Day 14: No Más Muertes, Arivaca. Where Humanitarian Aid is Never Illegal

Day 14: No Mas Muertes, Arivaca

This morning, we woke up for the penultimate time in Patagonia Lake State Park. We piled in the van for an hour and a half drive to Arivaca, Arizona. Arivaca, a town of unofficially around two or three thousand people is located 11 miles north of the Mexican border, and about 35 miles northwest of the Nogales port of entry. Rolling into town, a small farmers market is the first to appear on the left. The two lane road is paved, somewhere, underneath a layer of dust and patches of gravel. The Arivaca Mercantile Company, the family owned grocery store follows on the right. Just beyond the Mercantile lies a small building, not much bigger than a single room.jordan

Nearer the beginning of our trip, we’d visited No Mas Muertes in Tucson, and now we’d arrived at the Arivaca Humanitarian Aid Office, a No Mas Muertes post in the heart of the Borderlands. Jolan, one of the volunteers who works at the in-town office, let us in. A full-time Arivaca resident, he had unique insights as to the flavor of this border town which had within the past 10 to 15 years found itself in the middle of a war on illegal immigrants. Arivacans have had the privilege of experiencing the militarization of the border, literally in their own backyards. Arivaca is located in the middle of a circle of mountains, which serve to funnel anyone attempting to cross in that region down through Arivaca. As a result, the Border Patrol has a substantial presence in Arivaca, to the considerable displeasure of the general community. The Border Patrol deploys Mobile Surveillance Platforms, small trucks equipped with an arsenal of surveillance equipment throughout the area, resulting in a town under constant surveillance. cp-with-school-busBorder Patrol vehicles frequently pass along Arivaca Road, some of them en route to and from Arivaca’s very own Border Patrol checkpoint. About a dozen miles up the road from Arivaca, towards Interstate 19, Arivaca’s connection to the larger world, the Border Patrol have a checkpoint established, checking all traffic heading for I-19. Every time an Arivacan goes towards I-19, they are stopped and subject to search, day in and day out.

Until Operation Gatekeeper began channeling so many migrants through the Tucson Sector of Arizona, Arivaca was hardly on the map, the way many residents liked it; now, under constant surveillance, and under occupation of sorts, many people are understandably frustrated, and unsure of who to blame. This is one of the ways in which the Arivaca Humanitarian Aid Office comes into play. The Office opened in 2012 as a public outreach facility where residents are free to come in, ask questions, gain information and learn about their rights. It is not uncommon for residents to have undocumented migrants traveling through their land, and the Office is there to answer questions about what aid is legal, how to approach people traveling through, and the Office can even sometimes provide translation services. The Office also has a lending library, with a wide variety of texts, which is open to residents.

Another function of the Arivaca office is that of an in-town support for Byrd Camp, a No Mas Muertes medical and direct aid camp located in the desert outside of Arivaca. Byrd Camp is named for Byrd Baylor, the renowned children’s author, upon whose land the Camp resides. Byrd Camp is staffed solely by volunteers, serves as a haven with first aid services, and offers respite, food and water. Groups staged at Byrd camp depart daily to check for fresh migrant trails, and place gallon jugs of water in clusters along active trails. Though the camp has no authority or immunity enabling it to house undocumented migrants outside of Border Patrol’s grasp, there are no laws requiring anyone to report the known whereabouts of undocumented migrants.nmdcamp1

No Mas Muertes is exclusively volunteer run on all levels, and they’re always looking for both donations and volunteers, particularly volunteers who speak Spanish, who have medical training of some sort, who are capable of hiking out into the desert for day hikes, and especially those who can offer two to three or more weeks of their time. If you would be interested in assisting, or donating, the contact information for the Arivaca Humanitarian Aid Office is as follows:


PO Box 826

Arivaca, AZ 85601



Day 5: Operation Streamline and Sierra Club: Borderlands

Evo A. DeConcini U.S. Courthouse Tucson, AZ





What is it?

Operation Streamline is a fast-track sentencing program for people who have entered the United States illegally. Every weekday, groups varying in size from about 45 to 120 go before a Federal judge, plead guilty to unlawful entry into the United States, are sentenced to as much as 6 months, are sent to prison to serve their sentence, and then undergo deportation proceedings.


Begun in 2005, Streamline was a departure from previous procedure where most immigration cases were either ‘catch and release’ or held in civil immigration court, to a system where people are sentenced en masse in Federal district criminal court.

Slide 2Streamline has undergone three phases since its institution: in the first phase, every defendant in the courtroom stood and plead guilty in unison, a clear deprivation of the defendants’ right to due process. In the second phase, 5 to 8 defendants at a time stood and plead guilty in unison, which was still a failure of due process. The current process of Operation Streamline addresses each defendant individually, albeit briefly.


Our class had the opportunity to observe Operation Streamline on September 4th. Earlier in the day, before the court proceedings we witnessed, each of the defendants had met with their court appointed public defender to discuss the two charges they faced: the misdemeanor of illegal entry, and the more serious felony of illegal re-entry. The defendants have two options at this point; they may choose to go to trial, in which case they would be detained for several months before their trial date, and then in the likely event that they lost their case, they would be fined $5,000 and sentenced for both the misdemeanor and the felony, earning up to a number of additional years in prison. The other option is the essence of Operation Streamline, where the defendant pleads guilty to the misdemeanor, in exchange for the court dropping the felony charge and the fine. The vast majority of people choose to plead guilty, because they will likely spend far less time in prison, ensuring their sooner release, and enabling them to get back to their families and back to work, both of which are typically their two objectives from before the day they first crossed.

Slide 3For those who opt to plead guilty, they are taken to court that day for their plea hearing. When we were permitted to enter the courtroom, all approximately 70 defendants were already seated, each with their wrists and ankles shackled together with heavy chains. They were also all still in the same clothes they had worn during their journey across the desert several days before. Each person was wearing a headset, over which a translator would relay the judge’s every word in Spanish. The Judge commenced the proceedings by explaining the charges against the defendants, and the terms of their plea agreements. Next, 5 people at a time were filed in front of the Judge, where they stood in front of their attorneys. In turn, each person faced 4 questions from the Judge:

Are you a citizen of Mexico?

