Not So Much An Independence Day for the Border Folks

By on July 4, 2013

Dashed Hopes

by Peg Bowden

•July 1, 2013 • 12 Comments

I live in the borderlands or Arizona and Mexico, a wonderful amalgamation of cultures, ideas, and languages. I love it here—even the 100+ degree temperatures these past days. My neighbors and I contemplate when the monsoon rains will come, giving us green grasses, summer flowers and a blessed coolness to our afternoons after a fierce storm. We look to the skies for cumulus clouds in the south, and scan the weather reports for the dewpoint and humidity. People around here are obsessed with the weather these hot late spring days.


monsoon clouds in the desert

monsoon clouds in the desert

We call the borderlands the third nation: there is the United States, Mexico, and us—the people of the border, the in-between folks. I confess that I’ve had my hopes up these past weeks about comprehensive immigration reform. My dreams were of immigrant workers with guest worker visas passing back and forth from Mexico into the U.S.  I had fantasies of fewer Border Patrol agents, because if temporary guest workers could enter the U.S. legally, who needs the military at the border? I thought about families reunited both in Mexico and the U.S.  I dreamed of walking into Mexico without seeing armed guards milling about, weaponry slung over their shoulders, furtively talking into their Smartphones. Shoppers from Tucson and Phoenix would return to the twin Nogales cities and enjoy a day in a country that is truly different than their own suburbs and shopping malls.

Virgen de Guadalupe keeps watch on the wall

Virgen de Guadalupe keeps watch on the wall  (photo:  Marty Ethington, SCCF intern)

The wall that separates this country from Mexico is an abomination—a shameful symbol of national superiority and exclusivity. It says we’re better than you, stay out, you are not welcome here. I pass by the wall several times per week and often see Mexican children peering through the slats of steel. I want to take their hand and walk them through the militarized barriers. We will have an ice cream cone together. We will wave at the U.S. Marshals and ICE agents.

I am a dreamer.

Peg at immigration rally, flanked by Fr. Sean Carroll, Director of el comedor

Peg at immigration rally, flanked by Fr. Sean Carroll, Executive Director of Kino Border Initiative                       (photo:  Marty Ethington, SCCF intern)

The so-called immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate a few days ago, and now before the House of Representatives, creates a bigger mess than the one we have. It will fill the coffers of Halliburton and Boeing with huge government contracts. Since we’re pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq, we must keep our military-industrial efforts juiced up with a new war—the war on our neighbors to the south.


Singing for immigration reform

Singing for compassionate  immigration reform    (photo:  Marty Ethington, SCCF intern)

Last April a group of Congressional Senators, four members of the “Gang of 8″, visited the U.S./Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona.  Unfortunately they did not cross the border. They did not step into Mexico and observe the effects of the border wall on the people across the line. Visiting the Border Patrol and ICE offices in Nogales, Arizona, the Gang of 8 gathered their information and took their notes.

It is akin to learning about your own town or neighborhood by only reading the police reports. Impressions and information are skewed. They got a very narrow slice of the pie. I’m sorry they didn’t take a stroll into Nogales, Mexico, and enjoy a special margarita and gourmet meal at La Roca, one of several classy restaurants on the other side of the wall. A trip to the comedor and some time to look into the faces of the hard-working immigrants might have softened a few hearts.  Instead they surveyed the wall and barbed wire fences, getting their information from officials of Homeland Security.

family unity

Immigration should be based on family unity

Somewhere the immigration reform movement took a wrong turn. Here’s what we have:  the Senate has passed an 844 page bill with 350+ pages of amendments tacked on.  Both Democrat and Republican politicos are full of praise for this bi-partisan effort.

I shake my head in disbelief.


The hallmark elements of the immigration bill are these:

More military personnel on the border. 

The number of military agents will be doubled from 21,000 to almost 40,000. The length of the wall will also be doubled, with 700 miles of new fence. There will be more drones, more high tech surveillance, and more deaths in the desert. Seven bodies were found in the Sonoran desert yesterday. With more militarization along the border, desperate migrants will attempt to cross deeper into the remote parts of southern Arizona. Trust me on this.


A path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

The path is long and circuitous, will take approximately 13 years, and has enough blocks and security checks to stymie all but the most tenacious. And it won’t start until the military build-up is completed.


