Posted by: cgonzal | October 6, 2011

Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Deputy Meets with CBIG

As is now customary, Richard Schaefer and I dropped south to the border region of Southwestern New Mexico before making our way to Tucson to attend a meeting of the Border Journalism Network.

We left Albuquerque about 7 p.m. and bombed our way to Lordsburg. We were making good time until I got stopped by a state cop for speeding about 10 miles outside Lordsburg. The irony is we were rushing to make sure we could make our midnight appointment with Deputy D. “Andrew” Arredondo of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s office. We still had time to find the hotel and get to our appointment.

Arredondo was born and raised in Lordsburg. He joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2000 and quickly worked up the ranks – from Deputy, to Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant and back to Deputy because of a departmental reorganization.

We started talking about immigration issues and how they impact law enforcement that is not charged to enforce immigration laws and policies. Arredondo talked about a federal initiative, Operation Stonegarden.

“The government provides money for equipment and overtime to the sheriff’s department,” he said, with Texas, Arizona and New Mexico the primary recipients.

“The Border Patrol is the first line of defense in stopping illegal drugs, weapons and people from entering the country. The second line of defense is the sheriff’s offices and the third line is local police departments,” he said.

Putting more officers on the ground helps to combat the flow, he said. Helicopters, ATVs, night vision, and stabilizing binoculars are some of the tools they’ve acquired to help do the job.

“Most illegal immigrants walk from the border to somewhere on I-10. Some carrying 40-50 lbs. of marijuana in makeshift backpacks. It’s a 5-7 day walk to cross the 80 miles,” he said. “They do it to make money to provide for their families,” he added. Arredondo acknowledged the work ethic of the immigrants, but added that he still has a job to do.

He remembers the first illegal immigrant he apprehended. “He was a lone gentlemen hiding behind a bush near the highway. I felt really bad about picking him up. Since then, we’ve had groups of 20 to 30, sometimes with children in the group,” he said.

Arredondo said that the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office found two bodies in the desert this year, but it isn’t the problem it is in southern Arizona. We find drugs, but not the people,” he said, adding that when they do encounter people, they don’t fight – they flee or give up.

When there is violence, it is generally between the cartels. He said that the “mules” are bringing up the drugs while others, the “bandits” hid in the mountains. “They spot the dopers and pull guns on them to steal the drugs,” he said. Arredondo said that the “bandits” are in the Animas, Peloncillo and Chiricahua mountains. “They don’t interact with the public because they don’t want to be visible,” he said.

Arredondo said that Operations Order provides the framework so that every agency understands where their primary duties lie.

He said that the undocumented immigrants they pick up are predominately Mexican and some Guatemalans. Most of them pay $1,000 – $2,000 to cross. “But the Border Patrol picked up a group of Chinese – or Asian – immigrants in 2010,” he said, adding that they have trail camera pictures as well as intelligence they receive from the New Mexico Law Enforcement Intelligence Center and the Joint Operations Information Center that show different immigrant demographics.

“Our department has six deputies to cover 3,447 square miles,” Arrendondo said, as a means of explaining why his department is grateful for the assistance they receive from Border Patrol agents. “There are about 3,400 people in Lordsburg and about 5,000 in all of Hidalgo County.” Lots of terrain, but not a lot of people.

He said that traffic rises and falls with the moon phases. “They can see in a full moon, but are also easily spotted,” Arredondo said, noting that traffic is up in moderate moonlight.

He said that there’s a trend to use ultralights and that they’ve found a crash site. “The drugs were still there, but the pilot was GOA [gone on arrival].”

He said that drugs and undocumented immigrants are a reality. “If my grandson were to become a deputy he’d be fighting the same issues,” he said. Violence south of the border perpetuates the desire for weapons, but the desire for drugs is driven by the U.S. market. As part of Operation Stonegarden, Arredondo said they put a lot of officers in the field – saturating Hidalgo County with officers from Dona Ana, Grant and Luna counties. The cooperation and shared use of resources is beneficial and provides visibility that the public appreciates.

He added, “Living in Hidalgo County is like living in the Old West.”

Posted by: cgonzal | October 12, 2010

CBIG Visits Altar, Sonora, Mexico

The game plan was to get to Altar before nightfall. We, UNM Cross-Border Issues Group members Richard Schaefer and Carolyn Gonzales, spent more time in Douglas, Ariz., than we thought we would and then the trip across northern Mexico proved to be more mountainous than we anticipated. The journey was also amazingly beautiful. The mountains were exquisite and the views breathtaking.

Northern Mexico, between Agua Prieta and Magdalena

As a result, however, we were running later than we planned. We stopped in Magdalena de Kino, because we had no pesos. Some festival was going on and I suggested to Richard that we stay the night and drive in to Altar in the morning. He, however, was ready to get some cash and get back on the road.

