It is the fifth week of Lent and already I am experiencing the desert as both beautiful and lonely.
Perhaps you can relate.
Perhaps you, like me, are feeling tired. Come, sit with me in beauty for a while.
Come, new life is springing.
The desert is accustomed to extremes. Flora and cacti born into coarse sand and unforgiving heat have long learned to take root and blossom. Snow glistens atop far mountain sides. Scorpion and rattlesnake slither and slide from rock to brush. Javelinas charge and goats scamper. There is life here for the long journey and the short. Look how new life is still growing – forging deep roots and trusting a water source will provide.
Look for new life.
It takes time to grow roots. It takes time to nestle in and trust the water sources. After all, the droughts are long. I can easily forget that this growth period is good. That this growing and shifting and changing is new stretching into the gritty deep. And that here there be water. Water is life.
This past weekend, I attended a volunteer training for a local humanitarian aid group, the Tucson Samaritans. Veteran activists provided critical historical information about the sanctuary movement, the work of humanitarian aid workers on the borderlands and encouraged us to consider what we know. What information did we have about the border? What were we willing to relearn? What were we committed to doing? Whom were we committed to serving?
A key component of this groups mission is this: We serve and offer humanitarian aid to persons that are refugees and migrants, persons seeking asylum, persons without documentation, persons belonging to independent militias, persons in the Border Patrol…we seek to offer humanitarian aid to everyone.
Hearing the stories of how people remain faithful to God’s call heartens and encourages me.
Look for new life.
A long time Immigration Public Defender and activist, Margo Cowan, offered this consideration (please note that this is not verbatim but is as best as I can remember): consider what you would do if you happened across some human remains in the desert. How would you react? One thing that I do is I consider how I can help to identify this person and bring peace to a family that may be wondering where this person is. I also remember that this is not about me and my reaction. Something that sticks with me is that police officers in the Tohono O’odham nation carry sage and candles that they light while offering a prayer before they return to their police duties.
Look for new life.
The more I commit to investigating Prevention by Deterrence, the more I start to see patterns. I wonder, what patterns you see when you look at this (very short and not at all comprehensive) list of border policies:
Operation Greenback. Operation Safeguard. Operation Gatekeeper. Operation Blockade/ Operation Hold the Line. SB1070. Operation Streamline. Zero Tolerance – Executive Order 13841. The Real ID Act. The USA Patriot Act. The Secure Fence Act100 Mile Constitution Free Zone.
It can be hard to remember that there is new life springing. How do we look for it? How do we speak about it?
As a Tucson “transfer,” I can easily remember how easy it was in the East for the borderlands to be relegated to out of sight out of mind.
At a recent film screening of the documentary, Undeterred, the filmmakers talked about ways to mobilize persons throughout the country.
A staggering reality is this: 2/3rds of the United States falls into the 100-mile constitution free zone. The implications of this is huge.
***(Also, a quick side note: “Undeterred is a documentary about community resistance in the rural border town of Arivaca, Arizona. Since NAFTA, 9/11 and the Obama and Trump administrations border residents have been on the front-lines of the humanitarian crisis caused by increased border enforcement build up. Undeterred is an intimate and unique portrait of how residents in a small rural community, caught in the cross-hairs of global geo-political forces, have mobilized to demand our rights and to provide aid to injured, oft times dying people funneled across a wilderness desert.”)***
I resent the reality that too often ‘humanitarian mobilization’ (or social justice mobilization) requires centering individualism rather than humanitarianism. The idea that we need to market and glamorize basic human rights in order to make people care deeply enough to protest is not merely appalling but upholds and propagates supremacist ideals.
Look for new life. Even when it is hard, look anyways. Familiarize yourself with these policies and protest them. Interrupt the old ways.
Look, new life is springing.
Some organizations in Tucson ask volunteers to attend Operation Streamline hearings in order to bear witness and/or to document human rights abuses. While I am still learning about much of the scope of the borderlands, I am aggrieved and outraged by how Operation Streamline intentionally delivers convictions for persons without documentation in order to make deportations easier. No More Deaths has also provided numerous comprehensive reports of human rights abuses. These reports are available on their website, or click here for direct access.
Volunteers documenting abuses track specifics like: if the person is seeking asylum, if the person speaks English and the age of the person.
Other organizations work together to track human rights abuses committed by the Border Patrol. Others continue to lobby local and national political leaders. Others carry water. Others track deaths. Others provide emergency medical aid. Some do all of the above.
Look for new life.
I find new life when I look at this list:
Colibri Center for Human Rights. Tucson Samaritans. Borderlinks. No Más Muertes. Keep Tucson Together.Rapid Response Network. International Rescue Committee. Casa Alitas. Kino Border Initiative.Humane Borders. The Florence Project. Border Action Network. Tohono O’odham Nation.
I find new life when I remember that across time and history, there have always been those whom protest violence. There have always been those committed to humanitarianism. There have always been justice seekers.
I find new life when I pay attention to voices of those most deeply and intimately affected.
A story I learned recently which has stirred me deeply involves an Indigenous dance. In this dance, good and evil are battling. How is evil defeated? Evil is defeated by a cascade of flowers.
Look: new life is springing. Here in the desert. Here in this wild, gritty, expanse.
Come. Look for new life.