Operation Streamline proceedings will triple.

Instead of processing 70 migrants each day through the Federal court system, the bill will increase the numbers to 121 undocumented migrants.


  • Samaritans leave water in the desertSamaritans leave water in the desert   (photo: Marty Ethington, SCCF intern)The winners in this “reform” are the huge military contracts tasked with increasing the length of the wall, expanding the numbers of Homeland Security personnel, and developing highly sophisticated surveillance technology to track down and capture the migrants. The court system, detention centers, judges, and attorneys also stand to benefit. It is like an horrific video game come to life. The migrants are hunted down like animals and tossed into the behemoth of our broken immigration system.

    And let’s not forget that the GOP will win some points in wooing the Latino vote in the coming elections.

  • An unsolved death of a teen at the border wallAn unsolved death of a teen at the border wallI remember a fairy tale from my childhood, a story by Hans Christian Anderson, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It tells of a vain emperor and his conniving tailor who fashioned a new outfit that was invisible, and in fact didn’t exist. The tailor told the emperor that only those that were competent and worthy could see his new clothes. To everyone else who was unfit and unworthy, the new clothes were invisible. So the people of the kingdom rhapsodized about the beauty of the emperor’s new clothes. They didn’t want to appear incompetent or disloyal, and so praised the new fashion on their naked emperor. Only a small child cried out that the emperor was not wearing anything at all. The child spoke the truth, seeing through the pretense and delusions.

    And here is my truth. The comprehensive immigration reform bill is not true reform at all. Congress is parading naked before us telling us that this is a step forward.

    Socks hanging on a tree, No More Deaths camp, Sonoran desert

    Socks hanging on a tree, No More Deaths medical camp, Sonoran desert  (photo:  Marty Ethington, intern)

    It is a step backward. Things will be worse for the migrant population.  And things will be worse for the people living on the border.  The borderlands will feel like the DMZ of North and South Korea. In point of fact, there are 40,000 troops stationed along the DMZ, the same number that the immigration reform bill plans to place on the U.S./Mexico border. The struggling economy of both Nogaleses will continue to hang on and put on a happy face in spite of the wall and the beefed up militarization.

    The naked emperor of the Hans Christian Anderson tale would feel right at home in our present Congress, where power rests in the hands of politicians and lobbyists who refuse to look at the truth. Especially if there is money to be made.

    A view of Nogales

    A view of Nogales   (photo:  Marty Ethington, SCCF intern)

    Immigrants are human beings affected by a law that is so huge and complex, the legislators themselves don’t understand it. We are playing with real people’s lives. They are being knocked around like ping-pong balls. They have goals, families, employers and communities that depend on them.

    Never forget that America is a nation of immigrants. The present immigration reform before Congress is based on the politics of fear. Border communities will be doomed to living in a virtual war zone. It is an assault on the civil liberties and human rights of the border residents. The compromises in the present bill do not represent the people who live on the border. We owe it to the residents of the borderlands and our Latino neighbors to fight for the best immigration legislation possible.

    Morning at el comedor

    Morning at el comedor    (photo:  John Toso)

    I cannot support the present immigration reform bill. It is not worthy of the American promise and the American dream. I will continue to work toward a common sense pathway to citizenship for the millions that are already here, and a demilitarization of the borderlands community. Most importantly, the Samaritans will continue to prevent deaths in the desert.

    I support several border organizations that may not agree with my politics. As we approach July 4, I am grateful to live in a place where I can express my views and will continue to try and change immigration policies that truly serve the interests of the people on the border.

  • The Green Valley Samaritans are a group of activists who volunteer their services in both Mexico and the United States striving to create a more humane immigration policy. Their website is: www.gvsamaritans.orgThe Kino Border Initiative directs the activities of thecomedor in Nogales, Mexico. The vision is to help make a humane, just system of migration a reality between the United States and Mexico. Their website is:www.kinoborderinitiative.orgThe Santa Cruz Community Foundation is a non-profit organization focusing on the economic, cultural and philanthropic needs of southern Arizona. Bob Phillips, director of SCCF, can be reached at Phone is: 520-761-4531

    I endorse and am proud of the accomplishments of all of these organizations.

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