In this segment, Dr. Linda Green talks about immigration law in Arizona and the realities facing immigrants trying to enter the country illegally. Dr. Green directs the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona.
53 Minutes 10 Seconds
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In “Agents of Change,” hear from students, faculty, and distinguished guests as they talk about their work in helping to educate and transform the global community.
This is Karstina Wong, a student at Lehman College. In this segment, Dr. Linda Green talks about immigration law in Arizona and the realities facing immigrants trying to enter the country illegally. Dr. Green directs the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona.
This segment was recorded in February 2011 during a conference on immigration reform and immigrants’ rights at Lehman College. It was the inaugural event sponsored by Lehman’s new Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies.
In an 2008 essay, I wrote on the Arizona borderlands, I concluded with this quote, “The Arizona Desert has been used as a testing ground for all sorts of measures that are spreading around the country. Most of us, however, sit on the sidelines silent. I feel as though I’m now living the future of the United States. Where legalized criminality and attendant impunity have become the accepted and acceptable norm.”
Today, I want to begin this talk with that same observation. And I do so to explore more fully the ways in which Arizona has become a social laboratory for the pursuit of plunder and punishment that takes aim against migrants, as well as the poor, marginalized, and people of color, whatever their documentation status.
I am now only beginning to come to grips with the breadth and depth of this experiment, which at heart undermines the individual and collective basis of social relations and social reproduction. As well as through the rhetoric and practice that makes a mockery of the notion of the rule of law and American jurisprudence. Alongside of state legislation that begins to lay the groundwork for a reemerging, legalized, rather than solely de facto racial segregation.
This in the face of or perhaps because of the fact that the State of Arizona is poised to become a majority Hispanic population now numbering currently at 33 percent. According to recent census data, Hispanics under the age of 18 are the fastest-growing segment of the Arizona population. One can only imagine the impact of this fact that might be having on politicos leading the charge to change the 14th Amendment citizenship as birthright as clause.
In what follows, I examine the ways in which a nexus of plunder, violence, impunity, and the rule of law are crucial to the production of intensifying inequalities and attendant violence. Now, several years ago, in thinking about Arizona, I started to try to understand impunity as something more than just a legalized process. I wanted to understand it as a social process that is enabled in part by a characteristic mix of silence and memory among its victims.
An historical amnesia and widespread indifference on the part of the dominant society. Thus leaving the fallout generated for what is often planned misery to be understood as inevitable or at the very least acceptable. And I’ll return to this as I talk about Arizona and the border. Now, today, I want to talk about three arenas, because I think they’re inextricably linked. The first is the production of what I call “nobodies.”
The second, the conversion of these nobodies into illegals at the Arizona border. And then the reconfiguring of these illegals back into– or for some people back into nobodies that are now thoroughly dispossessed. I’m trying to make some useful sense, I hope, of a set of policies and practices that at a distance might appear arbitrary or capricious given the political theater in Arizona.
Or the sad, perhaps necessary component to securing our border and borderlands. And we hear a lot of that rhetoric certainly in the Southwest. They are neither. In fact, what is being done with regard to the large scale migration of poverty-stricken people from Mexico and Central America are human rights violations of considerable magnitude that are once known, disregarded, or ignored by most of the population of Arizona, let along the rest of the United States.
By placing migration within a complex and historical web of capitalist relations and state-sponsored violence in the fullest sense of the term, I explore some of the forces and processes that now produce at an unprecedented rate what Zygmunt Bauman calls “human waste.” That is, and I quote, “The rising quantities of human beings bereaved of their hitherto for adequate means and ways of survival in both the biological and social cultural sense of that notion.” End quote.
Today, in this market-driven global economy, large numbers of people need wages to survive. But have no viable means to do so. They are quite literally redundant. At the same time, these nobodies are reworked into illegals after crossing the Mexico/Arizona border. As a cheap yet expendable source of labor and profit, whether as workers or detainees, they become crucial to shoring up the floundering American economy.
An examination of migration across the Americas and its relationship to neo-liberalism as both an economic model and a model of domination reveal multiple and brutal ways, disposable people fit into a system of violence, fear, and impunity. Immigration in this instance can be thought of as one, a complex set of global and economic doctrines and geopolitical practices that produce both nobodies in the global south and low-wage, dangerous, and non-union jobs in the U.S.
Two, a strategy of survival for millions of Central American and Mexicans who have few alternatives for procuring a livelihood in their own country. And three, a set of punitive laws and practices that have reconfigured the U.S./Mexico borderland and beyond into a militarized zone, a space of death that punishes those people who are dispossessed and dislocated by U.S. state-sponsored neo-liberal policies and ongoing repressive practices.