We arrived in Altar, Sonora, about 9:30 p.m., so it was already dark. We found the church, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, where we later learned many of the migrants meet. We asked a few people about the location of the albergue, CCAMYN and wandered that direction, asking directions from several along the way. Finally, we stopped and asked a lady who was outside cooking under a tarp. She happened to be a volunteer at the mission and pulled out her cell phone to talk to the sisters working there. Before long we learned that the meal had been served, all had been cleaned up and no one was spending the night in the shelter. We figured we’d go check it out in the morning and just drive around to check out Altar that night. The woman became alarmed at that idea and got on the phone again, this time to talk to the priest from the mission. Before we could even think about our next step, Padre Prisciliano Peraza García pulled up behind us. He invited us to follow him to the albergue. We thanked the kind lady and headed off.

CCAMYN Albergue

Padre Prisciliano showed us around the albergue – the check in area, dining room and kitchen, bathrooms and showers and dormitories. He showed us where the migrants wash their clothes and he pointed out a metal plaque into which a poem, A Los Caidos en los Desiertos de la Muerte, or, To the Fallen in the Deserts of Death, has been etched.

A los Caidos en los Desiertos de la Muerte

We saw the map on the wall that shows the distance one can travel by foot in one day, two and three. Red dots mark spots where bodies were found, a harsh reminder to the migrants of the perils of the journey. We saw a bulletin board with information about SB 1070 and other things migrants needed to understand once they were north of the border. We saw posters of people who are missing, possibly victims of kidnappings or of the desert. We saw a cross adorned with the flags of the nations from which migrants came. We also saw a cross that, from a distance, looked like it was decorated with shredded newspaper. Upon closer inspection, one sees that each strip bears the name and other defining characteristics of a migrant who had perished.

Richard Schaefer, Padre Prisciliano and the Muertos Cross at CCAMYN

In many respects it was like many of the albergues we’ve visited, with one exception. There were no migrants staying the night. In every albergue, the migrants bring life to the shelter. Here, it was quiet. Even the air conditioning, which would have been pleasant, was quieted in the empty rooms.

Padre Prisciliano led us outside and we had a discussion about where we would stay the night. Sure, we told him, we’ll stay at the albergue. But it was either necessary then for one of the sisters or a volunteer to stay or he didn’t think Richard’s Prius would be safe there, so again we followed his Suburban, this time to a hotel. He saw us safely checked in and then told us he would tour us around Altar.

We had an insightful journey full of stash houses and Casas de Huespedes. He drove around the town, occasionally calling out to someone nearby. As he drove, he pointed out places where kidnappers hold migrants for ransom. The stash houses are formidable, with 10 foot walls and concertina or barbed wire curled around the top of the wall. The houses are, in effect prisons, and the migrants prisoners until ransoms are paid. He showed us some of the nicer houses in the area, beautiful homes built with drug money. He also showed us the Casas de Huespedes, places we haven’t seen in other Mexican towns that have albergues. He took us in one that is run by a man named “Omar,” who was a migrant himself but found a way to work without having to go to the US.

Richard Schaefer and Padre Prisciliano in a Casa de Huespedes

Casas de Huespedes are places where coyotes put up the migrants who have paid them to get them across the border. The Padre said there are about 90 of them in Altar and that approximately 95 percent of Altar’s economy is migration related.

Stash House

The migrants don’t pay for their stays; it’s included in the price of admission. The establishment’s owners feed them. The bunk beds they sleep on are made from welded iron with wooden boards. Some have carpet on them; others might have a thin mattress. Anything extra — a sheet, pillow or blanket — is paid for by the migrant. The other things the migrant might want – snacks and such – are sold by many of the Casa de Huespedes owners. Some have their own “abarrote,” or mini-grocery/convenience store on site.

Up to 90 migrants might stay in one room. The migrants don’t have a choice to stay in an albergue, which is much cleaner and humane, is that the coyote needs to be able to sweep in and collect his migrants when the time is right to cross. Each migrant pays about $3,000 USD.

Backpacks for sale to migrants in Altar

The migrants didn’t respond to our questions, undoubtedly because they are mistrustful and because their lives are in the hands of coyotes.

Padre Prisciliano returned us to our hotel. Richard and I talked about where we’d been and what we’d seen. We talked about our dumb luck in coming across someone who knew how to reach people at the albergue. We talked about the Padre and how generous he was with us in spending a couple hours with us unannounced. We often say that to the Mexicans we appear to be a missionary couple. We think the lady we spoke with initially was a bit alarmed about us driving around aimlessly in Altar.

I asked the Padre if the violence in the area was exaggerated and he said no. He said that it is worse than reported. In hindsight we think the Padre was trying to keep us safe by taking us around to see what we wanted to see without us stepping into something we couldn’t get out of. We’ve visited many places considered dangerous, but there’s an element on the border that exceeds what we’d seen.

The next morning we wanted to shoot some video of some of the places Padre Prisciliano had shown us. We went back to Omar’s Casa de Huespedes. He is proud of his establishment. He showed us the cleanliness of the bathrooms and we saw someone deliver a very large ham or leg shank that he was going to use to feed those in his care. He allowed us to go in and speak to some migrants and this time we found a couple of men who were willing to speak to us.