Did you enter into the United States on or around September 2nd, 2014?

Did you enter through a legal point of entry?

How do you plead to the charge of illegal entry?


For each person, the process took only about 18 seconds.

After the four questions, the Judge handed down the predetermined sentences to each person. The sentences ranged from 30 days to 180 days.

Migrants: A Cash Crop

After their sentencing, the vast number of people are sent to privately owned prisons, where they serve their sentences. The government contracts with these private prisons, and pays the prisoSlide 4n corporations for each bed filled, with a guaranteed minimum of 90% occupancy. So, the prisons benefit from legislation that lands more people within their walls. Under the radar, prison lobby groups have drafted and provided some of the legislation that has been harshest on undocumented migrants, and this legislation has been voted in by politicians, likely in exchange for generous political campaign contributions.


Once the people who have gone through Operation Streamline have served their time, they leave, with a permanent criminal record. This criminal record makes them forever ineligible for every ‘path to citizenship’ included in current potential immigration reform legislation. Without access to any type of legal citizenship, people who have families in the U.S. or who must return in search of work have no option Slide 5but to enter illegally. Because so many people are willing to do whatever they have to in order to be with and provide for their families, Operation Streamline is actually creating an environment where illegal immigration will increase.






After our time at Operation Streamline, we met with Dan Millis from Sierra Club Borderlands. Sierra Club Borderlands is a division of the Sierra Club, one of the largest and oldest environmental organizations in the United States. The mission of the Borderlands chapter is “to protect and restore the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands and wildlife for future generations”.

With the aid of a brief but powerful slideshow, Dan introduced us to the injury that current border policies are inflicting on the Borderlands. The most iconic piece of the border is the wall that divides the U.S. and Mexico. deer-at-wallThe wall is built to stop people and vehicles from crossing the border illegally, however it has failed to accomplish that and it has instead created a barrier for all but human traffic. Some of the over 650 miles of border barriers slice through federally designated wilderness areas, National Parks, wildlife preserves and sovereign lands of the Tohono O’Odham Nation. These walls and the building efforts to produce them have permanently damaged many fragile ecosystems, blocked animal migration routes and divided territorial boundaries. environment5In addition, the walls have fundamentally altered the flood characteristics of the Borderlands desert. One of the best examples of the damage the border barriers have caused occurred in Nogales, Mexico, on July 12, 2008. A storm deposited heavy rains in the region, which naturally funneled to Nogales. However, Border Patrol had recently blocked off a cross border drainage tunnel to prevent illegal crossing. With the drainage blocked, water quickly backed up in Nogales, MX, and the concrete-reinforced border wall served to hold even more water in Nogales, submerging it under more than six feet of water. This flooding caused $8 million dollars in infrastructure and property damage, and resulted in the deaths of two Mexican citizens.

Nogales, AZ visible on left of the wall. Nogales, Sonora visible on the right of the wall, submerged.

Compounding the devastation inflicted by border security operations, Border Patrol vehicles drive unchecked across the desert, countless times each day, even through federally designated wilderness areas, where not even bicycles are permitted. The Sierra Club recently counted nearly 8,000 miles of unauthorized and renegade roads across the desert. These roads destroy both vegetation and old fragile soils and they destroy the behavior of the floodplains, altering the distribution of water and creating major erosion where it did not previously exist.

The most eye opening part of our meeting with Dan was where he explained to us how such an onslaught on the environment could transpire without government or environmentalist intervention. The fact is, the Real ID Act, a federal law pertaining to state driver’s licenses and ID cards, was passed in 2005 and contained a Trojan Horse within its text. Section 102 of the Real ID Act gives directly to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security the authority to waive any local, state or federal laws, including the Clean Water and Air Acts, that would impede the border wall construction process. Section 102 is the largest waiver of law in U.S. history, and gives the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, an appointed official, an unprecedented amount of power.

Even at an average cost of about $6 million per mile, the border wall fails to secure the border, but does severely impact the wildlife, the ecosystems and the natural flooding patterns of the Borderlands region.

Day 12: The Telling of Stories

Day eleven of our journey finds us in Nogales, Mexico at a soup kitchen called the Comador. Run by a binational humanitarian organization called the Kino Border Initiative, they provide direct services like food, clothes, and shelter, to migrants. Here men and women file in and out of the building, grabbing last meals before their trip across the border or first meals after deportation. Despite their situations, many of the faces here smile and laugh as they eat with their fellow migrants, some thinking of travel plans home, others imagining the nearly impossible journey to the US. A journey that was made even more strenuous by an event that occurred thirteen years ago today. 9/11. This event killed nearly 3,000 people, planting a seed of fear into the heart of the country and tightening border security, forcing migrants to search for even more remote and dangerous routes into the country. The effects of that border change are clearly visible while looking at the faces in the Comador.IMG_5313

We arrive before the migrants, and sit at a corner table as West Costgrove, our guide and employee of the Kino Border Initiative, gives us a brief explanation of the workings of the Comadore. Two meals are served a day, one at 9am and another at 4pm. Each person must present their deportation papers or an ID that proves they are migrating from another part of the world. This prevents the soup kitchen from being over run with the non-migrant poor or homeless of Nogales. During the meal, information is given regarding migrant rights and abuse-report forms are filled out so that abuses by the Border Patrol can be recorded. West tells us that a great number of the migrants say they received poor treatment from the Border Patrol, but unfortunately these abuses are almost never reported because the migrants have no faith that it will make a difference. They have accepted this unfair treatment as an unchangeable reality.


As 9am rolls around, people begin to file into the room. Our job now is to try not to hinder the busy process of feeding and recording everyone. Some of us help with the passing out of food and drinks, while others do their part by washing dishes. One of our classmates, Zander, puts his EMT medical training to use by checking out a few of the injured migrants. The Kino Border Initiative used to have a health clinic, but unfortunately the program was put on hold when the organization changed residences. Zander’s medical care is greatly appreciated by the migrants, most of which are ailed by severe blisters or cuts. There is one woman who’s knee is swollen twice its normal size. There will be no second attempt at the border anytime soon for her.