I’m not suggesting a seamless articulation of interests between the state and the capitals class, but rather following David Harvey, I examined the intertwined doubleness of the logics of power that are neither solely political nor predominantly economic. But rather institutional arrangements embedded within the state that have an influential role in setting the stage for the accumulation of capital. The production of nobodies.
I begin with two quotes. One by John Berger and the other Eduardo Galeano, who I think capture most poignantly and poetically what I’m trying to get at. This is John Berger’s from Hold Everything Dear. “Month by month, millions leave their homelands. They leave because there is nothing there, except their everything, which does not offer enough to feed their children. Once it did. This is the poverty of the new capitalism.”
And from Eduardo Galeano, “The nobodies. Nobody’s children. Owner of nothing.” And I think we can’t understand, and I argue this all the time. We can’t understand immigration. We can’t understand the magnitude of what’s going on in Arizona if we don’t understand why people are coming to the United States. It absolutely is a crucial component. So, I’m gonna spend a little time on that before moving to Arizona.
Part of the responsibility of what’s happened, of why people need to leave their homelands in such large numbers have to do with our own policies and practices. Bereft of land and livelihood in their homeland, neo-liberal immigration is one of the last options for procuring a future. What Davis poignantly describe as “informal survival.” Migration implies a seemingly voluntary, individual decision. And to a certain extent it is. Where to go, when to go, if one is able to go or even if one should go. Beyond that, as John Berger suggests, migrants’ freedom is really only the freedom to sell their labor power.
This is not the reserve army of the poor in Marxist terms, but a disposable people no longer even necessary or needed in their home countries. The fear of no future and the hope of creating a life for themselves and their kin, propel migrants to voluntarily take on unimaginable debt, expose themselves to known and unexpected levels of violence, exploitation, virulent racism, and increasingly incarceration.
Neo-liberal policies including the familiar litany of free trade agreements, the lifting of price controls on basic food crops, tariffs on imports, et cetera, et cetera, lead to widespread landlessness, hunger, and few available options for rural people. For the last four decades, at least, cash has been crucial to financing subsistence activities in these countries. Neo-liberalism has created the conditions where for many that is no longer a viable option.
Without the ability to earn cash in their own countries, millions have become dispossessed of their mostly small peasant land holdings and with their migration, dislocated from their kin and community. Concomitantly in the U.S., neo-liberalism has created a substantial need for cheap, exploitable labor, illegal labor to fill millions of low-wage, dangerous, non-union jobs. Migration on one hand is a survival strategy for some, for procuring a livelihood, an opportunity and mechanism for the transfer or substantial wealth from the poor to the rich.
This newest iteration of dispossession and displacement, because these processes are hardly new, that is the loss of land and the ability and will to live among kin and community, undermines key contours of indigenous identity, culture, and well-being. In so far as vast numbers of these dislocated and dispossessed people crossing from Guatemala or Southern Mexico are indigenous, as suggested by anecdotal data, then these processes can be thought of as in part as an ethnocide. In which people are torn from their history, their kin, their sense of place and space.
Let me just give you a very quick example from Guatemala, it’s because it’s the place I know best. It generates 35 percent of all wealth in Central America, yet a staggering 75 percent of the labor force works in the informal sector. Selling whatever you can on the street, hoping to get a few pennies every day. For the Maya, who make up the majority of the population in Guatemala, a status they have never relinquished since conquest, 80 percent live in poverty, 50 percent are illiterate, 70 percent live in chronic malnutrition.
Now, the people that I’ve interviewed who are Guatemalan coming across the border, many of them actually are the children of counterinsurgency. These are the children who suffered during that brutal counterinsurgency war that the U.N. Human Rights Commission deemed, at least in part, a genocide against Mayan people. So, the– it’s just brutality placed on top of brutality.
And yet, if the surplus people, these people without any value in the eyes of the Guatemalan State stay in place, they have no future. Migration for many is undoubtedly a journey circumscribed by apprehension and fear. But it’s also one of hope. The hope of creating a future for themselves and their families. And a refusal to the fate assigned to them in a neo-social Darwinist world of survival of the fittest.
Now, it’s interesting. I just ran across a statistic the other day that there was little to no migration in Chiapas to the United States from there before NAFTA. Now, 50 percent of the population is gone. I mean, that’s really just– again, another stunning statistic of what’s happened.
I talk in the paper about the peace accords in Guatemala, which are supposed to be this wonderful end all to this counterinsurgency war. The peace accords were an arrangement between the business elite, the military, and the leaders of the guerilla group. Ordinary people were mostly excluded from the benefits of peace. The negotiated settlement put into effect two conditions favorable to the continuation of war against the poor. Mostly Mayan population.