“Lalo,” originally from the Mexican state of Michoacán, was working on a construction site in Los Angeles until about two months ago when he and one other man were picked up by ICE as undocumented workers. They were deported. Lalo has lived in LA for 12 years and has an American wife and a 9-year-old daughter there. He came to Altar to cross because it is $6,000 for a coyote to cross in California as opposed to $3,000 organizing through Altar.

Another migrant, “Sam,” told us how the Anglo Border Patrol agents treat the migrants better than the Latinos. He hadn’t been deported, but after living in the Sacramento area for more than a decade and not seeing his family, he decided to go south to visit. He has spent the last two months trying to get back.

We wished them “buena suerte” and departed. We drove around trying to locate some of the sites Padre Prisciliano showed us the night before. As small a town as it is — around 20,000 in population — we still had some trouble locating the stash houses. We found a couple and took some photos. About that time we noticed that a white pick up truck had been following us. We decided it would be safer to head back to the center of town and perhaps start looking at making our way north through Sasabe where the wall between the US and Mexico ends.

Sasabe, Sonora border crossing

related links: Leaving Altar
Migrantes a merced de la esperanza

Posted by: cgonzal | October 12, 2010

Cross-Border Issues Group Visits Lordsburg and Douglas

It’s hard to believe that we left on Wednesday, a mere four days ago. We’ve managed to pack a lot of travel, interviews and training into the handful of days. “We” is Richard Schaefer and Carolyn Gonzales, two of the three Cross-Border Issues Group founders. Schaefer is an associate professor, UNM Communication & Journalism, and I am a senior communication rep. in UNM Communication & Marketing.

We were invited to participate in the Teaching Border Reporting workshop hosted by the Dart Center For Journalism and Trauma out of the University of Washington being held in Tucson. We thought it a good idea to go down a bit early to catch a few interviews we need.

We got a late start on Wednesday, so we didn’t arrive in Silver City, where we stayed with my brother Barry, until about 8 p.m. It was Richard’s birthday and we wanted to have a nice dinner, but small towns being what they are, we ended up at Pizza Hut. It was either very good or we were very hungry.

We had a nice visit with Barry and were on the road to Lordsburg, NM, relatively early Thursday morning. Since University Communication & Marketing and Communication & Journalism both see the value in connecting with local media, we visited the Hidalgo County Herald, the local paper. The writer, editor, photographer, ad salesperson and designer, Brenda Hood, was very helpful. We had a meeting scheduled with Sue Krentz, widow of rancher Rob Krentz, who was killed in March of this year, purportedly by undocumented immigrants. Unfortunately, Sue was hit by a car last weekend and was in the hospital in Tucson. Hood suggested we speak with Sheila Massey, who owns a farm near Animas.

We went to visit with the Border Patrol, hoping to get an officer willing to talk. We found a great guy who would have been a great interview we think, John Hackworth, who has 22 years of experience in the region. He was unable to speak to us without approval from the public information officer out of the El Paso sector for Homeland Security. That officer, Valeria Morales, proved to be singularly unhelpful and unyielding in our request to interview someone in Lordsburg. She insisted that the interview had to be with someone in El Paso despite the experience that existed right in front of us. Richard spoke to another officer, Ramiro Cordero, and we’re still hoping something might pan out there.

Border Patrol outside Lordsburg, NM

We went into the local convenience store which has been in the same family’s hands for more than 100 years. Most of the people in the area speak Spanish. We heard about Border Patrol officers on ATVs, SUVs and horses. We heard of marijuana dropped on property either because someone left it behind in a chase or it was left as a drop off. We heard of increasing numbers of breaking/entering and burglaries. We learned that most in the region are opposed to immigration because of the “nuisance,” gun trafficking and crime.

One local also told us about jumping cholla – a cactus that, if touched, forces one to pull back from the plant. It responds much like a porcupine, sending spines into the victim. It is one of the many dangers he told us the desert holds.

He told us how he used to go hunting south of Tucson, near Sasabe, Sonora, Mexico. “You can’t hunt there anymore because of the threat of throngs of migrants, and the coyotes armed with AK47s,” he said. Plus, he said, “they steal everything from your campsite.”

From there, we headed toward Douglas, Ariz., and a scheduled interview with Sheriff Alberto Melis. On the way, we stopped to check out a monument to Geronimo near Apache, NM, then passed through Rodeo, NM, the “Ground Zero” for the Land of Enchantment’s border enforcement.

Rodeo Station

A realtor told us that besides the recession hurting business, ranches in New Mexico’s Hidalgo County and Arizona’s Cochise County remain unsold because people who considered purchasing them have been run off after learning about what happened to Rob Krentz and to another couple who were tied off. People who operate chile, alfalfa and cattle farms and ranches in remote places are not easily scared.

