Tag Archives: immigration

How to Tell a Story

With interviews that often lasted longer than an hour, editing the documentary down to just 25 minutes was a significant challenge. The writing team had its work cut out for them initially; scouring the transcribed interviews for quotes that beautifully summarized everything we had just learned to create a coherent narrative.

Before splitting into our groups as editors and writers, the class built a rough story outline based off Kino’s goals to humanize, accompany, and complicate the issue of immigration.

Joanna was the first person to introduce us to the idea of humanizing, accompanying, and complicating the issues on the border.
Joanna was the first person to introduce us to the idea of humanizing, accompanying, and complicating the issues on the border.

It was such a natural outline I began to think about how that framework should be used in each story we tell. For example when I talk about my little sister as someone with a disability rather than as a disabled person, I am humanizing her. Her disability is a part of who she is but it is not all that she is. In the same fashion when talking about someone who has been deported, it’s important to remember that they have inherent human dignity, which should be implicit in any retelling of their story. They have been deported but that is only one part of their history, not its entirety.

After seriously considering the idea of the humanize, accompany, and complicate framework, I realized that it’s the way all stories about people should be understood. When I was a younger my pastor put a significant emphasis on learning how to listen deeply. Listening deeply implies that the listener isn’t thinking about how they will respond to the speaker but rather the listener is genuinely engaged with the speaker’s narrative.

While the bottom line is that the general audience will get what they want out of a story, its incredibly important to build every story off this framework. Even in fictional writing, telling a tale about a person without humanizing them makes it impossible for the intended audience to reap the message. Harry Potter wouldn’t be much of a story if all we knew about him was that he was an orphan.

Although our documentary veered off this track later in the week, because it was originally built with that outline, the story accomplishes those goals. It tells a story that we as a Jesuit university can be proud of because it maintains the principle of inherent human dignity in all persons.

Nuggets of Knowledge

On our first day back in the classroom we watched and transcribed the interviews from the various people we met along our journey. It struck me that we had met and interacted with a variety of very knowledgeable people who were clearly passionate about migration. We were told to search for little “nuggets” of the interviews that really packed a punch. It became clear pretty quickly that we didn’t need to do much digging because we had hit the jackpot. We were in a goldmine of succinct, well-spoken ideas that really struck a chord with the interviewee. Here are just a few of my favorite “nuggets” of knowledge from the trip.

“The only law is love your neighbor. You tell me how putting up a wall is loving your neighbor. You tell me how deporting women and children back to a place where we know they will be killed is loving your neighbor. It may be loving yourself because you want to hold onto your thing. But we are making decision based on material things not on human beings and that is no way, shape or form something that we can tolerate as American citizens.” – Rev. Peter Neeley, S.J., Assistant Director of Education at KBI

Group picture of Backpack journalism crew and Daniela Vargas
The Backpack Journalidm group with Daniela Vargas outside our home away from home.

“When you stop asking questions, that’s when something’s wrong because you’ve become complacent with the situation. But when you continue to ask the question: ‘Why is this happening?’ I think that continues to change perspectives.” – Daniela Vargas, KBI volunteer

“Because you are made in the image and likeness of God, you have inherent dignity. As a human being, you have dignity, you have certain rights. These aren’t rights that a government can give or take away. These are your rights because you are you, just because you were born, just because God created you.” –Joanna Williams, Director of Education at KBI

“Migrants as the human person have something to teach us. And yet, they are marginalized. They are pushed aside, they are not seen, they are not heard, they are not valued, the are pushed outside.”Rev. Sean Carroll, Executive Director at KBI

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Maria talking with Isabel Garcia.

“It’s what we really do to the least of us that defines us.” – Isabel Garcia, Immigration lawyer

“It’s a lot of suffering. One suffers a lot. there are people who say ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. He’s illegal,’ or this or that. But there’s people like me who do it for their families, for their brothers, for their kids. We are all taking this journey, and this is a journey where a lot of people fail and are left behind.” – Jose “Pepe” Guillen, deported migrant

“Many of these people who have decided to take on this migrant journey are not doing it because they want to, they’re doing it because they have to. Part of the need also is the dream, and the dream is that someday they will be able to provide for their families what they’re currently not able to provide and give to them.” Daniela Vargas, KBI volunteer, daughter of migrant

Natalia performing at the Commodor for migrants who were recently deported. She invited them to sing along with her and their spirits were immediately lifted.
Natalia performing at the Commodor for migrants who were recently deported.