Impunity for those responsible for the violence, as well as a neo-liberal economic model that created the conditions most favorable for the transnational elite. The accords became the newest iteration in the ongoing production of inequality and vulnerability for the majority of Guatemalans. While the military remains de facto power and intent on quelling the first sign of protest.
And that is true, again, in the province now of Alta Verapaz, where a state of siege has been ongoing, supposedly against narcotraficantes [TRANSLATION: drug traffickers], but in fact, actually, they’re killing peasant activists. ¬And they’re burning crops. And it’s like a rerun of the 1970s and ’80s, again, all in silence. So, the peace accords facilitated the successful rhetorical delinking of two crucial elements of violence used against the poor. Impunity and free market capitalism. Moreover, two unacknowledged partners in these crimes waged against Mayan people, in both war time and peace time, are the international financial institutions, such as The World Bank, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as the U.S. military.
So, I just wanted to acknowledge them. I’m gonna give you just a few little excerpts from some field notes of a Guatemalan man I met, actually, in 2005 in the desert. At the time of our meeting, Antonio was a 43-year-old Mayan Indian from Guatemala, who had hid in the mountains for 15 years with tens of thousands of other internally displaced people after the Guatemalan military, between 1981 and 1982 carried out 15 massacres of unarmed civilians in these communities.
During hiding, they were ruthlessly persecuted as military targets, even though their resistance was unarmed. After the signing of the peace accords, the communities and resistance families were resettled onto land purchased by the Belgian Government and resumed growing cardamom as a cash crop. By this time, however, peasant agriculture of production in Guatemala was moribund. William Robinson has argued that the end stage of dispossession of indigenous lands was only fully accomplished in the 1980s through counterinsurgency.
Which delivered what economic measures alone failed to do, the full capitalization of indigenous lands and social relations. Now, Antonio and 20 other families had been settled onto some land together. And during their time as– displaced people, internally displaced people. They had reworked themselves from a co-op into actually a collectivity. And yet, when I met him, just seven years after the peace accords, over ten percent of the people in his community were working in the United States.
Crossing Arizona: The Making of Illegals. In July 2005, I met Antonio, a few days after he’d been rescued for the 115 degree heat of the Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona. Exhausted and confused, he had been walking almost two days without food and water, having been abandoned by his coyote or guide, who he and 20 other migrants had hired to take them across the Mexico/Arizona border.
At noon on the second day of Antonio’s border trek, the group stopped to rest under the shade of a mesquite tree. Antonio fell asleep and when he awoke, everyone was gone. By his own account, Antonio has been lagging behind the group, finding it more and more difficult to keep apace. Two days later, weakened and sick, Antonio made his way to the Arizona State Highway 286 to wait for border patrol to pick him up.
Hundreds of border patrol agents patrolled the vast open spaces of the Alta Vera Valley, each day, in search of migrants. This is the Sonoran Desert. The Buenos Aires National Monument and the Tohono O’odham Nation. And it’s delineated by paved roads, desert footpaths, well worn by human and animal traffic. And more recently by hundreds of miles of border fencing, both real and virtual, including electronic surveillance devices, high-powered listening technologies, and unmanned drones.
Antonio sat on the side of the road, making numerous attempts to flag down border patrol agents, as they race past him to no avail. After several hours, he was rescued by a humanitarian group, the Samaritans from Tucson, whose volunteers regularly search migrant routes and roads for people in need, offering food, water, and medical aid. Several border patrol agents with whom I’ve spoken over the years admit to stopping only for ten or more migrants. Otherwise, as one put it, it’s not worth the paperwork.
However, when border patrol agents do apprehend migrants, some commit unnecessarily acts of violence against them. Almost all migrants I’ve interviewed and the Derechos Humanos, a human rights group, in Tucson, has an ongoing record– they’ve been collecting records of the human rights abuses against migrants after they’ve been detained. And there are literally thousands of them.
Almost all have talked about being denied water. They– being pushed into the cactus in desert brush on rocks. Some were made to roll around in the biting ants. I’ve witnessed border patrol apprehensions in which migrants were forced to kneel with their hands crossed behind their heads in the hot sun, while the agents waited in the shade for a bus to transport them for processing and eventually return across the border.
On several occasions, border patrol agents standing idly by have refused to allow humanitarian groups, such as those that helped Antonio to give migrants food, water, and first aid. And in the past five years, there have been numerous attempts to criminalize humanitarian assistance. Moreover, there have been several reported instances of border patrol agents committing murder.
One recent case in which the border patrol agent shot the migrant in cold blood, that is at pointblank range, ballistics evidence showing between three to 12 inches, right into the heart. His first trial ended in a hung jury. His second in acquittal. Even though there were eyewitnesses to the murder. Since 2004, the Tucson sector, a 200-mile stretch that lies just 60 miles south of the city of Tucson, has had the highest number of border crossings and deaths annually.