Douglas was a nicer town than either of us anticipated. It has a mining history and some interesting landmarks, particularly Hotel Gadsen.

Hotel Gadsen

We had lunch there. The hotel features Tiffany stained glass windows, a beautiful old check in desk, desk in the restaurant and a long soda counter that had me spiraling back in time. The building still has old phone booths and an elevator that cries out for an attendant in a buttoned jacket and hat. We enjoyed our lunch there and then headed toward the Douglas police department.

Melis’s office is in a renovated railroad depot building. It is an amazing edifice with a large circular opening in the entryway and beautiful stained glass in the center. Old chairs, heating apparatuses and more provide a feast for the eyes.

Melis is a big guy, who came from Cuba at 11 years of age in 1960. He got bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice in Miami and then worked extensively in Florida and Waco before, in 2007, going after the experience of being chief to 37 officers in an area crawling with Border Patrol and other federal law enforcement officers.

Douglas, Ariz. Sheriff Alberto Melis

“Walls don’t work,” Melis said, saying he got the words from General Santa Anna. And yet, he said, we need to secure the border. “We see the downside to open borders in the EU.”

With regard to narcotics trafficking, he said that there are those who represent both spectra, from decriminalization to the death penalty. The other dichotomy is a need for works against the illegal arrival of immigrants.

Hidalgo County in southwestern New Mexico features a “significant boundary obstacle in the Peloncillo Mountains,” despite the Animas pass, he said.

With regard to his own jurisdiction, Melis said that the number of “UDAs,” or undocumented aliens, is down. “Crime is down, but Douglas isn’t a destination,” he said, noting the lack of employment opportunities in the town. He added, “You can’t go down a city block without seeing some kind of enforcement from ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and the Border Patrol. It’s a law enforcement economy,” Melis said.

The economy soured in the 1980s when the copper mine in nearby Bisbee closed. “The smelter was in Douglas,” he said.

Although I haven’t had a chance to ask him, I’m sure Chief Melis wasn’t surprised by the news of the tunnel being filled with concrete in Nogales. “There are 175 tunnels in Nogales,” he told us. The area is rife with “drive thrus” of marijuana. “We’ve even seen a scuba diver who took drugs through the sewer,” he said.

Melis knows that the federal money coming in is good for the Douglas economy, but he sees his primary responsibility to the people of Douglas. “We work overtime with those engaged in combating drug trafficking,” he said.

Drug dealers force migrants into serving as drug mules, he said. “They guarantee them free passage if they carry a big package across. They get paid well, but often it’s the only way they can get here.” It’s not an easy journey. Melis said they have a saying that “everything in the desert stinks, sticks, scratches or bites you.” I’m still freaking out from thinking about jumping cholla.

Ranchers, he said, find people dead and alive on their land. There is a fear among the ranchers after criminal incidents, but not all migrants pose a threat or wish to take advantage of the residents. Melis told the story of a rancher who was out riding the range on his 20,000 acre ranch on a four-wheeler. “He came home to find people waiting on his porch to ask permission to drink the water from the horse trough,” he said. Often the ranchers give aid – give food and water to people in need.

Melis reminded us that our New Mexico driver licenses are not considered valid ID because New Mexico provides undocumented persons with driver licenses. “It doesn’t show the holder to have legal status,” he said.

The sheriff said that Douglas is the “Baghdad of the West,” because of the prevalence of “OTMs.” “That’s ‘Other than Mexicans,'” he said. People from Fiji, Yemen, as well as Hondurans, Guatemalans, Paraguayans and others come across the border, he said.

We then went to visit Oscar de la Torres, Mexican consul, who mostly had one thing to say, “Migrants move to make money to support their families or to reunite with family members.”

Mexican Consulate, Douglas, Ariz.

He questioned the “cleanliness” of US Border Patrol and ICE agents. He said he knew of only two cases where Mexican migrants claimed to be abused at the hands of Mexican officials, but he was aware of 200 cases where migrants pointed to U.S. officials as perpetrators of offenses. We find no credence in this statement since we’ve heard the exact opposite from vast numbers of migrants. Arturo Lopez Duran, our third CBIG co-founder, would be proud of us for picking up on the spin.

He said one thing that we’ve been saying, “The wall, and other measures taken to stop immigration only promote coyotes and allow them to raise their prices. “In 2001, they charged $500. Now immigrants are paying thousands of dollars,” de la Torres said.

With regard to drug traffic, we agreed with him that the U.S. has responsibility in that it provides the market for the drugs. “The same holds true with labor. The U.S. has employers and Mexico has laborers.” he said.

From there, we made a hasty retreat out of town because we had a drive from Douglas/Agua Prieta west across northern Mexico to Altar, Sonora. More on that to come!

