogales, with no money, no place to stay, no job, and no family. His entire family is back in California, where he had been helping to provide for his aging mother. Now every time he talks to her on the phone, she cries because she is so worried about him being in a country that he hardly remembers and in which he has very little resources. However, what keeps him fighting for survival is his faith. Over and over again, he repeated how important it was that he had the support of his church back home and needed to find a church to attend here in Nogales.

I am extremely grateful that these two men were willing to share their stories with me. Stories like these are what I will remember most from my experience here on the border. I know that I cannot offer much to migrants whose lives have been twisted and shaken by inhumane immigration policies, but I can offer a listening ear. I can offer accompaniment, and I can show them that there are people who do care.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I’d say that one of the hardest parts about being in Nogales is how to fully understand how we (No More Deaths) fit into the chaos that has become the Arizona/Mexico. Of course, anyone would feel this way in any kind of situation that involved humanitarian aid in a seemingly foreign land. But to say “foreign” is a fallacy, because we are talking about the problems of people from our home. The people we’ve seen this week could’ve been your neighbor, could’ve been the stranger in the car next to you at the stoplight, could have been a fellow student at school. No one is safe. No family, I should say, is safe. To really feel the experience, of what is happening here, is to understand how inhumane humanity has become.

Yes, there are laws that are in place, documents that need to be submitted, and “rules” to be followed, but what’s become absent from our democratic system is the human soul. During my time here in Nogales, through translating in a clinic and interviewing migrants, I came to realize the humanity of this border. It was families trying to get back home, sons going to mothers, brothers finding brothers, and children finding parents. It was humans, seeking to find what we all most desire in life: connection, unity, and family. What you’ll find here is what you expect; a mess of exclusive red tape created by the rich politicians that run our country, and an ugly wall. But what you’ll experience here is the reality of our actions as a country. I cannot share, with words, the painful plight of the migrant; I can only feel it in my bones. Knowing fully well, that I am part of their story, as they are a part of mine, as you- reader of this blog- are a part of theirs, as they are a part of you. We are human beings, made up of similar matter. That is reality; that is the truth of the situation. We are humans. No border can hide that.

No Words

I know the coming questions are inevitable. How was your Spring Break? What was it like? What did you learn?

But when I search my throat for answers, no words appear. Just images:

A city divided by steel. Our humanity divided along with it.

Heads bowed in unison, mouths breathing words of gratitude.

The limp of swollen feet, damage only the Sonora desert can do.

Pictures of time here swim alongside so many stories. I leave you only with what my camera could capture.

(El Comedor)

(Jesus Eats at El Comedor)

(A set table)

(Love and Food Await You Here)

(Comedor Cat)

(Rest at Albergue Don Bosco)


("Fronteras: Cicatrizes en la Tierra"/"Borders Are Scars in the Earth")

-Kate Morgan-Olsen, March 2011