“Make a friend on the border. I think you’ll learn so much more about the border by knowing a person in depth than you will a concept and having to read a lot about it.” – Natalia Serna, Singer/songwriter

“What gives me hope? That’s a hard question to answer. I have faith that the goodness of God is stronger than any greed or any desire for money in this world. We have to do the little bit we can every day with faith and hope. And more than anything, what gives me hope is the faith of the migrants. A faith that doesn’t fade even against everything they have been through.” – Sister Maria Engracia Robles Robles, M.E., Education/Advocacy at KBI

 

Lil John showing us the migrant trail.
John showing us the migrant trail.

“The wall that’s a few miles from here would not be there if there weren’t walls between our ears. We have walls. We’ve built walls. We don’t even know they are there, cultural walls. And until those walls are taken down, the other ones won’t fall. They will someday, those walls are coming down. But the ones that put them there in the first place have to come down first.” – John Heidt, Activist

Backwards Fear

The biggest fear people have when it comes to immigration from Mexico is that we are letting criminals and drugs stream over the border. To a fairly large extent, this is true. The problem comes with our government’s inability to separate the drug trade from people who are crossing to escape violence and reunite with their families. Because this distinction is not made, all Mexican migrants are essentially treated the same. People often ask why migrants can’t simply cross the border legally. There is a 20 year waiting list for Mexicans to get a visa, even though immigration into the U.S. is actually the lowest it’s been in 50 years. Waiting 20 years is probably not a viable option for immigrants fleeing from violence, or trying to get to the family they’ve been separated from. So, all migrants are forced to cross illegally. Many of these illegal immigrants carry drugs across the border. Border security has been increasingly heightened and militarized, making it harder than ever for migrants to safely make their way into the United States. So, these migrants have very few options. This is where the cartel comes in. They know the border and the surrounding areas extremely well. They are able to successfully go back and forth across the border with no problem. In this way, they become many migrant’s only hope. Migrants pay thousands of dollars to cross the border under the cartel’s protection. This means more revenue for the cartel and more backs to load their supplies of drugs onto. Essentially, by making the border inaccessible to anyone, we are causing migrants to aid in the very practice that we fear most about immigration: criminality and drug smuggling.

This knowledge and this frustration that I have developed over the course of this trip is what makes this trip different from any experience I’ve ever had. It was such an intense few weeks of learning and growth that led to so much understanding about the complications and misconceptions of the issues at hand and I don’t think I could have found that anywhere else.

The wall between Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona.
The wall between Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona.

Action and Inaction

A few days ago, I found myself getting really frustrated.
We were interviewing a retired defense attorney and passionate activist for immigration rights, Isabel Garcia, and she gave us so much to think about. “I wish all of America could have been in there,” someone said.
I 100% agreed. I, too, wish all of America could have been there. Instead, her audience was made up of a select number of people who already cared enough about immigration to seek these answers. The people who need to listen to people like Isabel Garcia or, more importantly, the people who need to visit the comedor and look onto the faces of humans hurt by poor policy, misplaced fear, and discriminatory hatred, aren’t going to seek those answers. The people already asking the questions are the people ready to hear the answers.
Think about how information is disseminated today: largely through social media. I get most of my news through my Twitter and Facebook feeds based on what publications I follow. I read, watch, and share articles that are consistent with my own world views.
John Oliver’s HBO segment “Donald Drumpf” had a record breaking 85 million views. In my opinion, that segment was brilliant. I think everyone who supports Trump should watch it. This goes for a variety of good articles I have read on him as well. However, I know the people watching and reading articles and videos that substantially oppose and dispute much of what makes him popular are people  who, like me, are probably not supporting him anyways.
Similarly, while I think everyone who opposes immigration should come to the border and look at the issue firsthand, or at least watch our video with an open mind, I know that’s probably not likely.
This realization hit me hard. Could the people who call migrants criminals and demand they all be deported look Pepe in the eyes and tell him he does not deserve to meet his 7 month old son? Could they look a migrant in the eye who has lost his leg from diabetes because his medicine was taken from him by border patrol and say ‘You deserve to be dehumanized.’? Could they they look a man who has lived and worked in the United States his entire life and doesn’t know a soul in Mexico and say ‘You don’t belong in my country.’? Could they look the mother of a 15 year old girl who lost her life on the journey north in the eyes and say “Your daughter was a criminal.’?
In the midst of this frustration, I talked with someone who made me consider an important point. Before this trip, I was not anti-immigration. I did not believe in the wall. However, there was a lot I didn’t understand and a lot I hadn’t considered on either side of the debate. The 11 other students I’m here with have expressed similar sentiments.
When we were interviewing Isabel Garcia, we asked her what, if anything, gave her hope for the future of immigration reform. She said she saw hope in our generation. The responsibility falls on us, and she believes someday we’ll look back at our current system and wonder how we could have ever let it get this bad.
I think there is a lot of truth to this. Although we might not be able to illicit change dramatically enough to completely shift a person’s worldview, we can educate people who don’t fully understand the issues but are open to learning. While many people are stuck in their ways, many more people, such as the 12 students who signed up to take a 24 hour van ride to the border of Mexico, knowing little to nothing about the issues at hand, are willing to learn. It’s those people who will hopefully be moved by our project and inspired to take action.
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Setting up the shoot for Isabel Garcia’s interview.

