The Problem Isn’t Just the Wall, It’s the Military Approach to the Border
By: Eva Lewis, People Helping People in the Border Zone, Arivaca, AZ
eople are dying in the desert. In 2016 alone, the remains of at least 144 migrants and refugees were recovered from southern Arizona. Since the year 2000, the number of human remains of migrants and refugees recovered from the southwest desert supersedes 6,000. And those are just the remains that have been found. The desert is vast and the bodies of many people, who trek through remote areas to enter the country, litter the countryside known only to the elements and the animals that scavenge this rugged terrain.
Beginning in the 1990s, a series of border walls were built that still stand today. They seal off the urban ports of entry, the traditional points of crossing, where no risk to life or limb was necessary to enter the country. Since that time, people attempting to enter without papers have been forced to circumvent the walls, risking their lives in the remote wilderness for days and weeks at a time. This was part of an intentional strategy laid out by the US Border Patrol to use the increased risk of death as a deterrent to migration.
I live in the small rural community of Arivaca, AZ, in the heart of one of the deadly migration corridors created by this intentional funnel effect. The town is 11 miles north of the border as the crow flies, but everything south of here is rugged mountainous Sonoran Desert. The ports of entry, in Nogales to the southwest of town, and in Sasabe to the southeast, have both been sealed off by giant walls. Every single day migrants and refugees attempt to cross through the mountains between the walls, often ending up stranded without food, water or rescue. Border Patrol uses deadly tactics when attempting to apprehend these people. Chasing people in the desert, tackling and assaulting them and scattering groups with helicopters, causing people to get separated and lost in the desert. These practices, combined with the funnel effect created by the border walls, have led to the current crisis of death and disappearance, the scale of which is neither recognized or even fully known.
Meanwhile, our community is under Border Patrol occupation. Heavily armed Border Patrol agents, motion-detecting sensors, surveillance towers, helicopters, drones, and checkpoints have become permanent fixtures throughout small border towns like ours. I can’t drive two miles from my home without passing at least a dozen border patrol cars, can’t go to the grocery store without answering to an armed federal agent at the checkpoint. Just yesterday I was stopped, questioned and followed by Border Patrol agents for the suspicious activity of pulling to the side of the road. This high level of constant policing and surveillance has led to the loss of many of our constitutional rights. All of us who live here experience harassment and abuse, often on a daily basis. As a white woman, my experiences of harassment at the hands of the Border Patrol aren’t nearly as bad as those of my neighbors of color, who are subject to rampant racial profiling and increased rates of abuse. The surveillance of the community has led to decreased tourism and property values, causing economic deterioration, and worse beyond measure, we live among an ever-growing human tragedy. The idea of more so-called border security funding terrifies me. It can and will only make these conditions worse.
Now more than ever, border communities like ours need to speak out and say that Border Security does NOT secure the border. Walls and militarism endanger those crossing the border and also our communities. The racist rhetoric of the Trump Administration promotes hatred and fear, undermining the respect for human life. In Arivaca, we are continuing our work to provide crisis-response in the borderlands to the migrants and refugees being forced to risk their lives through the area. We stand firm in the knowledge that humanitarian aid is NEVER a crime. We continue to work in coalition with other rural border communities to resist the militarization of our communities. Together we will oppose any attempts to expand the walls or further build the military apparatus on the border.
There was never a need for walls in the first place and there is certainly no need for more. What is needed, what we demand, is the immediate demilitarization of the southern border and immigration policies that protect the lives of all people.