As the meal is finished, everyone is shuffled out the doors for clean up. Now is when those who are in need will receive clothes and shoes. Most people grab new clothes, but the thing that is the most coveted, and also scarcest, are the shoes. After walking for miles and miles in the desert or through Mexico to the border, sneakers have turned into flip-flops, and the sandals… almost into nothing. Everyone here leaves with something, and whether it is large or small, they are all grateful.

Our next stop is another branch of the Kino Border Initiative. The Women and Children’s shelter. Just a short drive up the street to an apartment complex, the shelter is intentionally small. This is a special place. Somewhere women and children who have found themselves in particularly difficult situations can be safe and rest. There are three people staying there now. Maria Hemenez, her four year old grandson, and another woman named Miriam Garcia. Both were brave enough to share their stories with us.

Maria Hemenez is a citizen of Honduras, but she lived and worked in Phoenix for nine years. There she had three US citizen children, and now a US citizen grandson. A few years ago, she became separated from her family when she returned to Honduras to take care of her sick mother. Kevin came into her care when his mother became very ill with a tumor and lost her eyesight. Unable to care for her nine month old son anymore, she sent him to live with Maria in El Salvador, thinking that it would be a safer life for him there. It has been three years since the two have seen each other. Unfortunately, violence rates in Central America are soaring, and after an altercation with one of the gangs that ended with Maria’s home being set on fire while her and Kevin slept inside, they had too flee. Riding on the top of a popular migrant train known as La Beastia and enduring, rain, hunger, and physical danger, the two finally made it to the border, but when Maria requested a visa to enter the US and reunite Kevin with his mother, she was denied.

The other woman, Miriam Garcia, has a different story, but it is just as heartbreaking. Her family, two young children and a husband, are back at her home in Mexico, waiting for her return. She decided to go to the US because her husband is dying of cancer, and the family has no money to pay for his treatments. She was told by her guide that it would be a short three day walk across the desert, but unfortunately that was a lie. Miriam was in the desert for five days, with not even close to enough food or water, and shoes that caused her feet to swell and blister until she could physically not walk anymore. She was abandoned by her group, left behind in the desert, and she would have died there if the Border Patrol hadn’t found her. Her blisters were so bad that she was deported from the US in a wheelchair. You can still see the remnants of them on the bottoms of her feet.

From the beginning of her story, Miriam’s eyes were are full of tears. And they were not the only watery eyes in the room. These two stories are hard to hear, especially when they come directly from the mouths of people who are living through these troubles now. Maria and her grandson are still separated from their family and living in a country that is extremely dangerous for an impoverished woman and a child. Miriam’s husband is still dying of cancer and now she has even less money and is separated from her family by hundreds of miles. Because of the sanctuary the Kino Border Initiative has provided, both of these groups situations are just a bit less dire.

Another group who has been responding to the negative effects of US border policy is HEPAC. Hogar de Esperanza y Paz, or Home of Hope and Peace, is a kind of community center that started when the Maquilas moved into town, drawing parents away from their children to work for up to 12 hours a day. The group provides meals to children and also teaches classes to the community such as gardening, rain water collection, and sewing. As we look out over the neighboring hillsides of the community, you can see the broken down houses clearly, and our host Janet Pazos explains that most of the families who live here have no running water or electricity, so the classes are focused on skills that will help the families become self sustaining. The children who spend their time here help with the gardening and rain collection, and then get to reap the benefits of their work by eating what they have grown. “My favourite part of the center is being able to see the look on the children’s face when they realize they are eating the things that they grew out of the earth.” says Janet. “The earth gave us the chance to make peace.”

There are people and families all throughout both Mexico and the US who’s lives are being directly effected by the policies set in place by the US government after and before 9/11. Families are being separated, children are going hungry, people are dying. This is not to say that there aren’t people who are trying to stop this, who are struggling every day to put an end to the deliberate exploitation of millions of people. Groups like the Kino Border Initiative and HEPAC are taking action against a strong injustice that the world can no longer afford to ignore.

Day 15: Tierra y Libertad (TYLO)


Our last stop on our last day was in South Tucson at the Tierra y Libertad Organization. We met with founding member Louis Perales and longtime volunteer Claudio Rodriguez. Tierra y Libertad is a grassroots organization that was formed in 2001. The organization’s main focus is to provide green living space for barrio communities. They work towards this through sustainability, artwork, education, migrant rights work, and organizing. Tierra y Libertad’s English translation is Land and Liberty. Louis Perales, a school principal, college professor, PhD candidate, husband, and father of three said that we, “Need to build a reality that makes the current system obsolete”.

Originally Tierra y Libertad came about in response to immigration laws. However, rather than limiting themselves to protests, justly angry conversations, and directly fighting legislation,  the group decided that they needed to materialize the needs of the community now. The house we visited is a communal space and garden that embodies their Barrio Sustainability Project. There they grow food for the community and through their own trials and errors they also teach others how to grow food. Claudio stated that their, “Main goal is to feed to hood”. They show people how they can use gray water, harvest rain water, and work within the space that they have at their own home. One of their latest endeavors is a hydroponic garden fertilizer by tilapia fish. It was beautiful. A project like this not only produces food that Tierra y Libertad can distribute from their food truck, but it also brings people together to voice concerns and receive support through dialogue.


Tierra y Libertad also works to reclaim barrio space, like the alley behind their home. For projects such as this they do not wait for political agents to finish pontificating and direct resources their way, which rarely if ever occurs for barrio neighborhoods in Arizona, they harness their own. The alley was cleaned up, excavated, and re-established as a healthy space. The walls are painted with murals that represent what the neighborhood wants to change. The alley used to emit images of alcohol, drugs, crime, and corporate advertising. Now, it radiates positivity, openness, color, and the Mexican-American culture.


Louis and Claudio emphasized the importance of making things appropriate for the community they are working within. Rather than impose an agenda, they literally knock on neighborhood doors and engage with residents. They ask them what they would like to see happen. If an idea is not well received, Louis said, they just move on to another idea until one strikes up support within the community. Tierra y Libertad operates fully on a volunteer basis, they are not a 501(c), there is no bank account or steady funding, and no one fills out forms or documents actions. If someone wants to participate they are encouraged to show up as they are and give what they can.


