Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

No More Deaths focuses on humanitarian crisis at border

Contributed By: Keiler Beers

Recently, immigration has been a highly contested political issue, but six Whitman students who spent one week on the U.S.-Mexico border reveal that immigration and border control is just as much a humanitarian issue as it is a political one.

Earlier in January, sophomore Keiler Beers began organizing a group of five students to take part in a spring break service trip volunteering with the organization No More Deaths. No More Deaths is a non-governmental organization based in Tucson, Arizona that provides direct humanitarian aid to immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Under the conviction that humanitarian aid is never a crime, volunteers provide food and water, and medical assistance if needed, along the trails frequented by immigrants crossing the border.

The group included senior Lauren McCullough and sophomores Sean McNulty, Maren Schiffer, Luke Rodriguez and Genevieve Jones.

No More Deaths attempts to raise awareness that immigration is a humanitarian crisis, not just a hot political issue. This stance on the issue first prompted Beers to organize a group of student volunteers.

“The politics of the issue is important, and something that needs to be addressed, but . . . it is a humanitarian crisis,” says Beers. “It’s not something people can take sides on other than the fact that no one should be dying in the desert, and I think that is something everyone should be able to come to a common ground.”

Contributed By: Keiler Beers

After a day of orientation with members of the organization, the group of students camped near the border town of Nogales. The group spent all day hiking along the heavily trafficked trails, leaving water bottles and food for migrants.

“There’s trash everywhere, like used water bottles, clothing, backpacks and a lot of other stuff you wouldn’t expect to see. You really got a sense of how many people were crossing by looking at the amount of trash,” said Rodriguez.

When two lost men wandered into their camp one morning, the group was faced head-on with the shocking reality that most migrants face. Rodriguez described the experience.

“They were really disoriented. Their group had been scattered by border patrol on Saturday night and it was Wednesday when they walked into our camp. They probably had been going in circles . . . they hadn’t had food since they’d been scattered. They had been drinking from cattle tanks, which is not good water at all, so one of them had bloody diarrhea.”

Jones was also deeply effected by this event.

“One of the men qualified for an emergency evacuation and it was extremely difficult to cope with the fact that we couldn’t just put him in the car and drive him to the hospital,” she said.

According to Jones, a medical evacuation in the desert would not only have been costly and legally complicated, it would also have ended in his deportation.

On their final day, the group witnessed ‘Operation Streamline,’ which is a court proceeding that happens every weekday and allows for quick and efficient mass deportation. Created in part to give jail time for crossing in the hopes of deterring immigration, detainees are given half an hour with an attorney on the morning of their trial. Almost every detainee is given a plea bargain, in which detainees are given between 15 and 188 days in prison as opposed to being charged as a felon, a crime that risks up to 20 years in prison.

All students reported that their views towards immigration policy have changed significantly. Policy changes in the last decade have extended border control’s jurisdiction past the border zone, which has increased border control’s presence and authority in Southern Arizona.

Credit: Nicholas Farrell

Because there are checkpoints along the roads extending from the border all the way to Tucson, migrants must hike an extra 70 miles north through mountain desert in order to get past the border zone. By constructing walls in places where it is easier to cross the desert, border control is effectively funneling the flow of migrants through an extremely harsh and mountainous desert terrain.

“What [border patrol] is essentially doing is trying to make the journey of crossing as difficult as possible,” said Rodriguez. “I expected misguided policy, not malicious policy.”

Beers agreed and expanded on the way legal policy takes precedent over the humanistic side of immigration.

“How the border patrol does what it does, and the disregard for human life that goes on down there suggests something larger than just a policy problem.”

“What changed for me was seeing the policies like lateral deportation, funneling, streamlining,” said Rodriguez. “I struggled with this because I believe in government and its hard for me to grasp that there were policies put in place by a branch of our government that I couldn’t see any reason for other than to increase suffering.”

For Schiffer, a crucial aspect of the problem is that immigrants that have successfully crossed can’t openly share their stories for fear of legal consequences; the result is widespread misconceptions about who exactly is crossing.

“While it’s completely true that cartels control vast areas of border territory, almost everyone actually crossing is just desperate to escape poverty or return to their families,” said Schiffer.

The group constructed an exhibit to display stories of immigrants, artifacts and photos in the Stevens Gallery. They also hosted a panel on the evening of Wednesday, April 4 with Professor Bobrow-Strain and Professor Apostolidis to bring to light and start a dialogue about the border crisis. By sharing powerful stories the group hopes to better inform the Whitman community of the humanitarian crisis that is happening in our own country. 

“It’s about raising awareness. What I’ve focused on is understanding the situation because I think that with understanding comes conscious decision making and conscious activism about the issue,” says Rodriguez.

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