Posted by: cgonzal | September 19, 2010

Town Hall on Immigration Law

Cross-Border Issues Group’s Richard Schaefer and Carolyn Gonzales attended a recent town hall on immigration law moderated by UNM Law Professor Margaret Montoya. The featured speaker was Thomas Saenz, president and general council for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). Panelists included NM State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, Marcela Diaz of Somos un Pueblo Unido, and David Urias of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Ives & Duncan.

Saenz started off with a statement against SB 1070, noting that “our status as an independent nation is tied to immigration.” He added that one of the grievances colonists had against Great Britain’s King George was that he discouraged immigration to the colonies. So, immigration has been a topic since the US was a colony.

Saenz said that the federal government set a “uniform rule of naturalization.” The constitution assigns rule about associations with foreign countries and therefore only the feds can regulate immigration.

“To be a single united nation we have to recognize the federal status of establishing, defining and enacting immigration policy,” he said.

We face a constitutional crisis, Saenz said, because too many officials — such as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer – have publicly made clear their intention to defy federal law regarding immigration. SB 1070 charges Arizona law enforcement to determine legal status when faced with “reasonable suspicion” about a person’s documents or status.

This is a burden on state and local law enforcement because they don’t have the training provided to federal law enforcement. It also means that every contact with a citizen — whether a possible criminal, witness or victim — requires them to verify immigration status. They are “mandated” to engage in racial profiling. It makes it a crime to be undocumented in Arizona and permits law enforcement to arrest anyone viewed as a possible undocumented immigrant to be arrested.

“Brown vs. the Board of Education is assaulted by SB 1070,” he said.

The Bill of Rights is assaulted by SB 1070, as well. Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of SB 1070, directly contradicts the Supreme Court under amendment fourteen, which states that public school enrollment cannot be denied based on immigration status.

“He wants to charge immigrants tuition to public schools,” Saenz said.

SB 1070 also attempts to regulate employment by making it illegal to solicit work. It violates the immigrants’ right to free speech. “This violates two centuries of constitutional law,” Saenz said.

“There is supremacy of the Constitution. Federal law overrides state law as an obstacle,” he said.

He also wants to change the right to citizenship – make it difficult for undocumented parents to get citizenship papers for children born in Arizona. “This creates a class of stateless people in the world,” Saenz said.

This isn’t the first time a governor has defied federal law. We can recall Alabama Gov. George Wallace,  best known for his Southern populist, pro-segregation attitudes during America’s desegregation period.  He defied policy set by the Constitution and the Supreme Court to wipe out desegregation.

Such acts earn people like Brewer and Wallace the title of “nullifiers,” Saenz said. “They nullify policy made by the Supreme Court. They seek to nullify principles of our Constitution, whether it’s with regard to amendments established 28 years ago or the constitution itself, which has been around for 223 years. They seek to push us back to a time when we were not a single, unified nation,” he said.

He added that they are repeat offender “unconstitutionals” in their attempts to change longstanding U.S. principles.

Only in coming together across the nation can we avert this crisis. As a country we must come together to battle against the constitutional assault taking place in Arizona, he said.

Pretty good food for thought, I’m thinking.

Marcela Diaz, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, spoke a great deal about immigration enforcement’s impact on families, which is what her organization is engaged in. She said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) already has a presence in many jails — including in the Prisoner Transport Center here in Albuquerque — and that U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano plans to have ICE in all jails by 2013. Between 60 and 70 percent of undocumented persons in jail have no criminal record and another small portion have only small crimes.

Diaz said that under the guise of the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), which is supposed to focus on identifying criminal aliens to ensure that they are not released into the community by securing a final order of removal — deportation — prior to the termination of their sentence. The ICE website says that “identification and processing of incarcerated criminal aliens prior to release reduces the overall cost and burden to the federal government as the number of aliens detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), upon expiration of sentence will be minimized.” What is being played out is that everyone who is arrested is fingerprinted and if a person’s fingerprints are in the system, there is an assumed criminal guilt and they are deported.

It may reduce federal costs, but Diaz pointed out that counties pick up the cost for longer detentions. She said, “Santa Fe kicked ICE out of the jail and Taos is trying to. Community members in Roswell are combating it and there is resistance in Portales, as well.”

Diaz spoke about 287(g) programs. The ICE website states, “The 287(g) program, one of ICE’s top partnership initiatives, allows a state and local law enforcement entity to enter into a partnership with ICE, under a joint Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), in order to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions. The 287(g) program has emerged as one of the agency’s most successful and popular partnership initiatives as more state and local leaders have come to understand how a shared approach to immigration enforcement can benefit their communities.”

Given what Saenz said about level of training and racial profiling that occurs when immigration enforcement is put into the hands of state and local agencies, I don’t think this is a particularly good partnership for communities. In fact, Diaz said that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio no longer has street level 287(g) powers although the program still exists in the jail.

Diaz said there is no 287(g) street enforcement in Albuquerque, either, but as I stated earlier, it is in the Prisoner Transport Center and the Metropolitan Detention Center, the local jail.

