Black leaders probe rights violations on border

TUCSON, Ariz. — A 14-member delegation of African Americans investigated human rights abuses of immigrants, Mexican Americans and indigenous communities on the U.S.-Mexican border, in an April 26-29 fact-finding tour here.

The “Braving Borders Building Bridges: A Journey for Human Rights” tour was sponsored by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration in partnership with Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and the National Network for Immigrant Rights.

The delegates, from six states and 10 cities, included ministers and representatives of faith-based organizations, labor leaders, academics, political leaders and community activists.

They met with people on both sides of the border, including migrants, human rights activists, members of faith communities, labor organizations, county officials and representatives of Native American nations.

At the federal court building in Tucson, delegation members observed trials of migrants charged with illegal entry into the U.S. They then heard reports from the Pima County Medical Examiners Office on increased migrant deaths during passage through the desert. The group then traveled to the border towns of Douglass, Ariz., and Agua Prieta and Altar in Sonora, Mexico, to hear testimonies of local people impacted by increased border crossings and militarization of the border. The tour ended with visits with leaders and activists of the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham Native American communities also affected by the border militarization.

“The increasing numbers of those who have died is a direct result of U.S. policy funneling migrants to cross through the desert,” said the Rev. Phillip Lawson, a delegation member who is interim pastor of Jones United Methodist Church in San Francisco.

Migrants typically crossed into the U.S. through urban areas till 1994 when the government adopted the “prevention through deterrence” policy, sealing off urban-area borders and forcing migrants to risk life by crossing through deserts and mountains.

“The image that does not leave my head is of 12 men in orange suits and women in pink, handcuffed and with shackles on their legs,” Lawson said. “Their only crime was risking their lives in search of a better life.”

The delegation heard firsthand accounts of racial profiling and abuses by border patrol agents, including harassment of Mexican Americans drivers, Mexican American homes broken into without warrants, physical abuse of migrants caught crossing in the desert and harassment of Native Americans traveling to and from religious ceremonies in Mexico.

“We came to investigate human rights abuses, and we found significant evidence that there are widespread violations caused by the U.S. militarization of the border and immigration control,” said Gerald Lenoir, coordinator of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “These policies are racist attacks on the most vulnerable members of society: immigrants of color.”

Isabel Garcia, co-chair of Tucson-based Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, concurred, saying, “The criminalization of Latinos and immigrants matches what has been done to African Americans historically. Already 60 percent of the people in federal prisons are Black and Latino.”

The Rev. Kelvin Sauls, a Bay Area United Methodist Church leader, said the delegation was struck by the devaluation of human life at the border, and the need for a new border policy. He called the Bush administration’s approach “a policy of economic exploitation and racial discrimination,” adding that the harsh burden borne by Native Americans was a particular revelation to the group.

The delegates committed themselves to help build a movement for an immigration policy that is both comprehensive and just.

pwwinaz @webtv.net