Between 1999 and 2007, there was an exponential rise in the number of migrant bodies and skeletal remains found in Pima County. According to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, in 1999, there were six migrant deaths. By 2005, when Antonio crossed, there were 69 bodies just in the month of July alone. And it goes on and on. And so, we have somewhere around, on average, between 200 and 250 skeletal remains, this is our euphemism for collateral damage, found in the Tucson sector.
Which a skeletal remains– that is, people stumble across this. How is it for over a decade 60 miles from where we live in Tucson, there are 200-plus skeletal remains found year after year after year. And where’s the outrage? I mean, I can’t imagine anywhere else in the United States where you’re finding 200 people’s skeletal remains year after year after year and not much takes places. There’s humanitarian groups. And I don’t want to diminish their impact. They’re absolutely fabulous. But there’s so few of what’s going on.
While it is easy to become overwhelmed by these numbers and the tragedy they represent, the numbers simultaneously distract us. They normalize that which is profoundly abnormal. That tens of thousands of people each year walk across the Arizona Desert hoping to create a future for themselves and their family. A proportion of these people die. And mainly it’s from thirst and exposure, which are just horrible deaths.
A person needs one quart of water every hour to walk in the desert with temperatures over 100 degrees. Often migrants will walk 15 miles on their first day. People fall behind, get dehydrated, sick, the skin peels off the soles of their feet. Many fall down, sustain an injury, can’t keep up. And so, they are left behind. I’ll just tell you this horrible story I heard from a nurse in one of the hospitals where they treat migrants.
A woman fell down and broke her ankle so couldn’t walk. She tied clothes around her knees and crawled. And these are the kinds of things that are going on and on and on. People are being picked up in the desert and because their kidneys are shutting down because of lack of water. All right? And they’re taken to the hospital to get dialysis. And now– and I’ll get to this, Arizona’s trying to deny that treatment.
So, if we want to talk about human rights violations, come to Arizona. I invite all of you to come to Arizona. We’d be happy to take you on a tour, because it’s really important to see. The official body count represents the tip of the iceberg. I said that. This is just skeletal remains. This is not about– no one goes searching for the bodies in particular. This is people running across them.
And then the medical examiner’s office has a data file including missing persons. So, they get little scraps of paper sent from people with barely legible handwriting, a small photo, people desperate at home. “What’s happened to my loved one?” And this is a phenomenon that’s become the 21st variant on the disappeared from Central America and Mexico.
None of this is accidental. They passed NAFTA in 1994. By 1996, you have modifications to the Immigration and Reform Control Act, okay? That increases militarization at the border. So, we’ve already got putting that in place. And there’s the Department of Defense Center for Low Intensity Conflict produces a document advocating prevention through deterrents. So, they know people are gonna be coming, we know in the first year of NAFTA, what a million jobs were lost. People lost their farmlands, everything.
New people were gonna be coming. So, the policy then becomes to close off the usual sites, the traditional urban point crossings. San Diego, Nogales, El Paso, and to force them into the remote mountains of California, to the Arizona desert, and to the more dangerous sections of the Rio Grande. Now, in Arizona, 52 percent of the people who cross, cross in Arizona through the desert, having no idea– if you go down to the little town where some of the staging areas, people have no idea really what it means.
And often, the coyotes will tell them. “Oh, you’re gonna just walk for a couple hours and you get picked up.” They’re walking 60 miles, if they make it. So, these policies and practices have created a death zone on a militarized border, but have done nothing to deter the number of migrants crossing, of course. But they have two disturbing effects. First, they’ve removed migrant arrests from public scrutiny. And second, they have made the apprehension of migrants more difficult, because of the harsh terrain, justifying more extensive militarization.
As it becomes more dangerous to traverse Mexico and to cross the border, the necessity and price of securing a coyote has risen accordingly. Many coyotes who arrange for and lead the migrants on the routes through Mexico and across the border are working-class men themselves with few other viable options. So, you’re creating elicit markets at the same time.
Even so, U.S. border policies and practices have created a climate for a multi-billion dollar mafia enterprise for human and drug smuggling into the U.S. and gun smuggling to Mexico. And they’re flourishing. Yet strangely, the Obama Administration just recently cut funding for the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Unit to track large scale purchases of assault weapons in border states. And their transport into Mexico.
Jan Brewer, our governor, when questioned about the lax gun sale restrictions in Arizona, in light of your mayor’s recent sting operation at a gun show in Phoenix, replied, “Our gun laws are fair and just.” I quote. “I am a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, and the legislature and I decide the laws.” End quote. As we’re moving you across the border, I want to just take you to this little town called Altar Sonora. Which had been, until very recently, one of the big staging areas for the cross.
