Fighting for Migrant Justice in the Desert
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
"Arizona resembles the Deep South of the pre-civil rights era,"
attorney Isabel Garcia asserts. "Here, Mexicanos can not get fair
"I'm not just talking about immigrants," she adds. "I'm talking about
Mexicanos, regardless of their legal status." The climate, she notes,
which fosters vigilantism, is continually stoked by politicians and
media types that seek to blame all of society's ills upon hard-working
Garcia, Pima County's Legal Defender, speaks with a passion that
conjures up a bygone era, yet she insists that in Arizona, there is no
bygone era. It is not uncommon for Mexicans to be shot and killed here
by U.S. agents and not be held accountable. She brings up the case of
Border Patrol agent, Nicholas Corbett who shot Francisco Ramirez at
close range on Jan. 12, 2007 – purportedly for threatening the agent
with a rock. Today Corbett walks free. Two juries could not agree to
convict. And there are countless more cases, she notes, though
truthfully, this form of "frontier justice" has always been true for
the entire U.S./Mexico border region.
Garcia recently invited me to witness firsthand "Operation
Streamline." What I witnessed bore no similarity to anything that can
be remotely called a judicial proceeding. It was more "show trials" in
which 70 migrants were paraded before a judge and in less than one
hour, virtually all were found guilty (3 cases were dismissed) of
illegally entering the country. They were actually also charged with
felonies, but were dismissed to ensure conviction of the lesser
charge. In years past, taxpayer money was not wasted in such
proceedings – proceedings that resemble a 21st century version of
Every day, out of 1,000 migrants apprehended by immigration agents –
70 are randomly selected and processed like cattle through the federal
court system. The objective is to criminalize these migrants and to
have them spend time in the private Correction Corporation of America
(CCA), thereby serving as a disincentive for other would-be migrants.
The eventual goal is to eliminate the policy of "voluntary departure."
It's a sweet deal for the CCA, which receives $11 million per month.
It's actually a for-profit scam because it is a process that does
nothing to address the actual problems associated with Mexico/U.S.
The sham trials are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In the past
few years, Arizona voters have passed several draconian propositions
that primarily restrict the human and due process rights of migrants,
particularly students. It's a dehumanizing climate. But even these
efforts pale in comparison with the human toll.
Since the mid-1990s, Derechos Humanos – a human rights organization
(co-founded by Garcia) that monitors human rights abuses – has tallied
more than 5,000 deaths along the U.S./Mexico border attributable to
death from exhaustion, dehydration or drowning. The deaths were
preventable as the various militarized border operations and walls
have been designed by immigration authorities with the intent of
funneling migrants into the inhospitable Arizona desert.
Some are hoping that with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano heading the
Department of Homeland Security, things should be better along the
border. Nationally, Napolitano has cultivated an image of moderation,
yet, Garcia notes that such image is pure public relations. During her
tenure, Napolitano did not veto the 2006 draconian "employers
sanctions law" and was quick to call the National Guard to the border.
Yet, Napolitano's departure may indeed see things turn for the worse
because the state will now be firmly in control of the Republican
party – a party that in Arizona is synonymous with anti-immigration –
a party that also completely embraces the media antics of Maricopa
County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The sheriff – who has resorted to
high-profile, racial profiling (anti-immigrant measures aimed at the
Mexican-Latino community) recently tried to get Garcia fired for an
incident involving a piñata resembling the sheriff. Rather than
getting fired, Garcia recently received the Cultural Freedom Award,
along with $150,000 – given to her by the Lannan Foundation.
For those who understand immigration to be an economic and human
rights issue, a humane solution may be forthcoming from Obama's Labor
Department, slated to be headed by California Congresswoman Hilda
Solis. It is not a guarantee, but it should be a radical departure
from the current administration's sham policies.
Perhaps justice may indeed be coming to the desert.
Epilogue: Several days after President Barack Obama was inaugurated, I
returned to the courtroom… and expectedly, nothing has changed. The
sham or show trials continue.
Rodriguez can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com
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