Thursday, March 29, 2012

El Otro Lado

By Jill Spitzmueller and Kelsi Addabbo
Guest Writers

Ricardo came to the United States with his parents when he was just 10 years old. Now at the age of 34, he is eating beans and tortillas in Nogales, Sonora, a border town in Mexico. He hadn’t been to his native country in 24 years and had no family to turn to or a place to call home. Back in California, Ricardo had an established carpentry business, a wife and two young children. One day, he was pulled over for a burnt-out tail light. The officer asked for his papers and when he failed to produce documentation, he found himself deported to Nogales.

During spring break, we heard many stories like Ricardo’s while on our SOUL trip to Tucson, Arizona. We took part in the San Miguel High School immersion program, El Otro Lado (The Other Side). Throughout the week, we not only saw what life was like on both sides of the border, but we were also challenged to consider many different perspectives on the issue of immigration. We invite you to be open to the many viewpoints we are going to share with you.

Day One: The Wall
Seeing the wall for the first time was shocking. The “wall” is more like a fence in that you can see through the posts to el otro lado. As we walked along the wall, we began to see how arbitrary it was. We walked past a border patrol agent sitting in his vehicle to deter people from jumping the wall.

We then went downtown to the border crossing station where a bus full of recently deported migrants was being unloaded. As we stood there, watching in disbelief, residents walked by as if nothing out of the ordinary was taking place. We were almost ashamed to be watching.

Day Two: The Government Perspective
We began our day with a visit to the Tucson Sector Border Patrol Station where we were given a tour and an informational presentation. The agent told us that the mission of Border Patrol is to prevent terrorism in the United States. Interestingly, they have caught a total of zero terrorists trying to enter from Mexico. We also learned that only 12-14% of migrants are carrying drugs into the United States. One agent shared that the most difficult part of his job is hearing the stories of the migrants, knowing that the current solution is not the best fix, but being unable to think of a better solution.

Later that afternoon, as we sat in a courtroom full of 70 shackled migrants, we watched them approach the bench in groups of five to seven to have their “trial.” Operation Streamline is a federal program used to process undocumented migrants caught in the United States. Again, we felt ashamed as we watched them being herded like cattle through the American Justice System. At a debriefing session with a federal defense attorney, we learned that most of the people involved in Operation Streamline have the same feelings toward it and are seeking a better, more dignified solution.

Day Three: The Environmental Perspective
In the morning, a cattle rancher who lives on the border invited us to his home to give his perspective on immigration. He shared some of the challenges he faces with migrants coming through his property, including cutting his barbed wire fences and leaving the water tanks open. Although he is sympathetic towards the migrants, he worries about his safety and the safety of his family. This concern came to light after a close friend and fellow rancher was killed by a migrant when he was trying to offer assistance to a distressed group of migrants.

Later we met with No More Deaths, a humanitarian group that works along the border. We hiked to a shrine built by migrants along a well-traveled migrant trial, leaving gallons of water along the way. It is impossible for migrants to carry the necessary amount of water with them as they cross through the desert, causing many of them to die of heat stroke.

Day Four: The Humanitarian Perspective
We spent the day with the Green Valley Samaritans who are a group of mostly retired people working to maintain the dignity of the migrants. We drove to a “nest” on the rancher’s property, a place where migrants rest and abandon their unnecessary belongings before making their next move. We proceeded to pick up backpacks, clothes, toothbrushes, food cans, and more personal items, checking for identification along the way.

Afterwards, we took part in a memorial walk in the desert to remember those who lost their lives on their journey. We visited three sites where human remains were found. Unable to be identified, their families have no closure and likely don’t know where their loved ones are.

Day Five: The Migrant Perspective
It was on this day, at the Kino Border Initiative, that we met people like Ricardo who shared their stories with us. Talking with the migrants, we learned that some of the them had been living in the United States for 20 or more years while others did not want to stay in the United States, but only wanted to work for a year or two to make enough money to support their families. Meeting the migrants themselves was a fitting end to our week.

You likely have your notions about immigration. You may have thought Ricardo was deserving of his deportation, or you may have thought it was wrong of the government to deport him. After hearing the many different sides of this issue, we hope you have realized that immigration is a complex issue and have reevaluated your own ideas. We also hope that you will take the time to look further into immigration to become better informed about this prevalent topic. For more information about our trip, visit our blog at

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