My husband and I went down there a few times. And you find 2,000 people in the plaza. That has since diminished because apparently the Zeta Cartel has taken over the town, so it’s become much more dangerous. The dry dusty town of Altar Sonora is emblematic of the social and economic changes taking place in border towns across Mexico.
Altar was a cattle ranching community of some 10,000 people. But by 2004, it was booming as it was transformed into a service economy for human and drug smuggling for the hundreds and at its peak thousands who crossed daily. Altar is only a few blocks wide in either side of a double-lane highway where buses from across Mexico pull up every hour to the central plaza.
In the shadow of the Spanish Colonial church, dozens of young men, and increasingly women with small children in tow, disembark. The townspeople of Altar have become merchants with open-air booths catering to migrant needs. Gloves, hats, backpacks, socks, water bottles, food. Others have converted whatever available space they may have into bunkhouses scattered all over town. Here migrants rest on wooden bunks, ten to a room, waiting for their coyote to signal the time for them to be ferried in vans, the 60 miles to the next border town, which is Sasabe. A staging area to cross into the U.S.
Many local people are quite sympathetic to the plight of the migrants. Noting, too, that they have been a blessing for their own flagging economy. Yet others with whom I spoke, mothers mostly, were distressed by the large influx of drugs, guns, and smuggling, and its negative impact on the town’s youth, luring them with opportunities for fast, easy money.
Now, when Antonio got to Altar, he didn’t even have the money to– afford a night’s sleep, which was about a dollar U.S. So, he bought two gallons of water, tortillas, beans, a backpack, and set off. And he was packed into a van with 30 other migrants, who paid $10 each U.S. to get to the border. There he met up with his coyote. At the time, in 2005, it was $1,500 to cross. Just to cross the border. Get picked up in a van, taken to Phoenix, and then you launch out from there.
It’s now $2,500. At a specified spot, the group would be met by a van to Phoenix. The price continues to rise with each iteration of militarized border security. As migrants are forced to cross in even more desolate areas of the desert. In fact, such policies have become a price support system that continually raises the profit margin for the smugglers.
In reconfiguring nobodies to migrants to illegals, there are several processes at work. The militarization of the border that sets the stage for massive human rights violations. And extensive opportunities for plunder, alongside of the unimaginable suffering and trauma experienced by the great mass of people crossing into Arizona. Impunity is essential for these processes to take place.
I mean, impunity in the legalistic sense. And now I’m gonna turn to impunity in the sense of indifference and historical amnesia. You know, I’m saying, where is the outrage in America? Where’s the outrage in Tucson of all these people dying? And I have a student that’s just finished tracking Central American women across Mexico. And they have a statistic now out of a human rights center in Mexico City that estimates of all the women crossing Mexico, 90 percent of the women are raped at least once. 90 percent.
It’s unimaginable to me. And women know that’s gonna happen. And yet, that’s the choice you have to make. And for me, these are just stunning. It’s hard to put it together and imagine what this must mean. On the U.S. side of the border, the Arizona desert looks like a war zone. Black Hawk helicopters, unmanned spy drones, ground-based sensors, real and virtual fences, border patrol agents, military personnel, National Guardsmen, and armed civilian militias scour the desert in a search for so-called “illegals.”
Antonio told me that his survival skills that he had learned while evading the Guatemalan military during the counterinsurgency war were critical to his surviving his two days in the desert. The whirling of helicopters flying close and low, scouring in the desert for migrants, reminded Antonio of the Guatemalan Army helicopters that tried to rule out communities in resistance.
The active presence of the Mexican drug cartel on both sides of the border only adds to the violence as competing cartels battle their rivals across the terrain of migrant bodies. Today, there are over 20,000 border patrol agents and 9,000 ICE agents nationwide. It’s the second-largest armed law enforcement in the U.S. Most are stationed along the southwest border, particularly in the Tucson sector. There has been an average increase of $300 million a year in border security budgets since 2005. In 2010, that budget was $7.6 billion dollars. Billion dollars. If we’re looking for places to cut, I have some suggestions.
On average, it costs us, the taxpayers, $7,500 for each arrest on the border when everything is factored in. The militarization of the borderlands has been profound over the past decade. And it has been militarized not only with personnel and transfer of personnel and technology from what has been applied in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Arizona border and vice versa.
Because some of those early drone spy planes that are now used to bomb people in Afghanistan and Pakistan were actually tested out on the Arizona border. Not bombing. But just what are their effectiveness in spying. Illegality has been a crucial mechanism for the instituting of a series of immigration policies and laws that on one hand have provided loopholes to employers who hire people without valid documents, while on the other have criminalized migrants transgression.
