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Delegation Finds Militarization Causes Suffering, Family Separation and Death at the Border

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.Maria. and .Tanya. (not real names) from women's shelter in Nogales, MX run by Kino Border Initiative. Photo credit: Lisa Sullivan - See more at: cipamericas.org/archives/9669#sthash.k7Qkgfcx.dpuf by Lisa Sullivan

U.S. militarization of  the Mexico border has claimed 5,000 lives since the late 1990s. The U.S. government spent more than $18 billion last year on predator drones, bombardier aircraft, black hawk helicopters, sophisticated surveillance systems,  22,000 armed border guards  and 651 miles of steel wall at the border. This has pushed migrants -- often fleeing the dire consequences of US economic policy -- to take the only remaining passage north: the deadly Sonora desert.

-The desert has claimed most of the  5,000 migrants killed entering the United States. Dehydration, dysentery, heatstroke, hypothermia, and sheer exhaustion are often lethal.

-The Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that the Senate will debate this week only exacerbates this deadly situation, mandating billions of dollars to exponentially increase border militarization before putting anyone on the path to citizenship.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that the Senate will debate this week only exacerbates this deadly situation, mandating billions of dollars to exponentially increase border militarization before putting anyone on the path to citizenship.

I read the statistics before joining  16 School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) activists on our first trip to the U.S.-Mexico border--before I followed Steve into the Sonora desert to drop off water jugs on migrant trails, before I watched Olga call her   coyote  to make sure he'd delivered her son safely, before I conversed with Pedro and tried not to stare at his missing leg -- severed by  The Beast , the deadly train that migrants hop to travel through Mexico. Before I stood at the wall with Jose Antonio's mother and wondered why the Border Patrol pumped so many bullets into his young body as he walked along a street in his own city, on the Mexican side.

After this experience, I came to see the urgency of engaging the SOA Watch movement to resist the militarization of our border and its deadly consequences. The story of Maria and Jose and others presented below are a compelling call to action.  There are many things we can do to make a difference--whether it's taking one minute to email your senator to say no to more border militarization, or reaching out to immigrants in your own community, or joining us at the Stewart Immigration Detention Center during the SOAW vigil weekend in November.

What we cannot do, is to allow this to continue.

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Maria's Story

Maria's roommates from the shelter in Nogales, Mexico, carried her gently into the room where members of our SOAW Border delegation had gathered to talk to some of the migrants recently deported to Mexico. After five days traversing Arizona's Sonora desert, her frail and swollen legs had given out, and she was unable to walk. Next to her sat Sofia, able to walk -barely -but with large black and purple bruises on her arms from six days of IV fluids. She was flown out of the desert by a rescue helicopter, unconscious.

Both women smiled shyly, in seeming contrast to their battered bodies and they horrors they had just lived through. Or maybe not.--maybe their smiles revealed an awareness of the sheer miracle of still being alive.

The desert had taken the power out of Maria's legs, but it did not claim her spirit. Maria told us that once the swelling goes down and her knees are able to again carry her 100-lb body, she'll head out  to try to cross the desert once more.

I was astonished, having just walked a small piece of that same desert two days earlier. We had gone to do a water drop on a migrant trail with the expert guidance of No More Death's volunteer, Steve.  This group, along with the Samaritans, makes daily treks into the desert to leave water for migrants. The fact that we picked up more empty jars than we left was testimony that it was fulfilling its purpose: saving lives.

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Although I drank water like a camel and knew that an air conditioned van was awaiting me,   I was  utterly depleted after only after three hours in the desert, one of the most brutal in the world.  The desert is scattered with small shrines that mark where dead bodies have been retrieved: 5,000 of them in the past 15 years, plus an untold nuimber more whose named and remains the desert will never reveal. Still reeling from my own mini journey, I asked Maria why take this risk  again? Her answer was one I immediately understood: her children were on the other side.

State-of-the-art military technology doesn't stop  moms like Maria, even as the industrial military complex falls over itself to gain bids for the extra $6.8 billion dollars the Senate wants to spend for more border militarization. They are willing to risk everything to be united with their children, to put food on their tables. What this militarization does is to push migrants to the deadliest route. Even as overall immigration is waning in recent years, border deaths remain constant.

A hundred years ago, if Maria's name were Laura Ingalls, her story of braving treacherous lands to forge a new life or reunite with family would have been part of the mythical fabric of our nation. Children in elementary schools would be required to read her tale. One  difference: Laura was stepping into lands never owned by her ancestors , while Maria was heading to land that had long been part of her native Mexico.

But instead of being a heroine,  Maria is a criminal. Today, while Washington debates the decriminalization of some immigrants (after all, our society would fall apart without immigrant workers), quietly, our tax dollars are going to criminalize and  imprison tens of thousands of immigrants in our own communities.

Tax Dollars to Streamline Injustice

We witnessed this public policy schizophrenia in the Federal courthouse in Tucson where 60 immigrants -- shackled with chains on their hands and feet, looking exhausted after days in the desert -- were paraded in groups of five before a judge, and sentenced to an average of four month in jail. Their crime was entry without inspection.  The whole process, called Operation Streamline, took only two hours and cost tax payers a million dollars. And that price tag is just for one session in one courthouse on one day. The same thing happens in six border city courthouses each week day. And the new Senate bill hopes to triple that.

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Lisa Sullivan has lived in Latin America since 1977. She worked for 21 years as a Maryknoll lay missioner in Venezuela and Bolivia, raising her three children in the barrios of Barquisimeto, Venezuela. She is the founder of the grassroots leadership group, Centro de Formación Rutilio Grande.

Lisa is currently the coordinador for Partnership America Latina (PAL). This initiative of SOAW seeks to connect North and South partners in the movement to close the School of the Americas and promote peace in the Americas. Lisa has helped to organize numerous SOAW delegations to meet with leaders in Latin America, leading to announcements of withdrawal from SOA of five countries.
She is also a contributing author to http://www.cipamericas.org.

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Delegation Finds Militarization Causes Suffering, Family Separation and Death at the Border