During our visit with Tierra y Libertad we were able to volunteer some work. Some helped dig up an irrigation line and clean out a garden bed while others moved books, bookshelves, and merchandise back into newly renovated space. Our time spent with Louis and Claudio was such a positive ending to our borderland travels. Their progressive energy and solution based practices were inspiring. They are in the midst of enacting what came to be one of the wisdoms of our trip; that fighting through opposition needs to be accompanied by inclusive, community modeling, or as Louis Perales put it, “flipping traditional models”.

Day 7: BorderLinks in Tucson


Today we visited BorderLinks, an ‘awareness-to-action’ organization based in Tucson, Arizona. Along with No Mas Muertes, a humanitarian aid organization, BorderLinks started under the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s, which was focused on cultivating knowledge and care for those impacted by US immigration policies and national security. The need for BorderLinks’ was realized when many participants of the Sanctuary Movement came with no knowledge or understanding of what was happening at the border/in the borderlands. We met with BorderLinks’ education coordinator, Indira Arce, and Grace, who just started working with them this summer.

Indira informed us that BorderLink’s mission is to “bring awareness to inspire action” through education programs. They offer Border Delegations, Extended Civic Engagement Programs, Special Focus Delegations, and Community Workshops. They hope that through experience and interaction, participants will become allies with social justice and maltreated communities. BorderLinks acquired a building ten years ago now, where they host delegations in a dormitory setting.

What was most important for us to hear wasn’t about the organization itself, but the essence of humanity: Indira told us she became involved in immigration work, because she herself is an immigrant, and she “didn’t want to forget what [she’d] been through.” Our class has interacted with similar passion before: one of our hosts last week told us she felt the need to be involved in social justice, because she was just one step away from being that victim (illegal and undocumented). These organizations exist not only because there is impalpable injustice in our world, but also because there are extremely compassionate and strong-willed people who believe in the justice we all deserve. I say that these women’s expressions are expressions of the essence of humanity, because our ability to be connected to and impacted by each other is our humanity. We are a holon made up of holons; we are individual, but we are one. This is not to say that other organisms do not connect with each other, or with us, but they have their own vocabulary and language for their relationships, and we interpret whatever language we can to help us conceptualize the connections we do have with them. We are all holons made up of holons: humans, insects, soil, birds, light, etcetera.

After Indira introduced herself and the space, we spent the rest of our time enacting an immigration simulation. We were each given a character that held hopes or intentions for immigrating to the US. Due to judicial discrepancy and policies, very few cases were accepted:

A wealthy British resident has a job offer to play professional soccer; he was granted residency within 18 months, and citizenship in 5 to 6 years.

A single Mexican man is sponsored by his brother, who is a US citizen, and he currently has no job in Mexico; he will be granted residency in 17-28 years, and he cannot get married during that time, because it would change the conditions of his application.

A man in Honduras is sponsored by his father, who is a resident and needs his son to work. The man has a family, though, who would need to come with him. The rest of the family cannot apply for residency, because they do not have an immediate family member who is in the US. The man’s application is denied, because the risk of the rest of the family illegally immigrating to the US is too high, and the man would probably export his earnings to the family, as opposed to spend it within the US economy.

A Canadian resident is wealthy, attended law school in the US, and has a job offer as an attorney for a company that will pay for his application. This person is granted residency, and will become a citizen in 7-10 years.

A Pakistani man has a sister who is a resident in the US. She is his only family, and she wants him to migrate there to be with her. However, she cannot sponsor him, because residents can only petition for their spouse or unmarried child.

Once we completed the simulation, Indira explained the ‘rules’ to us: When a person wants to migrate to the United States, they must first apply for a visa and lawful permanent residency, which is what I commonly knew as a green card. People may immigrate under four conditions: employment-based, family-sponsored, asylum, or diversity. 50,000 visas are available each year for the sake of diversity inclusion. Visas are also available for those who plea asylum, or protection from fear or threats in their home country; albeit we heard the process is arduous and rarely upheld.

140,000 to 150,000 Employment-based visas are available each year based on a tiered preference system: (1) Priority workers, such as scientists, athletes, and business executives; (2) goes to professionals with college degrees or high-level of expertise in the sciences, arts, or business; (3) is for skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers (e.g. teachers, nurses, law enforcement); (4) certain special immigrants, such as translators or religious workers; and beneficiaries or survivors of US citizens; and (5) investors of at least $1 million, but there are exceptions for $500,000. Categories 2-5 must have a guaranteed employer who turns in a labor certification to the Department of Labor, but Priority workers do not, and (2) can apply for exceptions. 86% of the employment-based visas available are reserved for the first three categories.

Family-sponsored migrants must be petitioned for by a family member with legal status in the US. A US citizen may petition for their parent, spouse, child, or siblings; but a lawful permanent resident can only petition for their spouse or unmarried child. Children being petitioned for will be given more credibility if they are under 21, but a child petitioning for their parent must be over 21. Like the employment-based application process, those with higher priority (as viewed by the Department of State and Bureau of Consular Affairs) are processed first—it is not in order of submission, e.g. an application from a petitioner with citizenship will be viewed before one from a resident. The amount of family-based immigrants is limited in all categories, except for those who are either a spouse, child, or parent (of a child who is at least 21 years) of a US citizen; everyone else is subject to the 226,000 visa maximum.

Today was rather confusing. US immigration policy is one of the most complex and convoluted of any US law; and by the looks of our simulation, it supports the immigration of affluent white people, while subordinating people with higher needs to migrate…sound familiar? Sounds like the ringing of White Supremacy to me. What’s more, I realized another part of the expanse of my privilege when Indira told us that US citizens are among the few (of a nation) who must apply for each visa as they travel—we just simply pay the fees as we go along!