NM State Rep. Moe Maestas reminded everyone that securing borders is impossible, because “the history of mankind is immigration.” He said that there would be 25,000 proceedings per year in federal court to address the issue. “The federal judiciary would have to be doubled.”

He added that stepped up enforcement efforts are counter productive to public safety. “The police aren’t fighting crimes, and victims and witnesses become distrustful of law enforcement. Therefore, the public is less safe,” Maestas said.

Given the failure of tough immigration enforcement efforts to curb crime and their drain on scarce resources, Maestas says that the NM Senate must have “meaningful dialog” around these issues. He knows that driver licenses for undocumented workers, lottery scholarships for undocumented students, wage protection laws and policing will all be topics for discussion in the State Legislature come January.

Thomas Saenz called immigration a “wedge” issue. “It and tax are two policy issues that people don’t understand.” He added that many don’t understand why immigrants don’t “wait in line” for legal citizenship. “What they don’t get is that the line to citizenship can take 2 – 20 years depending upon a person’s country of origin.” It’s discriminatory.

Saenz called for a “full court press” on the DREAM Act, which offers a pathway to citizenship for those who graduate from college or serve in the military. Saenze noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture on the DREAM Act amendment to the Department of Defense (DOD) authorization bill. “We need federal laws that reflect the Constitution. Our national values say we don’t punish a child for what his parents did. Public education benefits the general public, not just those receiving the education. We have a belief that those students will go on to higher education and contribute to our economy.”

By denying the DREAM Act, Saenz said, “We’re saying we value public education so little that we’re going to punish you and the general public.”

He encouraged all to let them know in Washington that supporting the DREAM Act is in all our best interest.

Yesterday we went to two albergues. I will describe this in more detail. But first I will tell the story of the email that shut down a whole city.

Background: Cuernavaca is a city of increasing violence. A newspaper I saw last week featured a front-page photo of two bodies hung from a bridge. The Mexican magazine Proceso reported, the same day the Mexican soccer team beat France in the Copa, that two bodies were discovered in a car on the side of the highway between Cuernavaca and Mexico City. A note was found close to the car signed by a prominent narco gang. The note said “We do not kill innocents.”

So it makes sense that a rumor regarding a confrontation between two narco gangs would spread quickly in Cuernavaca. An email purporting to be from a narco warned that the people of Cuernavaca should stay inside the coming weekend, to avoid being caught in the crossfire. The email passed in chain fashion, person-to-person, until the whole city knew about it. The local media kept quiet.

My friend Fernando tells me that every bar, every store, every restaurant in the city was closed Friday, Saturday and Sunday night that weekend. No taxis patrolled the streets. Fernando went to meet a student (he teaches Spanish to American teenagers) on Friday afternoon, to tell him they would not be going to the bar that night. The streets were filled with cars at five in the afternoon. Everyone was rushing to get home before the gunfight.

In the end, nothing happened. But it’s still a wild story – a whole city shut down by an email.

Now, the albergues: the first is known as Albergue Belen, and it is open to migrants from everywhere, regardless of immigration status. They stay for up to three days. A volunteer who gives us a tour says the police leave them alone, as long as they have a paper saying they are staying at the albergue. They receive beds, food and shelter.

The albergue was built with church funds, and is run by a padre, a priest. The priest has a house next to the albergue. It is as big as the albergue itself. The albergue houses several dozen people a night. A man is trimming the hedges at the priest’s house when we arrive. The volunteer giving the tour says the priest is in Chicago. “He’s internationally known,” we’re told. When I was in Tapachula several weeks before the start of this program, I came to visit this albergue. The priest was not there then, either. “He goes to New York, Chicago, Mexico City,” the volunteer says.

A migrant we interview outside the albergue tells us many more migrants would be dead if it weren’t for albergues like this. But I can’t help being disturbed by the size of the priest’s house, the fact he can pay people to trim his hedges while the food the migrants eat is donated, often barely edible. I can’t help being disturbed by the fact that the church accepts money from the poorest of the poor, encourages them to give, and spends some fraction of it to send this guy to New York, Chicago, Mexico city. This international traveling priest never seems to be at the albergue.

In fairness, I never met the man. And I admit I have a strong predisposition against organized religion.

The second albergue we go to, Albergue Jesús de Buen Pastor del Pobre y Migrante, I am already familiar with. My mom and I spent most of the month of June volunteering there.  I’m glad to see my friends again, although it’s kind of sad that they’re still there.

My friend Johnathan, who tried to kill himself several weeks ago, was getting ready to leave the albergue. He had been forced to leave Honduras because the Maras were going to kill him. He lost his leg when he fell off a train. When his mom told him they had killed his brother in Honduras, it was too much for him, and he tried to kill himself.

Now his mom was there to pick him up and take him back to Honduras. He’s scheduled to return to Albergue Jesús in October, to get a revision of the operation on his leg.  I wonder what will happen to him in Honduras, how his life will go.

