The Tucson Writer's Guild invited me to make a presentation on my No More Deaths book in May. Covid-19 made that impossible, but we rescheduled for September on Zoom. That was easy. Here is what I said:
TUCSON WRITERS’ GUILD:
Tucson, May 18, 2020/September 20, 2020
My book, NO MORE DEATHS tells you part of a tragic story that has been unfolding in Southern Arizona for the past twenty years. People from south of the United States who found their daily lives to be untenable, decided to do what similar people around the world have done—move from the land and family and community they know—to a distant land where they hope to find new homes and great prosperity. This dream has been promised to them by the words of Emma Lazarus on the American Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free...”
While I have been writing this book, I’ve taken a more serious look at my own history with Mexico and Tucson. My father came to Arizona from Ohio looking for gold in the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott in the 1920s. My mother’s family however, had moved from South Texas to Mexico in the 1880s where my great-grandfather worked on the railroad from Mexico City to Ojinaga, Texas, and my great-grandmother ran boarding houses along the route. In addition to children they already had, my grandmother bore five more children while they were there—or rather, she went across the border and bore them in Eagle Rock, Texas, to be sure they were US citizens. When Pancho Villa began marauding northern Mexico and the southwestern US, the family with several grown children moved back into the United States—into Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. One aunt stayed in Mexico and moved to Chihuahua City. Over the years, my mother and I stayed in touch with her as well as the other aunts and uncles. Many people in the family spoke Spanish and when I was growing up my home contained a variety of Mexican artifacts. My husband’s family came from Virginia and Texas; his father moved west when he was 16 and he worked on the railroad that connected Tucson with Nogales. Most of my immediate family has stayed in Southern Arizona.
I’ve lived in Tucson three different times: first, during the 2nd world war when my father went overseas and we moved in with my aunt and uncle on Fresno St., by St. Mary’s Hospital. While I was growing up and we moved back to Phoenix, we frequently visited the family in Tucson. My aunt and uncle owned Elliott Electronics on Fourth Ave (where the Coop is now located). The next stint was when I attended the UofA with my husband in the early 50’s and worked in my Uncle Hap’s store. Those of you who are older will remember that Hughes Aircraft moved into Tucson about that time. I recall two things about that—for one, Hughes wouldn’t hire my mother who was an excellent typist and secretary because she was 40 years old. The other thing I remember is counting out 3 or 400 resistors for Hughes from a lot of 1000. The next week they’d order that many more. My 18 year-old-self thought that was pretty ridiculous. The most recent time I’ve lived in Tucson is from 2007 to 2013. My husband, Gene, and I moved to Tucson to become more involved in the humanitarian activity across southern Arizona.
Why I wrote the book:
Those of you who lived in Southern Arizona in the 80’s will remember the Sanctuary Movement and trial. On behalf of the defendants (including the Rev. John Fife), my husband, Gene, became president of the Arizona Sanctuary Defense Fund (ASDF). The board raised $1.2 million dollars for the defense of 11 Sanctuary workers. Eight people were found guilty of various immigration-related charges, including the Rev. John Fife, but none went to jail.
In 2003, Gene started coming to Tucson from our home in Phoenix and worked with the group that was trying to address the humanitarian crisis here on the border. He was part of the group that founded Tucson Samaritans and No More Deaths.
In January 2007, after Gene retired for the second time, we moved to Tucson to be closer to the action. He’d been driving to Tucson once a week for more than 3 years to participate in No More Deaths meetings and take water into the desert. We moved into a home on the west side in the Tucson Mountain foothills.
It wasn’t long before I realized the importance of the work going on here. I knew that some 23 books had been written about the Sanctuary Movement, and I decided to be one of those who wrote about No More Deaths. So, I sat at my computer every day and wrote about what was happening. I used No More Deaths meeting minutes, press releases, policy statements, volunteer stories, data, and much more to piece together a coherent story. The goal was to inform people in our country of the tragedy of human deaths occurring here and of the desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Organizing Principle—Civil Initiative
By Jim Corbett, Quaker
During Sanctuary, A local Quaker rancher, Jim Corbett, who was very active in Sanctuary, came up with a philosophy that became the guiding principle for Sanctuary and was later adopted by Samaritans and No More Deaths.
(Corbett wanted to…) The principle of civil initiative was developed by Jim Corbett during the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s to distinguish this approach from other forms of organizing. such as protest or civil disobedience. In part, the concept grew out of the Nuremburg trials after WWII which led people to say (essentially) that never again will we stand by an let our government treat people inhumanely in our name.