I thank Indira and Grace for their time and sharing of knowledge with us today. It surely gave me more of a foundation for the work I am to do in social justice. With each expression of our humanity, our connectedness and need for each other, we get stronger. If you would like to become an ally for/with social justice by participating in a delegation with BorderLinks, you can visit them on the web:

Day 3: Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Tent City Jail

This morning our class piled up in the van and drove to Maricopa County Tent City Jail, envisioned by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
As we pulled into the property, we unintentionally went to the entrance for Arpaio’s S.M.A.R.T. Tents, which is a program he designed to deter adolescents from going to jail (I came under the impression that it is a likely choice for individuals to be sentenced to jail, which is confusing, because I am also under the general impression that humans want to be ‘good’ citizens). S.M.A.R.T. stands for Shocking Mainstream Adolescents into Resisting Temptation, and it involves taking groups of seventh and eighth graders to Tent City Jail, where they are detained and treated as inmates for 24 hours; “They are greeted by detention officers and from the start are treated just like inmates…they sleep like real inmates do with one blanket and no pillow,” and “they hear from Sheriff Arpaio, who tells them how tough life in his jails can be.” (Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, 2014)image
Fortunately or unfortunately, S.M.A.R.T. Tents is not what our class came to see. We came to tour Tent City Jail (we were later informed that touring Tent City Jail is a renowned form of entertainment/vacationing). Inside the building, it was white, clammy, and cold; and there were ‘encouraging’ quotes around the facilities, like “The next time you want to complain about Tent City, STOP! Instead, think about how hard life is for our troops in Iraq.”
According to the facility’s dress code, women’s sexuality is dangerous—or at least this is what our class interpreted from it, which prohibits no showing of breasts or cleavage, shoulders, or knees. There were other rules listed, but the majority of them applied to the female needing to conceal herself. The females in our group were also told to “hang on to [our] jewelry,” and stay away from the men, as they liked to impress us by hollering and performing like they were on display at a zoo. It was also greatly impossible to not be aware of Arpaio’s reign: his name is everywhere—on the buildings, employees, inmates, etcetera. I thought the county owned this jail, not Arpaio.
The walls were white. My hands were clammy. Fox News spoke their stories. And it was cold—just like others who had experienced being in jails and detention centers said it was. It rang in my ears and skin.
We didn’t see anyone for the first few minutes, but then Lieutenant Jannis Mossman greeted and ushered us into the conference room. There were three stout heavily armored men standing guard towards the back. Ironically, I felt a further chill of discomfort at the sight, rather than reassurance of my safety. One of the officers was holding a shot gun, and another introduced himself as Sargent Charles Sawyer, of the Special Response Team. As threatened as I felt by the weaponry, the men were kind and genuine towards us, and/but they made it clear we were to be protected from the inmates. Mr. Sawyer and Lt. Mossman introduced the facility to our class. Lt. Mossman (2014) prefaced the visit when she said…what we may have all been thinking: “When you’re not used to it, it’s kind of an uncomfortable feeling.” That was when I couldn’t help but think about how this system is not inevitable, and how we allow ourselves to get over the discomfort of it by numbing ourselves, and justifying our power and freedom over those in the striped uniforms in any way we can imagine.
Tent City Jail opened in 1993 as Sheriff Arpaio’s response to the lack of full sentences served by criminals; at that time, many individuals served only 60 to 80% of their sentences before being released—possibly due to overcrowding, but it also may be important to note that most of the inmates here are from DUIs and failure to pay child support. Arpaio felt it wasn’t fair to the taxpayers that people be released early, and he held the taxpayers in mind again when he realized the county could save money by using surplus military tents for outdoor holding, instead of constructing an entire new building. Lt. Mossman (2014) reiterated Arpaio’s thoughts and perspective further: “If it’s good enough for our fighting men and women, then it’s good enough for convicted criminals.”
There are three divisions within Tent City: one is “for those needed elsewhere after [Tent City is] done with them” (Lt. Mossman, 2014)—although, I’m still not entirely sure what was meant by this, but perhaps she was referring to those who had yet to be sentenced and are awaiting trial; another is split between male and female working yards; and the last for those who have work release or work furlough.
The working yards are a product of the jail’s voluntary working program: individuals may choose to be on ‘lockdown’ (which we did not get a visual representation of) or out working, where they engage in onsite chores. However, the individuals have this choice as long as their behavior dictates it (which in itself implies that we humans have perfected behavioral control). If an inmate is brought into lockdown, they may request to come back out onto the yard, but they must do a thirty day work period with a chain gang first. A chain gang is a group of individuals that do some kind of public work, like picking up trash from the sides of highways. The group is chained and shackled together in a line at their ankles until they reach their work place.
Work release refers to the ability of an individual to leave jail premises for work, and work furlough is similar, except with the extra stipulation that the individual must have permission and supervision from a probation officer. Upon returning, each person is stripped searched for contraband (illegal products or items).
“Inmate labor around here saves the county lots of money” Lt. Mossman (2014) informed us. Last year, the county saved approximately $24,000 in fruit gleaning alone, thanks to “free labor.” I have to ask, though, do the taxpayers also know that instead of their tax money going jail expansion, it could go to better public transportation?
Our tour officially began with the visitation center… The ‘Skyping’ visitation center. Inmates are not allowed to have face-to-face visits, so they visit by way of webcam instead. The screen that either side gets to see each other through is no larger than 6X6 inches. Lt. Mossman informed us that holding visits this way avoids contraband. We were given the example of a parent bringing their baby to visit the other incarcerated parent: the baby could have drugs stored in their diaper that the incarcerated person could then access once the baby was held. I don’t believe that that would never happen, but I also felt a kink in my heart at the thought of not being able to hold someone I loved just because the state saw me as guilty until proven innocent. Soon, these webcam visits can be held online, as the jail is incorporating a new system; however, the calls will be made at the expense of the visitors/inmates.
We were then introduced to the shrine of potential contraband. There were drugs, hand made tattoo guns, rosaries, gambling dice, knives, shanks, and other weapons. I did not understand the placement of the rosaries at first, because they’re a religious symbol, nothing menacing. I was proven wrong, though: the rosaries (and dream catchers) were made from blankets and wires—county property. Damaging county property is a crime. The gambling dice, among other things, were made from toilet paper, thus “toilet paper is a controlled substance around [t]here.” (Lt. Mossman) Another element to contraband is the underwear that men would take upon release (who wouldn’t want a clean pair of underwear?); Arpaio decided to dye all of the men’s underwear, sheets, and towels pink as a way to mark county property. Lt. Mossman implied the humiliation behind the color when she made a comment about how men wouldn’t normally choose to wear pink.
Skipping a couple of steps in our tour, just for a moment here, we saw that men and women, insofar as they were inmates, rarely, if ever, came into contact with each other. Their yards were at least sixty feet apart. As I noticed this, I asked about the recognition and treatment of transgender persons, and I was given a seemingly reverent answer: if the individual is mid-transition, they are isolated until their transition is completed, then they are allowed to join their respective gendered yard … but wait. Isolated?
At first I thought, that might be comforting, since trans people have been othered by White Supremacy, and are likely to experience prejudices and abuse in jail/prison systems. I realized though, that isolation could be just as damaging as the anxiety of whether or not your fellow inmates would attack you.
We heard from later groups that transgender people do face humiliation, abuse, and rape amongst their mates—and suicide. What does isolation in Tent City Jail entail, exactly? What kind of effects does/might that have on the individual, and are they treated respectfully by their fellow inmates and officers? Not to mention that this dynamic still enforces a gender binary, and that an individual who does not identify as such is forced either defend themselves or sit alone; it’s not that everyone else needs to be aware and respectful of humanity and LGBTQ.
Jumping back to the contraband shrine, while we were not given the date, at some time inmates sued the jail for its noxious food. This resulted in the jail providing a soy-based vegetarian diet to all inmates, unless excused for religious or allergen reasons. Upon Google searching Arpaio’s Tent City Jail, you may notice a photo of him championing his ‘McDonald’s sign,’ which boasts about the number of meals served to inmates: as of 2012, it was over 430,000. Turning humans into numbers is an art this jail has perfected.
The inmates are also offered a suite of life services: there are services available for Christians and Muslims, and everyone has access to a GED, as well as the Alpha Academy, which is a life skills program. There are also recreational activities, including the bicycle program (for women only), which powers the televisions as you pedal.
We continued our tour with a walkthrough of the men and women’s working yards. Each tent holds either 22 persons or 44, and the jail has a total carrying capacity of 2,126 (it is currently housing around 850 individuals). The tents include bunk beds, a fan, skylights, and walls that can be rolled up during the summer heat. We saw several inmates in their bunks. I wondered how long they had been there. Did they get to go inside today? Into the cold air? I felt my body start to complain after being outside for just a few minutes; I would have been happy to go back into that coldness. What is it like to be outside in that heat for almost a year?
I couldn’t remember if we were allowed to look at the inmates or not, so I didn’t. I felt like such a… I don’t even have the words. I just curled in on myself and felt their eyes. Their anger, curiosity, longing, confusion. When I noticed one of them deliberately looking at the females in our class, I didn’t feel the same rage I do when men holler and double-check me out on the streets. Here, I’m holding the power. I’m the one who can leave this damnation. They can’t. I want to say the feeling I held was shame; I wanted to tell them I was sorry, as if I were responsible for them being there. In a way, I still feel that.
The tour went on with the Estrella Jail, which is attached to the Tent City Jail. It is an all (un-sentenced) women’s facility, and it has a protective tower for those in mental and physical need. Here, the difference in power couldn’t have been made more clear: before our class walked through the main hallway, all of the inmates had to form a line and face the wall. They couldn’t look at us, and our guides made sure that we stayed clear of the inmates’ immediate space, as if we might get infected.
We ended in front of the conference room, where Lt. Mossman gave us a little bit of insight on what it’s like working for the Tent City Jail: “We call it baby-sitting with an edge,” and “if you can handle being around kids, you can handle being around inmates.” Not only does that statement insult the inmates, but children too—all of humanity, I might say. The two job requirements we were told about: GED/high school diploma and 18 years in age. It doesn’t take much to work here, and, as Lt. Mossman herself said, “It doesn’t take much to get [convicted] here.” Maybe it doesn’t take much to work here, because the White Supremacist doesn’t want critical thinkers or challengers; they want pacified followers.