When we leave the albergue, I realize it’s the last time I’m going to see many of my friends here. I know these people, from working with them for three weeks. I know they are not criminals, they’re not bad people. They were born into a bad situation, and the policies of our government (not to mention the Mexican government) made this situation worse. The best I can do is hope that what we’re doing down here might make some kind of difference, even a drop in the sea of activism that’s working to build a better world.

By Andy Beale

Posted by: cgonzal | July 15, 2010

Human Rights

Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor.” The words engraved on the Statue of Liberty, America’s shining pride in our most famous port of entry. In elementary school we talked about these words in the context of the hypocrisy found by many immigrants, mostly Europeans, upon arrival in the United States. They came for the American Dream, and instead blackened their lungs in our factories and mines, experienced racism and exploitation by individuals, merchants, employers and government institutions. Often the reality for first generation immigrants wasn’t really much better than at home with their families – but it was for their children. The children were educated in the public schools of the richest country in the world, and their lives were better for it. The second generation grew up speaking English with no accent, going to baseball games and wearing clean pressed suits that would never be blackened by the soot of the immigrant’s life. By the time the second generation had children that life had started to fade. They retained not much more than a black-and-white photograph of Grandpa and Grandma looking exhausted and uncomfortable in borrowed clothes. The fourth generation knows little about their immigrant roots other than their last name, and perhaps an unusual dish served at Thanksgiving dinner.

We are that generation, and we have forgotten where we’ve come from. Our parents fought most of their lives for the privilege of defining the political borders of the world. Now they are trying to close those borders, to keep us safe they say. “Protect our jobs, our livelihood, and our culture,” they say, “These immigrants will take what is ours, they will make this country poor and full of crime.” And for a minute what they tell us makes sense. They are our parents, and they have our best interests in mind. But I cannot forget those words, “Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor.” Certainly they imply something more than generosity. They were written in the spirit of justice, but what does that mean?

Yesterday afternoon found the Cross-Border Issues Group in class listening to a presentation on Human Rights. Señor Ruben Garcia, a migration lawyer who teaches classes at the University Fray Luca Paccioli, gave historical, legal, political and finally human context to the migration phenomenon we are here to document. First summarizing notable past immigrations, he presented examples such as the shift from nomadic to agricultural societies; the mass exodus of Jews from Egypt; colonization and subsequent great migration to the Americas from Europe; the Industrial Revolution, etc. “People move for political, cultural, economic or environmental reasons. Migration is natural for human beings,” he pointed out. The United Nations recognizes the right to the pursuit of a profession as a Human Right, not a privilege available to a fortunate few.

Positive and negative effects exist for both the country of departure and the one receiving new immigrants, but movement is necessary for growth; for life. Without movement, individuals, societies, cultures, and nations become stagnant. We do not evolve, and we die. Think of the protective parent metaphor. If we never leave our parents’ nest, never take risks or experience for ourselves the joys and sorrows of life, have we really lived?

Nations create and enforce laws to ensure justice, but if the laws themselves are not just then they will be broken. We, the citizens of the United States, can build fences, hire more armed patrols, threaten harsher penalties, and make life more difficult upon arrival for immigrants, and yet, they will still come. Because we have forgotten one thing: they are parents too. And just like our grandparents, they will survive it all for the sake of their children.

On this trip we will document the obstacles migrants face. We will unquestionably be confronted with stories of every tragedy we can imagine, and some that we can’t. We will see what migrants face, what they suffer, and what they endure. And we will see what they hope to find at the end of their long journey. They hope to find what their own government has failed to provide: equal opportunity. Their government either cannot provide, because it lacks the resources, or it will not, because it is corrupt.

Here is where we too fail them. Imposing stricter precautions over stretches of our border only funnels migrants into the talons of coyotes (people smugglers), and to the deadly Sonora Desert. Funds spent enforcing our borders and making their lives more dangerous could instead be used as positive incentive for them to stay; educational improvement, economic stimulus, creation of industry and jobs. It is not our task to change human nature. People will continue to migrate into and out of our country. But it is within our power to do what we can to make the world a better place. Since inception, the United States has taken it as its charge to spread Democracy (read: Capitalism). After all, that’s why we have the Statue of Liberty in the first place. So let’s not stop reaching out a hand to our brothers and sisters now. For Professor Garcia’s sake, for the sake of the immigrants of our generation, as well as all the immigrants that have fought and given their lives to protect the opportunity and way of life that we so cherish, and for the sake not of being generous, but simply of being human beings.

Tarun Gudz

Posted by: cgonzal | July 13, 2010

Getting ready in Cuernavaca

The first week of the program is almost over and even though it has been raining practically every day, the people at Universidad Fray Luca Paccioli could not treat us better. Today we started our day with a couple of molletes with pico de gallo for breakfast then went in the classroom and reviewed past works of the CBIG. We began having discussions about different migration issues that we shall be facing in the rest of the trip. In the afternoon we went out to the zócalo, the heart of the city of Cuernavaca, and recorded different kinds of shots just for practice. For lunch, usually at around 3 p.m. in Mexico, we have options to choose from at the university’s cafeteria.

