No More Deaths reveals humanitarian issues close to home

Illustration: Julie Peterson

This column was contributed by senior Lauren McCullough and sophomore Keiler Beers.

Americans and Whitman students have a long legacy of being interested in humanitarian crises outside the United States. Live Aid in the 1980s. Sudan. Haiti. Most recently, Whitman students and the broader American public are discussing the controversy around the recent viral video about Kony and conflict in Uganda. However, our recent experience volunteering on the U.S.-Mexico border with No More Deaths threw into light a strange paradox: Although Kony is currently widely discussed at Whitman and in the American media, there are few people aware of the human rights crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Immigration, while political in some ways, has humanitarian dimensions which, cloaked in political rhetoric and polemics, go unnoticed. When we only look to humanitarian issues beyond the United States, we remain both ignorant to the humanitarian crisis on the border and unable to take meaningful action. This lack of action extends well beyond the border itself, and limits our options in the fight for justice.

It’s not our own posturing which has us suggest that there is a humanitarian crisis on the border: It’s a widely held international view. People are dying in the borderlands every single day. There have been over 70 known deaths on the Arizona border alone since last October. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that there have been 5,607 migrant deaths from crossing in the last 15 years––but the actual death toll is likely much greater.

It’s hard to find bodies in an expansive, dangerous desert, and other estimates suggest that as many as 30,000 people have died. Last week, Amnesty International released a report which found that border policies result in a “pattern of human rights violations.” Most obviously, these human rights violations occur on the border and are caused by entities like Border Patrol. However, the humanitarian implications of borders extend far beyond the physical wall: Borders exist beyond borders, even here in Washington state.

Our focus on issues outside U.S. borders has an additional consequence: The way we think about fighting injustice is constrained. It becomes easy to believe that passive behaviors––donating for a cause, buying wristbands or holding a benefit––are not only ways to generate real social change, but perhaps the only way to do so. These are valuable actions in their own right, but they also mask the fact that there are other more meaningful and effective ways to address human rights issues.

We do not suggest that Whitties shouldn’t care about or be active in issues which occur outside the United States. In fact, many humanitarian issues are, in different ways, linked directly with policies and actions from the United States, and it’s important to recognize this. However, we must be attentive to the ways our focus is pulled to some issues at the cost of others. We also have to acknowledge that there is more we can do to address the humanitarian issues caused by immigration policy, and it can happen in our school.

Earlier this year, ASWC and the Board of Trustees passed a Statement on Undocumented Students. This is a perfect example of Whitties creating real change, no wristbands required. As such, we hope to see heightened awareness of, and more actions combating, the invisible and visible borders to human rights on campus.