Their transgressions, until recently, were simply a violation of inconsequential immigration rules. But now, federal and state laws are used to transfer migrants into illegal human beings. This illegality has a number of far-reaching effects. Antonio left Tucson at the end of July, having fully recovered from his ordeal. He was en route to join his brother-in-law in the agricultural fields of Maryland, when he was apprehended by ICE agents at the Greyhound bus station in New Mexico.
Greyhound allows ICE agents to regularly board its busses and ask for documentation for suspicious looking people. Antonio was voluntarily repatriated to Mexico, ’cause he claimed that he was from Chiapas. And he spent the next four months working and traveling back and forth along the Mexico side of the border, from Tijuana to El Paso, trying to cross. Finally, he re-crossed successfully in Texas, afraid to travel very far for being detained again, Antonio found working picking Tobacco in Kentucky.
He remains in Kentucky alone, now working in a factory, making $40 a day for ten-hour shifts. Now, Antonio has been reconstitutioned as an illegal and therefore, he’s of value, both in terms of remittances to Guatemala, which props up their failing economy, and value into the U.S.
Perhaps it’s ironic that Antonio started picking tobacco in Kentucky, reminiscent of some black sharecroppers. And whose grandchildren now contained in urban ghettos and “the school to prison pipeline” has replaced the black slaves. Illegality has not only produced a docile workforce, increasingly under surveillance, driven further underground into shadow lives, as well as created a fertile terrain for human and civil rights abuses.
As a result, illegality has encouraged racial profiling in the borderlands such that Hispanics, whatever their documentation status, are harassed and abused by border patrol and ICE. Illegality moreover fosters a climate where hate crimes have flourished and they’ve been rising significantly in Arizona in the last two years, as our legislation also gets more virulent and vitriolic.
The rise in armed militias like the infamous Minute Men Project and the American Border Patrol in Southern Arizona illuminate this. And as I said, hate crimes have risen. In 2007, there were 161 reported crimes. Two years later, 219. And not surprisingly, people are not reporting these because if you call the local police, you’re at risk of being deported. So that moving of local law enforcement into immigration police has some really devastating effects.
Now, the other thing I’m interested and what got me going on this project to begin with is, as I said, this impunity, this lack of this indifference to these kinds of violations. So, in 2006, my undergraduate students and I have been embarking on an ongoing project. And we now have over 300 interviews with ordinary residents of Tucson, trying to understand both what they know about large-scale immigration taking across the Sonoran Desert and what they think about it.
And what was surprising and distressing is that the key factor in their support for denying migrants any rights, including in some cases humanitarian aid is their illegality. That is, the legalization discourse promoted by the far right and emphasized in the mainstream media overrides any moral or political language as the basis for human rights. And shifts the burden of complicity from the state to the people least able to defend themselves.
I brought a couple quotes from some of these interviews. So, just so you get a flavor of it. Quote, “Migrants are illegal. Therefore, they don’t deserve any rights.” “The laws it the law, it should be enforced.” “Rights are a perk of being born in the U.S. Rights aren’t free.” “They don’t want any water stations in the desert, because it encourages them to come.”
Five words to describe when you hear the word “migration” or “immigration” or “migrants.” “Drugs, dirty, poverty, stealing jobs.” “What’s the big deal? Get a green card.” “I know it’s tough to get jobs right now, but aren’t there any farms in Mexico?” This is an interesting one. “Working conditions on farms would improve if Whites were working those jobs.” I guess they don’t know much history. All our informants over the years, and it’s gotten more so, are quick to say, after they say statements like this, they say, “I’m not a racist. But I’m not a racist.”
Another. “Racial profiling is wrong, but what can you do about it?” And if many of these people know about the violence, they just kind of accept it rather matter-of-factly. Not such a big deal. Generally, the people we’ve interviewed so far understand that migrants are doing the dirty labor for unfair pay.
But most of the people say it’s okay, because it keeps our own costs down. So, it’s as stunning as it is shocking. And this is Arizona. I mean, it isn’t like immigration isn’t on our front page. Vilifying migrants as illegal aliens, making claims that they were responsible for draining public coffers for health and education, because they do not pay taxes and are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens and criminal activities. These are the kinds of accusations made against them.
The delinking of immigration policies and practices from economics and geopolitics is accomplished through this notion of illegality and impunity. What is produced is fear of the other, with little or no empathy for the suffering of the migrant population. Media attacks give ordinary U.S. citizens no sense of a shared responsibility for that suffering. U.S. geopolitics has gone a long way in producing the economic and political upheavals that make life in Central America and Mexico increasingly untenable.
