At the border, hearing presents alternative view

TUCSON, Ariz. — In a campaign to counter anti-immigrant Republican congressional hearings, the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, with the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and sister organizations across the country, kicked off the first of several national hearings on border and immigration issues here Aug. 18.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) presided over the hearing, which was titled “Communities on the Line: The Impacts of Militarization and Impunity.” The hearing “commission” included Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias, AFL-CIO Field Representative Don Slaiman, Tucson High School student leader Liz Hernandez and others.

In his opening remarks Grijalva called immigration “a defining issue.” He said he had attended some of the Republican hearings and called them “divisive” and “a political road show.” He was at this hearing so he could convey other voices to Washington, he said.

Testimony included heart-wrenching accounts from relatives of immigrants who died while attempting to cross the desert and others who detailed abuse by border patrol and other authorities.

Unite Here Local 631 organizer Evangelina Guzman described the mistreatment and denial of rights suffered by immigrant workers. Salvador Reza of the Macehalli Work Center in Phoenix described the center’s work and his hope that the recent agreement between the AFL-CIO and day labor organizers will result in mass organizing of immigrant day laborers.

Phoenix civil rights attorney Daniel Ortega denounced the Arizona Legislature’s 49 anti-immigrant proposals this year. He assailed Proposition 200, passed by voters in 2004 and now being implemented. This law, he pointed out, is really a poll tax and an attack on all voters. Prop. 200 requires submission of proof of citizenship when registering to vote. It has already resulted in rejection of nearly half of all new voter registrations.

From the Tohono O’odham nation, Mike Wilson cited the hundreds of immigrant deaths occurring on his reservation now that walls and toughened enforcement has shifted immigration to the western desert, which the border patrol had considered a natural barrier. He asked why the Tohono nation was never consulted on border policy, which has had such dire consequences for the reservation.

Speakers from the Sky Island Alliance and Defenders of Wildlife warned of the environmental impact, including endangered animal migration, from the proposed 300 miles of border fence and 400 miles of vehicle barriers. They cited the Bush administration’s waiver of all environmental requirements to go forward with construction.

Also testifying were representatives of the Sierra Club, the Roofers’ Union, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Alianza Braceroproa, South Asian Network, Oakland’s Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and others.

The hearing was one of a series of community hearings and other actions in Arizona, California, Washington State, Michigan, Florida and New York in coordination with the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

They are part of the Liberty and Justice Campaign for All launched by the Rights Working Group, an alliance of immigrant rights, civil liberties, civil rights, human rights and community organizations working to restore and protect civil liberties.

The convening organizations will issue a report with the testimony and recommendations collected at the hearing.