Our class later reassembled at the Phoenix Public Library for a debrief and discussion of our visit. Some themes we focused on were the presence of paternalism, dehumanization, militarization, and gender roles. The paternalism that the guards and lieutenant held over the inmates (and us) was astounding—not to mention the paternalism that Sheriff Arpaio held over everyone, and he wasn’t even there! The guards and lieutenant lamented at how childish and deviant the inmates are. They held the authority that only they, the county employees, knew what was good for the incarcerated people.
The relationship between gender roles was mentioned briefly earlier with the pink underwear: in our white heteropatriarchal society, men do not wear pink, so to make them do so was emasculating—and homophobic. The female gender role was exemplified too. We were told about the female inmates’ aggressiveness, and by the face the guard made, while he shook his head at the same time, this was less than acceptable. Women’s role in white heteropatriarchal society is to be gentle, silent, pretty, and passive; anything else threatens the dominant’s power, and the woman is held in contempt.
Then there is the (further) dehumanization… While we were looking at the shrine of contraband, Lt. Mossman told us about their equine program. Sick or injured horses are brought to the jail for inmates to assist the horses into health. The lieutenant then said, “It’s really sad” how they get treated. In the two minutes (of our hour long tour) that we spent discussing the horses, Lt. Mossman expressed more remorse for the horses than she did for the inmates at any given time. For me, the dehumanization placed upon the inmates made it easy for me to dehumanize the guards and lieutenant. I had to check myself then, because each person is human. The lieutenant also has a son that works with her in the facility; she said she wouldn’t let him work there if she didn’t think it was good for him.
It was important for us to be reminded that this jail is structured under the white supremacist system, which maintains power for a limited number of (white) people at any cost. It requires that the majority of our population be kept ‘poor’ or limited by a budget, and they get little to no access to resources (clean air and water, healthy food) and services (doctors, lawyers, therapists, college). It is not Lt. Mossman’s, nor any of the other employees, ‘fault’ that she works in a system where people are dehumanized, disrespected, and oppressed. She, and we, are all forced to live in the culture that we are born into, which creates and limits our very perceptions and beliefs of the world. Our tour of the Tent City Jail is an example of the white supremacist system, not how non-compassionate and abrasive people can be.
Our class then went to JoBot Coffee, which is just off of Roosevelt St. (the arts district). Our graduate teaching assistant, Laura, gave us a lesson in Neoliberalism and capitalism. This is a difficult subject to study and understand, but Laura simplified it for us seamlessly: “Neoliberalism is an economic theory that informs capitalism, which is an economic practice where trade and industry are owned privately and for profit.” Here are some key facets to Neoliberalism:
It puts monetary capitalism above all else, and its number one (two and three) priority is accruing as much of it as possible. This is made more clear when we recognize that there has always been a small population in the United States who has held the majority of wealth, and so it is those few who have access to succeed in accruing more.
Individualism and individual responsibility: it is upon one’s self to create their own wealth, and if they are unsuccessful, then it is due to laziness or some personal fault.
Deregulation/Lack of government interference: the government gives too much funding to social and public services, which should be paid for directly by individuals; this lead to massive tax cuts for the rich, who are also lobbyists for particular political leaders. This, along with individual responsibility feed into privatization; as the government loses funding from tax cuts, companies must swoop in and buy them out (i.e. water, oil, parks, education, etcetera.)
It is framed as being inevitable: we cannot live under any other kind of economic theory (or practice).
It needs to remove legal barriers to trade (i.e. the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is an agreement between Canada, United States, and Mexico for the free flow of production and marketing of commodities). This includes the myth that if you let the market go ‘free,’ it will eventually balance itself out, and everyone will be economically fit.
It needs globalization: capital (monetary, labor, resources, land) are not infinite, so for capitalism to keep going, we must expand geographically to acquire more.
To get a window of understanding (this is difficult, convoluted stuff) the effects capitalism under Neoliberalism has had on the United States, and the world around, one can check out these resources: Neoliberalism: A Brief History, by David Harvey (2005); Global Wealth Inequality (; Immigration Flood Unleashed by NAFTA’s Disastrous Impact on Mexican Economy (; and Crises of Capitalism (
Now into the evening, our class went to the Phoenix Center for the Arts to visit with Danny Scooby Morales, co-founder of Cyphers—a grassroots organization rooted in liberation and empowerment through hip hop culture and the urban arts. It is open to individuals of all ages (although it seems to be focused on youth), and champions positive community relationships. This is evident in the name itself, which can be defined as the energy created within a group of people. Cyphers are always present amongst a group, and Cyphers bring cyphers into awareness; they are created with the intention of afore mentioned characteristics (liberation, empowerment), and compassion. Urban arts and hip hop culture are the avenues it walks through, and one dancer said it saved his life. Morales tutored us on the four elements of hip hop:
Street dance (e.g. social dance, street jazz choreography, krump, break*)
Street art (i.e. graffiti, which is a style, not a medium, of art, and it “dates back to the cave man days (Morales 2014))
D.J. (also described as “the art of turntablism,” and it speaks about the community; the D.J. is a performer and artist, not someone who “makes a playlist)
Rap, or “rhythm and poetry” (Morales described to us that true rap and hip hop is not how it has been represented in mainstream culture and media—they’ve given rap a bad rap.)
*Here, I would just like to honor Morales and the hip hop community by sharing some critical knowledge Morales stressed onto us: breaking is the true term for what many people refer to as break dancing; Morales says he and fellows are often insulted by the term break dancing, because it was a term imposed onto hip hop by the media. The dance came to be called breaking, because every song has “that funky part” that gets looped over, and those are the breaks to dance to.
We were then given the four principles of hip hop: peace, love, unity, and fun. All words that instill liberation, empowerment, and compassion in myself. Cyphers offers classes and events in all of the elements, and we were allowed to stay for the dance class. There were six dancers, ranging approximately between the ages of six to eighteen. They were so happy and so willing to be present and supportive of each other. I thought to myself, what are people doing who aren’t here? What would White Supremacy say to this?
I thoroughly appreciate that there are programs like this for individuals to get involved with—that there are spaces available for individuals to become a community. However, Cyphers has been devalued by some: the organization used to have a lease with a large building just for them, but when the lease expired, the owner sold out to an investor who wanted to build a strip mall in the space. Morales doesn’t let it get him down though. He seems to be at his best even still, and is more than happy to work at the Phoenix Center for the Arts, especially with all the groups that are active there: Phoenix Children’s Chorus, Roosevelt Row, and Radio Phoenix, just to name a few.

