Between 2004 and 2007, CPT's Borderlands project periodically partnered with local groups along the US/Mexico border in order to reduce the number of migrant deaths in the border region, advocate for just and comprehensive US immigration reform, and call for compassionate treatment of the immigrant "stranger." Since the US Government began a policy of border militarization as the answer to immigration flows, over 3,500 men, women and children have died in the borderlands attempting to find work, reunite with family, and pursue the “American Dream...."
During July 2007 a four-person team enacted a Borderlands Witness Drive, from Tucson, AZ, to Brownsville, TX, and then to Washington DC, in an effort to:
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“when a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do (the stranger) wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love (the stranger) as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
CPT's Borderlands project is suspended while we work toward sufficient staffing needed to continue.
Every summer in southern Arizona, 200-350 migrants lose their lives as they attempt to cross the Arizona/Sonora border region. Many thousands of men, women, and children have lost their lives attempting to cross the US/Mexico border.
In 2004, No More Deaths invited CPT to place a team near Douglas, Arizona to lead one of several No More Deaths desert emergency assistance camps and to establish contacts with area activists, churches, Border Patrol, ranchers and vigilante groups.
Douglas, AZ, has a long history of vigilante violence, and has been the home of many vigilante groups including Arizona Guard, Ranch Rescue, American Border Patrol, and the Minutemen Project. Some of these groups have been investigated and found guilty of civil rights violations when acting violently towards people of Hispanic/Indigenous origin.
Douglas residents refer to the area as "a militarized zone" where constitutional rights may not apply to residents. While most Border Patrol agents act professionally, residents have reported instances of Border Patrol agents marching people down the road at gunpoint. Statements by Border Patrol and US Attorney officials threatening prosecution for any assistance to migrants has created a climate of fear and corruption which causes people to fear lodging complaints. In addition, vigilante groups lease land adjoining the border west of Douglas and have beaten migrants and held people at gunpoint.
CPT worked to demonstrate that is it never illegal to provide medical assistance and give food and water to those who are hungry and thirsty, regardless of nationality or legal status.
In addition to monitoring the activities of the US Border Patrol and vigilante groups, CPT explored the the role of private contractors along the border including Wackenhut's role in the transportation of processed undocumented migrants back to Mexico.
The Sonora Borderland is one ecological region, now divided by an arbitrary
line in the desert. It is united by geography and climate, and a human culture
adapted to the climate; it is divided by an international boundary 160 years
old, which is today experienced most dramatically as an economic fault line,
and a militarized "Iron Curtain" US border policy that maintains that
Migration and Hospitality
The human culture of the desert is characterized by traditions of migration and hospitality. With the historical unity of the region and migration patterns, families typically live on both sides of today's border. Up until two decades ago, crossing was easy and frequent for both US and Mexican Sonorans. In the desert, hospitality for the traveler is a matter of life or death and therefore, a moral obligation. The pilgrim who is out of water is only hours from dying.
The huge inequality of job/earning opportunities on the two sides of the border results in tremendous pressure for labor to come north. This is in addition to traditional seasonal labor migration patterns, and to the normal migration patterns of the Sonoran borderland region. Recent US economic policies that are based on maintaining a pool of cheap labor in Mexico do so by blocking these traditional migration patterns. Current US border policy shows a stark contrast between the application of "free-market" principles to goods and investment but not to labor. The US is "lowering the barriers" for money and goods to cross while "sealing the border" to people.
The US border has been dramatically militarized, and all of the most convenient crossing points are now closed and guarded. Fences, sensors, cameras and a ten-fold Border Patrol troop increase have effectively sealed the border near major border towns, leaving only the open desert, where hundreds of thousands make the several-day trek each year to cross from Mexico to the US. In 2006, over two hundred people died in Arizona making the journey -- that number has increased year after year, in spite of the best efforts of a number of migrant advocacy groups (and the claim of the Border Patrol that they are working for the safety of the migrants). There are no provisions for seeking legal entrance into the United States for the majority of Mexicans. Only those with access to significant financial resources or professional skills are given the right to work and live in the US. After making this undocumented journey there is currently no way for a migrant to make their presence legal after entering the US.
U.S. statutes penalize "furthering the illegal entry or presence" of migrants. Persons suspected of doing so can have their vehicle seized or house confiscated. Penalties may involve years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. The Samaritans, part of the NO MORE DEATHS coalition, explain: "We never further the entry of anyone, they are already here. Giving water, food, or medical assistance is a humanitarian obligation. Transport from open desert to a safe place for recovery is the only responsible thing to do." Churches have been traditionally recognized as a place of sanctuary for the oppressed and marginalized. For this reason, it is important to locate migrant centers, and churches that can provide sanctuary for undocumented migrants in the United States, both along the border and in the interior.
We come together as communities of faith and people of conscience to express our indignation and sadness over the continued death of hundreds of migrants attempting to cross the US - Mexico border each year. We believe that such death and suffering diminish us all.
We share a faith and a moral imperative that transcends borders, celebrates the contributions immigrant peoples bring, and compels us to build relationships that are grounded in justice and love. As religious leaders from numerous and diverse faith traditions, we set forth the following principles by which immigration policy is to be comprehensively reformed. We believe that using these principles – listed from the most imminent threat to life to the deepest systemic policy problems - will significantly reduce, if not eliminate, deaths in the desert borderlands.
Since 1998 more than 2000 migrants - men, women, and children - have lost their lives in the deserts of the US-Mexico borderlands trying to make their way into the United States. These tragic and unnecessary deaths must stop. The border blockade strategy has militarized the US-Mexico border, which drives migrants into remote desert regions yet has failed to stem the flow of immigrants into the United States. Further, the fragile desert environment has sustained severe damage as a result of migrants moving through remote desert regions and responding enforcement patrols. Indeed, a militarized border control strategy has never in United States history successfully stemmed the flow of immigrants. We recognize the right of a nation to control its borders, but enforcement measures must be applied proportionately, humanely, and with a conscious effort to protect the people and the land.
Workers and their families currently living in the US must have access to a program of legalization that offers equity-building paths to permanent residency and eventual citizenship for workers and their families. Legalizing the undocumented workforce helps stabilize that workforce as well as their families. A stable workforce strengthens the country.
Migrants enter the United States either to find work or to reunite with family members, yet the arduous and lengthy process forces families to make potentially deadly choices. Families must be allowed to legally and timely re-unify as well as to immigrate together as a unit.
International workers' rights must be recognized and honored in ways that protect: the basic right to organize and collectively bargain, individual workers’ religious freedoms, job portability, easy and safe travel between the US and homelands, achievable and verifiable paths to residency, and a basic human right of mobility.
Experiences of Mexico and countries further south demonstrate that current trade and aid strategies that are based on greed and lack of basic respect deeply and negatively impact workers, their families, and the environments in migrants' homelands. This is forcing a quest-for-survival based migration of unparalleled proportions. International agreements must be negotiated in ways that build mutual and just relationships. Such agreements must be designed to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations' abilities to meet their needs. New strategies must include incentives for the public and private sectors to invest in economic and environmental repair and sustainable development in the sending communities