Even at 10 p.m., the dry heat caused the collapse of multiple people of faith gathered in a candlelight vigil outside Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s infamous tent city jail on Saturday evening. Earlier in the day, nearly 120 miles due south of Phoenix, the bodies of three immigrants who died of heat stroke were found. In one of those cases of tragic death, the man who collapsed was Guatemalan and his pregnant wife sat by his side.
Arizona continues to lead the way in the border humanitarian crisis and with immigrant rights violations. As a humanitarian, ally, and advocate, I came to the migrant justice movement with the belief that the U.S. immigration system and border policies were merely broken, but I am convinced now that these violations of human dignity are the symptoms of systemic racism targeted at immigrants.
The system is not broken, it is meant to break people:
- In the desert—The border security system funnels immigrants through the most treacherous desert and has killed thousands of people in the past decade, clearly written as a “deterrence through death” policy.
- On the streets and in detention—Arizona legislation such as SB 1070 (replicated in other states) has been funded and promoted by the private prison industry, detaining disproportionately people of color. And the latest ruling by the Supreme Court upholds the “papers” clause that allows police officers to ask for documentation based on racial profiling.
- Through disappearance and deportation—The deportation of more than one million of our neighbors has set a record by the Obama administration in tearing apart mostly mixed-status families.
- In schools—The Ethnic Studies program that was abolished this year in the Tucson schools bars Latino(a) and indigenous students from learning a more complete history and perspective beyond that told from European-Americans.
As allies and advocates in this movement, we have the opportunity to reflect on the fundamental and underlying fear of 'the other’ that divides our communities and profits from death and pain. To be in solidarity requires that fundamental systems of hate and fear be challenged. In response to these policies, the voice of the immigrant community in Phoenix has called out, Will you help us turn the tide of injustice or will you silently join the oppression?
Amid the pain, there is hope and a Jesus-like resistance:
This week, the Tucson Samaritans who send medical patrols to the Southern Arizona desert commemorate 10 years of dedication to saving lives.
The “banned books” prohibited by the Tucson school district are being collected en mass and distributed.
Immigrant communities and Dream Activists in Phoenix and Tucson (and around the country of course) are organizing and leading the resistance against policies like SB 1070.
Faith communities across all denominations are finding common ground for immigration reform, including the newest Evangelical Immigration Table.
The human spirit in Arizona is not broken despite all the latest attempts. Arizona is in your backyard, too. Join the resistance against hate and fear. Let’s build a new system.
Maryada Vallet works with No More Deaths, a humanitarian initiative on the U.S.-Mexico border, which promotes faith-based principles for immigration reform.