Rounding out the night, a few of us stayed at the Center for a reading of a banned play—or what would have been a banned play, since that is the program, but a different play was performed in response to “what happened in Ferguson.” I’ve quoted Mary Stephens, a coordinator of Arizona State University’s Banned Plays and an ASU professor, who exclaimed it is that kind of language which allows us to be separated from the event, thus the entirety of the systematics and history behind it. The language also makes the event seem isolated and random in itself, even though events like “what happened in Ferguson” happen every day.
The play was Force Continuum by Kia Corthron (2002). It is the story of a multigenerational family of African-American cops who face scrutiny and emotional turmoil from fellow police officers and general community members (both black and white). It so beautifully expresses the humanity in each character portrayed, and their throws within White Supremacist society. The purpose of the Banned Plays program is not just for entertainment or as a political statement, but also to hold space for community dialogue, which ensued after the reading. The dialogue consisted of “blackness and whiteness as a status,” and the brutality that not only individuals face from police, but also the brutality police face within themselves and the community. There were questions about how to bring the youth into discussions like these, and how we can continue to develop as a community—the police officers included.

That night, I forgot about how white and cold the morning was, and walked into the dark, welcoming heat of Phoenix.

Day 13: Border Economics

Friday, September 12, 2013

Nogales, AZ

Today, we went to West Cosgroves office, in Nogales, Arizona. West is the educational director for the Kino Bay Initiative. They run a small soup kitchen and a small shelter for women and children in Nogales, Mexico.  Both services are kept small intentionally in order to better care for those people who are there.

This morning, we got a presentation from West on economics, and how its affecting us and others. He talked about NAFTA, the North American Trade Agreement, that was signed in 1994. As he so adequately put it, NAFTA sought to remove barriers/tariffs that inhibited trade between Canada, U.S., and Mexico. Goods and capital could cross the borders, but people could not.

