The following account of a 2010 visit to the border between Arizona and Mexico with a group from the Sisters of Loretto was sent to us by Martha Crawley.
Walking along a street in Tucson, I noticed a bumper sticker that read “I love my country, but we have to start seeing other people”.
Our Loretto group had returned that day from a visit to migrant camps just over the border. Some of us helped give out socks, band aids and warm clothing to people who had recently been deported. Others talked with people, bandaged wounded feet or helped serve a meal.
The group I was with also visited a center where three women work from a train-car size building. They take detailed information about the treatment the people received while in detention. Margaret, a retired public defender from Kentucky, compiles these testimonies and sends them to a variety of government offices including Arizona senators, representatives and the governor, Homeland Security officials and the Mexican consulate.
In both of these sites, only some yards across the Arizona-Mexican border, we saw maps with red dots that signify people who have died in the desert. There are hundreds of dots forming, in several locations, solid puddles of red ink. And, we saw the 20 foot fence/wall that goes as far into the desert as the eye can see. It is 675 miles long and is wrecking havoc on the desert environment, the wild life and the people.
Yes, we need to “start seeing other people”. And we need to start seeing ourselves and our country’s dark, selfish, paranoid way of seeking “security”.
The day before, on Friday afternoon, we spent several hours in a Federal Court room at a deportation hearing for more than 70 men and women. I was struck by the number of brown skinned people sitting in rows with ankle, wrist and waist shackles. I was sad that we had no opportunity to speak with them, to explain we were there to support them and to apologize for the mean and unreasonable ways of the “land of the free and brave”.
As each name was called by the judge—Antonio Rosales-Martinez, Enrique Marquez-Duarte, Gilberto Cardosa de Jesus—they stood and stated “Presente”. These were people who had broken a law, but they were so clearly not criminals. They were sentenced in groups of six or seven by a judge who had a kindness about him. The judge inquired about the health of two or three who appeared ill. He asked how each person wanted to plea. All said “culpable”— guilty of illegal entry. He also asked, repeatedly, if anyone had any questions. None of them did.
As I sat there overwhelmed by this expensive, absurd system of justice, I had so many questions: Who have we become? Why are we so afraid of anyone who is different than we are? Why can’t we realize that any security in our homeland stems from kindness and generosity, not a fear so great that it builds actual walls and fences?
On Sunday, after two days filled with court and border experiences, we went to Fort Huachuca. We stood quietly outside the gates to witness for peace, to protest the practice of torturous interrogation techniques used by our military. We were encircled by counter-protestors on loud motorcycles. We maintained a silent presence that seemed strong and undisturbed by the noisy affront.
We do need to “start seeing other people.” And, we must ask many questions. For me, the time with the Loretto group was as rich as any part of the journey. We can only be saved and see clearly with the help of each other.