Lives in Phoenix, Arizona
Dear Friends, I was scheduled to speak at the Tucson Writers Guild in May. This did not happen. So, I decided to post my remarks here. I hope they speak to you. Thanks, Sue
TUCSON WRITERS’ GUILD:
Tucson, May 18, 2020
I want to tell you about 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 land 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...”
I don’t quote Emma Lazarus in my book, but rather the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglas:
“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.“
What a perfect message for the challenges of today!
Since I’ve written this book and have been marketing it, I’ve taken a more serious look at my history with Mexico. While my father came from Ohio looking for gold in the Bradshaw Mountains near Prescott in the 1920s, my mother’s family had moved from South Texas to Mexico in the 1880s where my great-grandfather worked on the railroad and my great-grandmother ran a boarding house and cared for the family. It was only when Pancho Villa began marauding northern Mexico and the southwestern US, that my family with seven 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. A number of 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 worked on the railroad that connected Tucson with Nogales. Most of my immediate family has stayed in Southern Arizona. My husband and I attended both ASU and the U of A.
Why I wrote the book:
Those of you who lived in Southern Arizona in the late 70’s and 80’s will remember the Sanctuary Movement and trial. My husband, Gene, became president of the Arizona Sanctuary Defense Fund (ASDF). The ASDF board raised $1.2 million dollars for the defense of 11 Sanctuary workers. Eight people were found guilty of various immigration-related charges, but none went to jail.
In January 2007, after Gene retired for the second time, we moved to Tucson to be closer to the action. During 2003-2006, he’d been driving to Tucson once a week to participate in No More Deaths (NMD) meetings and take water into the desert. We moved into a home in the Tucson Mountain foothills. Gene was part of the group that founded Samaritans and No More Deaths in 2002 and 2004.
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 down 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.
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:
Then and Now:
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 our expansion of work to the west in Ajo and south into Mexico, and the arrest of Dr. Scott Warren and eight others in 2017 and their trials in 2019. I believe the Trump administration ushered in an entirely different era of border policy and its implementation, of which I only know from the media.
The period I cover goes from the beginning of migrant advocacy by the 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 of 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 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. Over time, government agencies developed strategies and media outlets began to pay attention and go to great lengths to cover the issues. Systemic Border Patrol abuses came to light, and No More Deaths, sometimes in collaboration with other groups, documented these abuses and produced seven reports covering policies, abuses, and recommendations. Some of this important material is included in my book.
The many 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 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.
Before I close, I want to mention the recent work of Jacob Soboroff. Jacob is an NBC reporter who happened to be in McAllen, Texas, in 2018, when it was first learned that children were being separated from their parents. He was able to enter the detention site, document what he saw, report about it, and subsequently write a book titled, Separated, I hope you will check this out; it’s available at amazon.com in hard cover and Kindle, as is my book, NO MORE DEATHS.
Thank you for inviting me here. I will be happy to answer any questions.