The successful delinking of private misery for public consideration, what Zygmunt Bauman argues is profoundly antithetical to the ideals of democracy is really quite crucial here. And John Berger goes on to talk about ethnocides. The ways in which media and public education continue to separate this notion of private misery, private suffering as public considerations. So, if you’re suffering, that’s your fault. You’re individually complicit in your own suffering. So, poverty then becomes intrinsic to the people rather than historically produced.
Now, migrant illegality has also created a growth industry. For the defense companies and private prison corporations. As punishment and containment policies are implemented through the Department of Homeland Security. About ten percent of the migrants captured on a daily basis in Arizona, for example, are detained and incarcerated for some length of time, rather than being processed and then immediately released across the border.
And for each migrant contained, it costs $95 a day, on average. So, you can see how the profits can be accruing for many. Illegality, too, spreads fear throughout the migrant communities as they are being hunted down. I know a number of migrants, men mostly, who live in South Tucson, where the majority of the residents are Hispanic. They work as day laborers and wait most days on street corners, looking for work, which is now almost moribund. There’s almost nothing.
On Sundays, they are increasingly afraid to leave their apartments. This is the day when there’s a heavy ICE presence in their neighborhoods. Because of this, migrants are forced into seclusion, inscribing a new kind of individualism that’s mitigating against their desire and ability to struggle collectively for dignity and justice. And this fall, I was teaching a course, it was¬¬¬ Introduction to Social Cultural Anthropology. And we were doing a section on immigration.
And this young woman, who sat in the front row all the time, came up to me and said could I talk to her. Yes, I could. So, we went to my office. And it turns out, although she was born in the United States, as well as her brother, her parents weren’t. And somebody had just grabbed her father. The F.B.I. had come to the door under some pretense. Somebody had fingered him. They grabbed him. He was now in detention in Eloy. And back in 1991, he had been picked up for a minor drug offense, by the possession of marijuana. And so, now, after they finished with him, three months of detention, he was being thrown across the border to Mexico.
The anguish of these kinds of practices happening all the time, all over the United States. What used to be large scale work raids have been drawn down somewhat. But what ICE is doing now is this individual household knocking on doors, taking people out, taking people out at the street corners, et cetera. And it’s really quite unbelievable.
And interestingly, these deportation raids, a process out of what’s called Operation End Game. And re– Operation Return to Sender is one portion of that. Began in earnest almost immediately after the large scale immigration marches of 2006. And the Pew Center for Immigration Research has shown that the vast majority of the people in those marches in the major cities were migrants themselves.
Undocumented migrants and their children, many of whom are American citizens. And right after that, ICE is out with Operation Return to Sender. And now, they’re deporting somewhere around a quarter million people a year. And I argue that these people are redundant right now because of our falling economy, we don’t need so many migrants. So, migrants are pouring in, there’s no jobs. And so, we’ve gotta thin it out a bit.
And so, we have Operation End Game. We have Operation Streamline. In terms of this growth industry, for example, Halliburton in 2006 is awarded a no-bid contract of $350 million to build detention centers in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas because it’s a growth area. The Corrections Corporation of America was in on this. And maybe some of you have heard our state senator Russell Pierce who wrote SB-1070, the infamous SB-1070, did so in conjunction with Corrections Corporations of America.
So, you just can’t get any clearer, the relationships between punishment and plunder. Boeing, for example, got a $8 million contract, which has now just been defunct, because they spent several billion trying to build a virtual wall that is totally a failure. The plunder of the American coffers, all the while we’re commuting human rights abuses is remarkable.
Operation Streamline, which is another part of this End Game is another example of the transfer of millions of dollars of federal funds into Arizona State coffers. And from private prison companies, which run the detention centers to the pool of courthouse defense attorneys to federal marshals. Beginning in 2008, every day at 1:00 somewhere between 50 and 100 undocumented migrants, legs and hands shackled, are shuffled into the second floor, special proceedings unit of the U.S. Federal District Court.
They are processed through the courtroom in about an hour. Seventy people. And although there are Spanish-speaking interpreters, many of the migrants don’t understand what’s going on. Some perhaps because the proceedings are going too fast. Because they may only have some limited educational opportunities. And for others, Spanish isn’t their native language. It costs the federal government $6,000 to $12,000 a day to pay the private attorneys who represent the migrants.
Moreover, taxpayers are paying $9 to $11 million per month for the incarceration of these migrants. That’s like the ICE raids and detentions, Operation Streamline is lucrative to some, humiliating to others, while making a mockery of the notion of American jurisprudence as fair and unbiased. The raising of Arizona, it’s a dry hate. The State of Arizona provides one of the clearest examples of the social economic and political consequences of a relationship between neo-liberalism, state-sponsored violence, and immigration.
