Looking For Light Along the Border

By Becky Garrison 02-08-2011

1100208-nomoredeathsFor many Americans, the Sonora Desert conjures up images of a summer vacation replete with tequila shots and sunshine with Toby Keith's "Stays in Mexico" song blaring in the background. But during my stay in Tucson, Arizona, I got to observe another desert story, one that isn't making the front page headlines.

While observing the volunteer training offered by the Tucson-based humanitarian aid groups, Samaritans and No More Deaths, I was struck by how these past 10 years could be described as the decade of death on the border. All too often, these humanitarian groups find people along the border who want to provide for their families so much that they would face deportation or dying in the desert. (No More Deaths released a comprehensive study documenting abuses they observed at the border.)

Many of the complex issues undergirding immigration legislation have already been addressed on the God's Politics blog. One question that continues to nag at me though is why the Obama administration deports more undocumented workers per year than those who were deported annually during the Bush years. The emphasis here is on the word "worker." What used to be a pattern of seasonal migration has turned into an immigration nightmare. Do we care so little about those who pick our food, clean our hotel rooms, and perform other menial tasks that we can turn a blind eye as the number of people who die in the desert continues to rise?

Also, in this current socio-political climate, one finds a devaluing of the gifts offered by indigenous cultures. Tom Horne, the outgoing state school's superintendent and current attorney general, declared the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD)'s ethnic studies program "illegal." Thankfully, TUSD officials seek to repeal his decision. The school district's website describes the value of their Mexican-American studies program saying, "For Latino students, the model serves as a mirror; for non-Latino students, the model serves as a window into cultural, historical and social understanding."

During my stay in Tucson, I did find some rays of hope:

  • The Restoration Project is a faith based community that seeks to provide a place of spiritual renewal for activists and others.
  • Southside Presbyterian Church's commitment to immigration issues, while fully worshiping Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior debunks the myth that the mainline church is dead.
  • Walt Staton, a humanitarian aid worker with No More Deaths, who was arrested for leaving bottles of water, had all charges against him dismissed on January 12, 2011. This case symbolizes No More Death's mantra that "Providing Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime.
  • Wingspan, Southern Arizona's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center, provides a safe haven where all are welcome and given a safe place to simply "be." This center, which has existed for more than 20 years offers the only youth drop in center for LGBT youth in Arizona.

Without these tiny glimpses, we would still be waiting in the dark. Thank God for the light.

Follow Becky Garrison's travels on Twitter @JesusDied4This.

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