Civil initiative is formed by this function: Our responsibility for protecting the persecuted must be balanced by our accountability to the legal order. (As formed by accountability, civil initiative is NONVIOLENT, TRUTHFUL, UNIVERSAL, DIALOGICAL, GERMANE, VOLUNTEER-BASED, and COMMUNITY-CENTERED.)
The various co-existing concepts include:
NONVIOLENCE, in the manner of Ghandi, MLK, and Cesar Chavez, provides the foundation for civil initiative. It checks vigilantism. Civil initiative neither evades nor seizes police powers. (except court actions)
TRUTHFULNESS is the foundation for accountability. Civil initiative must be open and subject to public examination.
Civil initiative is UNIVERSAL rather than factional, protecting those whose rights are being violated regardless of the victim’s ideological position or political usefulness.
Civil initiative is DIALOGICAL, addressing government officials as persons, not just as adversaries or functionaries. Any genuine reconciliation of civil initiative with bureaucratic practice—the discovery of an accommodation that does not compromise human rights—is a joint achievement: civil initiative can never be based on non-negotiable demands.
Action that is GERMANE to victim’s needs for protection is another aspect. It distinguishes civil initiative from reactions that are primarily symbolic or expressive. As a corollary, media coverage and public opinion are of secondary importance when our central concern is to do justice rather than to petition others to do it.
Civil initiative’s emergency exercise of governmental functions is VOLUNTEER-BASED. The community must never forfeit its duty to protect the victims of human rights violations, but no bureaucracy should be formed that would oppose the return of governmental functions to those constitutionally designated to assume responsibility. Laws to protect migrants are already in place. Humanitarian groups have stepped in where the government abuses or neglects to enforce them.
Civil initiative is COMMUNITY CENTERED. To actualize the Nuremberg mandate, our exercise of civil initiative must be socially sustained and congregationally coherent; it must integrate, outlast and outreach individual acts of conscience.
As you are aware, the Border poses a vast complexity of issues. Andy Silverman, professor at the UA Law School, and others, helped me decide on the most important issues and themes to address. Among them the following:
Conditions at the border evolved considerably from the time my book starts until today. In the book, I barely touch on the influx of Central Americans in 2014. That year marked the tenth anniversary of No More Deaths. Also, I don’t touch on dramatic policy changes made during the Trump administration, except to address the response by humanitarians through expansion of humanitarian work to the west in Ajo and south into Mexico. I also include the arrest of Dr. Scott Warren and eight others in 2017 and their trials in 2019
Except for these recent events, the period I cover goes from the beginning of migrant advocacy by the Tucson Manzo Council in the 1970s to the period after the 2014 anniversary. In 1994, U.S. policy changed significantly with the implementation of NAFTA . The government predicted more migrants would come to the United States. Sylvestre Reyes, at the time chief border patrol agent in El Paso, implemented "deterrence by death" when it was decided to close the border ports to entry of migrants, with the result that people were forced into hostile mountains and deserts. In 1994, few people outside of the Southwest were concerned about the border. Now our entire country is aware of immigration issues. People are angry, appalled, frustrated, hopeful, or of a punitive mind—depending on their point of view. The separation of children from their parents starting in 2018 raised this national awareness to a new level, a condition (among many others) that will likely stain our political life for years to come.
Over the years, numerous humanitarian organizations were formed: Humane Borders, Samaritans, No More Deaths, the Colibri Project, Humane Border Solutions, and so on. While initially guarding their respective turfs, now a new level of cooperation now exists among the groups. Also over time, government agencies developed new strategies to deal with migrants, and media outlets began to pay attention and go to great lengths to cover the issues. Systemic Border Patrol abuses have come to light, and No More Deaths, sometimes in collaboration with other groups, has documented these abuses and produced reports covering policies, abuses, and recommendations. Some of this important material is included in my book.
Volunteers form the backbone of No More Deaths. The number of volunteers who have stepped up to do this work is astounding. Each one knows this is a history we can be proud of; while at the same time, we all know there is much more work to be done, many more stories to be told, many more hearts to change, and many more productive legal provisions to be enacted.
I don’t quote Emma Lazarus in my book, but rather the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglas: His words are very appropriate for this day.
“It is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be exposed and denounced.“
Thank you for inviting me here. I will be happy to answer any questions.
Cesar Chavez, Phoenix, 1972
We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better and more just world for our children. People who make that choice will know hardship and sacrifice. But if you give yourself totally to the non-violent struggle for peace and justice, you also find that people will give you their hearts. You will never go hungry and will ever be alone. In giving of yourself you will discover a whole new life full of meaning and love.