On July 29th, 2010, the Arizona Senate passed SB-1070. But parts of it are held up in the court. SB-1070 is the most extreme and brutal state immigration regulation in the nation, although we now have copycats, making it a crime to be an undocumented person in Arizona. But in some respects, the law only extends statewide an already existing trajectory promulgated by the Department of Homeland Security. Now headed by former governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano. The collusion between Homeland Security, local law enforcement, ICE raids and detention, and the use of federal court, renders some migrants in this country as human waste.
So, this is sort of my argument. We create them as nobodies, we bring ‘em across, make ‘em illegals, and then we reconvert them back into nobodies, in part, through our legal system. So, it’s really– it’s quite an elegant transfer. And– they are to be deposited back into their home countries. As noted in all these cases, there is also a transfer of significant taxpayer funds, et cetera, et cetera. Obama has been just as bad as Bush, just in a nicer kind of way.
It is necessary to point out that the extreme measures in Arizona has and is undertaking is part of a larger wave of local and federal initiatives intent on placing all Hispanics, documented and undocumented, in their places as either second-class citizens or nobodies. And what I want to turn to now, there’s a whole swath of legislation, state legislation in Arizona, now in process. This is what I think of as SB-1070 on steroids.
There’s been introduced, just in the past couple weeks, a ban on migrants from attending state universities and community colleges. It doesn’t matter– I’m not talking about they have to pay out of state tuition. A ban. They may not attend. It makes it a crime to drive in Arizona. Not without a driver’s license. If you’re caught driving in Arizona, there’s a mandatory 30-day jail sentence, a seizure and selling of your car.
There’s a new public school requirement to register your kid for public school, you must show a U.S. birth certificate. Now, it’s against federal law, so they cannot deny you enrollment in the school. But the law mandates that the school officials call La Migra [DEFINITION: a slang term for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other immigration law enforcement agencies]. There also is a prohibiting of hospitals, none of this is passed yet, but given our legislature, I have a lot of confidence in them. To prohibit hospitals from providing non-emergency care, non-life-threatening care.
So, you go to the hospital because you broke your leg. You have to produce documents to get care. Because a broken leg is a non-life-threatening situation. And it requires hospital staff to call La Migra. What I think is going on in Arizona is re-institutionalization, that is the building of a legal edifice not on case law, but through legislative enactments and law enforcement practices that turns de facto segregation into realized racial segregation against all brown-skinned people that includes Native Americans.
And they’re putting them in the place as second-class citizens, even in the face– after about to become the majority population. And let me just end with my spaces of hope, because everybody always says I’m too bleak. So, here it is. Spaces of hope. Although this may sound odd House Bill 2281, the ban on ethnic studies and particularly Mexican American studies at Tucson High School.
Under the guise that it’s social justice promotes hatred, hatred for the established order. And it’s absolutely true. It promotes critical thought. And it’s labeled by the detractors as negativism, as un-American. Because they’re seeking to erase any notion of history and therefore social justice. So, my spaces of hope in this is that educational sites, both in schools and the broader culture, represent some of the most important venues through which to– affirm public values, support a critical citizenry, and resist those who deny empowering functions of teaching and learning.
Education has become associated with market competition, conformity, disempowerment, and uncompromising modes of punishment. This is what T.U.S.D. ethnic studies is moving against. Some of my best students at the University of Arizona come out of that program, because they know how to think. Why do I think it’s a space of hope? It’s getting Hispanic people, particularly in Tucson, riled up. People who maybe weren’t paying a whole lot of attention, because they have documents, are now saying, “This is too much.”
And then I want to talk about hope that emerges from spaces of hope emerging from small acts of kindness. From connections with each other and a sense of dignity. And my last two are these. In Verapaz in Mexico, for the last 15 years, there’s a group of women who every day cook and assemble little bags of rice and beans and bags of water. And as the train goes by for the migrants, every single day, they hand out 200 little packets of food, as the train races by. And they hold them up. And for me, that’s a space of hope. And these women have been interviewed. And they say, “We do this because those are human beings.”
And my last space of hope is another one that’s kind of tragedy and hopeful at the same time. As people get left in the desert in these coyote groups, family members will often stay with the one who’s injured. But if you’re not traveling with somebody you know, you’re often left alone to die. But there have been a number of reported incidents that somebody unknown to you, just in your group, will sacrifice their own possibilities of making it to stay alongside somebody else. And for me, those represent our spaces of hope because they’re dignity. It’s a sense of dignity and compassion that is very quickly being eroded among the general U.S. population. So, I think we have a lot to learn from them. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)
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