West drew parallels between NAFTA and Walmart, that I found was a useful picture. Basically, Walmart is moving into towns and putting all the mom and pop shops out of business because it is cheaper. This is what NAFTA is doing to Mexico and most of the people who live there. The economy has gotten way worse, especially in Mexico. Now locals who are running their own little quality businesses, cant get anyone to buy their goods because the tariff free goods of the U.S. are cheaper. Many people in Mexico are generally pretty poor, so it makes sense that they are going to go for the cheaper option so they can better cover the needs of their families. By doing this, however, they are putting their own country men out of work, which in turn makes it hard for them to feed their families, and thus lowers, even more greatly, the economy in Mexico. Here are some statistics to give you a better idea of what Im talking about: The U.S. exported 2 million tons of corn to Mexico in 1992. By 2008, the U.S. was exporting 10.3 million tons of corn to them. In 1992, the poverty rate in Mexico was 35%. By 2008, it had risen to 55%. Undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. during 1990 was 2.7 million. In 2000, 4.6 million undocumented Mexicans were accounted for; and by 2008 the number had grown to 7 million.  West stated bluntly, They come for the same reasons our grandparents came: no jobs, low salaries, a better future for their children, and to find asylum.

There are two main reasons why people emigrate to the U.S. The most common reason is family reunification. Many have family stuck on both sides of the border. Before NAFTA when the border was more porous and open, Mexicans would often cross the border as seasonal workers and then return home to Mexico and their families. It was legal to hire immigrants up until the year 1985. Not that long ago. Since NAFTA, however, it has became increasingly difficult and dangerous to get across the border. So instead of the migrant workers going home after a few months, they are staying in the U.S. so they can be sure of providing enough for their families. Eventually, as is natural, they start to miss their families, and the best option for survival is to bring them over to the U.S. too.The second most common reason for immigration to the U.S., is the lack of jobs in Mexico, since everyone is going out of business there due to the tariff free goods of the U.S. They know that no jobs = no income = no food or health benefits = starving family. No one wants their loved ones to suffer.

The question, Why dont they come over legally, then? Its fine if they come over as long as its legal. If theyre legal, we will gladly welcome them to the U.S,is then very common. The fact is that there are, 4,700,000 applications turned in for visas to the U.S., and 1,400,000 of them are from Mexico.  Because of the amount of visa applications from their country, the typical wait for any Mexican is 21 years to hear back from the government. I ask you, if your family was starving now, or in other types of severe danger now, would you wait 21 years before doing something? I wouldnt. I love my family too much to sit by and do nothing. Anything has got to be better than their families suffering.

West pointed out that almost everyone breaks the law at some point in their lives. For example, many of us young people have decided to break the law and drink before were 21 years old because it looks like fun and its what everyoneis doing.  It is true that these immigrants are breaking the law, but they are not doing it for fun. Many dont want to live in the U.S. They come because there are jobs and they want enough money to support their families and then go back to their country that they love. They break the law because their lives are in severe danger and not just because they thought it would be a cool challenge to see if they could border hop successfully. To our government, the reasons dont seem to matter. We get a slap on the wrist for drinking at a young age because we thought it was fun. They get treated horribly, in so many ways – held in detention, abused, separated from family for years or life, awful quality of work and living – because they were trying to save their families lives. It doesnt make sense to me.

One thing West said that really struck me, was that part of the purpose of the wall was to make sure the U.S. always had a good supply of cheap labor. I had never thought about it this way, but unfortunately it makes a lot of sense. If the U.S. just opened up their borders, who would work in their maquilas (sweat shops) in Mexico? The U.S. placed many of their maquilas in Mexico because the buildings are cheaper there, and because the labor is way cheaper since they can abuse it. The lack of jobs in Mexico make workers desperate for any level of payment. The U.S. profits from these places, and the wall helps to keep Mexicans in Mexico so they can exploit them. Mexicos economy is such that they now need them to survive.

West was saying that is would be ideal for the definition of globalization to be the process of extending social relations across the world-space. He said, such extensions arise from the movements of the people, things and ideas. The definition of globalization in the Merriam Webster dictionary, however, states that globalization is the development if an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially for the free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor materials. So this is what globalization has come to mean in our world today. 

After this informative if not uplifting presentation, we went on a small hike in the desert starting near the exit to Arivaca. It took us about 40 minutes in the car to get there. We basically started our hike where the immigrants would end their hike and wait in hiding to get into cars or vans that would attempt to smuggle them across the border.

The trail is pretty dead at the moment, meaning its not currently being used. If I know about the trail, the Border Patrol knows. They (the immigrants) probably decided to lay of this one for several months and take a different route,West explained. Sure enough, two minutes after we arrived at our start spot, an agent showed up. He inquired about what was going on, but was fairly friendly. He said that the Coyotes were the lowest form of life, …people preying on other people for profit. Thats why we have to kind of protect them from themselves, you know,he said.

We walked to the place where they hide in the bush at night waiting for their ride by I-19, and then retraced their steps along the arroyo and then across and up a small mountain where they had come from. We actually got really lucky. It was a cooler day with some wind and the clouds blocked the sun. West reminded us to imagine walking in this desert at night. Even in broad daylight with our eyes open, people were getting caught in the brush, the thorns catching on their clothing, as fire ants distracted them by biting their toes and ankles. Every plant seemed to have needles or thorns. The ground was dry and full of lose rocks. I found that if I was careless for a second, of where I was stepping, I would start to wobble a bit, or have to catch myself. We had the advantage of not having to keep up with a coyote, who would have otherwise left us behind, or being chased by Border Patrol. There are so many stress factors here, I dont think I can count them all.

On the top of the mountain we saw many backpacks and water bottles strewn on the ground in several different places. Jackets and tooth brushes left at random. A couple of the boys found a bush with some shade, but a large rattle snake was already occupying that space. The sun is not safe, the shade is not safe, the ground is not safe. I am not sure what, if anything, is safe out there. We stopped when we wanted, picked the thorns out of our shoes, stood around and took in the landscape – none of which any immigrant would have time to do.

West asked why we thought is was that most of the backpacks that we found were empty. By now many of the backpacks were almost completely skeletons, the rest having been melted away. This question pulls at me as I can still see them in my minds eye. Why? Maybe it is because they could no longer bare to carry anything anymore, and so they dressed themselves in everything in their packs and stuffed their pockets with their possessions in an attempt to make it easier. Maybe, or maybe not. All I know for sure, is that this journey these human beings decide to make, is one that is more brutal and harsh than any I had imagined.