After lunch, we tried out the equipment to make sure we knew how to set up the camera for recording. Each tried in turn so that we know the equipment better and are better prepared to set it up faster the rest of our trip.

Anya Villanueva

Posted by: cgonzal | July 9, 2010

First Impressions

They keep telling me, “Don’t go to Mexico.”   Pero estoy aqui; I’m here.  I’m here to see things with my own two eyes, to listen to individuals with my own ears, and more than anything, to learn.

Saturday I flew into Mexico City from Albuquerque, and took about an hour drive to Cuernavaca. Veronica Espitia, the Director of International Programs for Universidad de Fray Luca Paccioli, was one of the first persons I met here. For my first night in town, she took me to a roof-top taquería featuring music flowing into Las Plazas. The following day, the rest of the CBIG group arrived: Dr. Schaefer, Tarun, Anya, and Andy. Monday we received a tour of the school and were introduced to la Maestra Gloria Guzmán, Profesor López Durán, Fernando, Carina, Ernesto and many others. It’s almost unbelievable how warm and kind the people of Cuernavaca are. Walking down the street, we receive smiles and several “Buenos Dias/Tardes” and are getting complimented on our Spanish…at least for making an effort to speak Spanish. The city is beautiful and very charming, and I’ve only been here four days.

-Shana Juárez

Posted by: cgonzal | June 29, 2010

Oaxaca Follow Up and Planning for 2010

Richard Schaefer and I are in Oaxaca doing some follow up work with a couple of Padres — Fernando Cruz Montes and Alejandro Solalinde Guerra. Mostly I wanted to touch base with them to discuss the role that faith plays in the work they do and how the migrants rely on faith – when they lose it, how they regain it. I plan to use the information for my thesis.

We met yesterday with Nancy Garcia, COMI, our dear friend and huge help last year. She is now “la jefa,” or boss, because Randy and Susi Hinthorn retired and returned to the US. Nancy’s up for the job.

We queried her about the current migrant flow. The Central Americans continue to push northward. She indicated that El Salvadorans represented the largest group, but that plenty of Guatemalans and Hondurans are still hitting the migrant trail. Scarce resources are still a problem for COMI because any organization interested in giving money to migrant causes wants to put those resources toward programs that keep the migrants in their home countries, not those that support the humanitarian work of caring for basic needs of migrants.

She set up an appointment for us with Padre Fernando at Casa de Buen Samaritano. He did a tremendous job of explaining the role that faith plays — careful not to tread upon the beliefs of the migrants themselves, but rather being supportive of the spirituality of each migrant. He eloquently described how the work they do is not related to doctrine, but rather emphasizes the workers’ personal commitment to doing Christ’s work. They do so without fanfare, without pay, but only because it is what they are called to do.

He said that many of the migrants shared their own revelation of how faith has benefited them on the trail – kept them from danger, kept them going through unfamiliar territory. When the migrants have left friends and family and all that is familiar to them, he said, they still have God to guide them and protect them.

He said that some in the church – some bishops and priests – don’t want anything to do with the migrant cause, but they do support the work he does. Their albergue has been around since 2003 and Rocio, who cooks for the migrants in her home, said that they aided more than 300 migrants last year and they’ve already topped 400 in 2010. Four men arrived while we were there, three Guatemalans and one Honduran.

Rocio said that there are 34 albergues throughout Mexico. Unlike Oaxaca, where the impact was felt early due to its poverty and proximity to Central America, most albergues have only been around a few years. Padre Fernando said that they do have a southern region gathering of albergue directors and a national gathering, as well.

We are making plans now to go to Ixtepec tomorrow to do a similar follow up with Padre Alejandro at his albergue. I am looking forward to it. It was the conversation we had with him that I carried in my head and heart the last year. His profound strength and faith allow him to take on the corruption that plagues the migrants on the trail. He was off to the mountains yesterday to address a situation where migrants were being abused at the hands of government officials or where they turned a blind eye to it. It’s a sticky situation because many government officials already disdain the work that the albergues do – much like in the US if you aid an undocumented person and then are accused of harboring a fugitive.

In the meantime, we’re looking at train schedules for everywhere from Tegucigalpa to Guatemala City to Copan…We are looking at the best way to use our time now that we’ve learned that Shannon Shea will not be available to do the human rights training we’d scheduled for next week. Maybe Tepotzlan, maybe Tilzapotla — one of the towns built up on remisas — and perhaps even Xochicalco. We’ll see if we drive Arturo Lopez Duran, our colleague at Universidad Fray Luca Paccioli, crazy, or Veronica Espitia, the international programs director at the same school. We rely on them heavily. Our program would not exist without them, their support, the support of their maestra Gloria Guzman…or UNM’s own Cheo Torres and Richard Holder.

Posted by: cgonzal | June 25, 2010


This is a test of the new UNM Cross-Border Issues Group Blog.