Cultivating Change

While I pack my bag for the final time, I think about the things I am bringing home with me. I am not only bringing home several bumper stickers that support the Arivaca Humanitarian Aid Office or a beautiful cross painted by one of the migrants. I am bringing home the stories, the smells, the exciting and disappointing events of this trip. I am bringing home the seeds of change as one of our interviewees so eloquently put it.

These seeds are perhaps the greatest gift because they grow each time they are planted. Every time our group tells a story or shows our film, we are cultivating change. And like any plant, the seeds we sow must be tended to; therefore our group must never grow complacent. A difficult task in Nebraska, so far from the border and its problems, but the people we’ve encountered while on this trip will undoubtedly stay with us for the rest of our lives. Their stories will guard against our complacency and motivate us to continually agitate for change.

The group (although not all pictured) enjoyed one last day in Arizona at the Patagonia State Park on Thursday.
The group (although not all pictured) enjoyed one last day in Arizona at the Patagonia State Park on Thursday.

As a writer whenever I am surrounded by people with such fascinating and heart-wrenching stories it’s difficult not to write about them in some form. But in the context of a blog I struggle to pen even one story because their depth beyond what I can encompass successfully in 500 words. In addition because I cannot separate my emotions from these stories it is impossible for me to accurately compose them for a general audience. Maybe one day I will be able to write about them with enough emotional distance to be coherent, but for now their sheer intensity is so overwhelming I am unable to do them justice.

As a videographer (although I certainly wouldn’t call myself that) I have learned to capture reality in its raw emotional state while contributing to a project I hope will plant seeds of change. I am proud of our group for the massive stockpile of footage that we have collected together in expectation of creating this documentary. And I am proud because I know that this group has worked hard over the past two weeks to illuminate the dark side of immigration in the United States.

As a person I have learned that hope is something both fragile and resilient. There is hope for reform along the border, even if the road to it is long and arduous. The people at the Kino Border Initiative inspire me to believe in the idea of humane migration as a possibility because they hold onto hope with the tenacious grip of faith.

In short planting seeds of change is a slow process that yields bountiful rewards to those who tend them. Each person, each discussion, each hot desert hike, waters the seeds and cultivates change.

The Chiltons’ Wall


While in Arizona the majority of people we interviewed were against the wall. But in an effort to not seem biased, we also interviewed one couple that considers themselves staunchly pro-wall.

The Chilton’s own about 50,000 acres of land on the border. They are a friendly, older couple that has owned their land for about 30 years. According to them, in that time they’ve seen the people crossing their land go from migrant workers to drug smugglers. Entering their house it’s easy to see fear that the cartel’s presence has instilled in them. Guns and other weapons are easily accessible from almost any point in the expansive house.

At a wildlife preserve a few miles from Sasabe, Az., about 45 minutes from Arivaca and the Chilton's ranch. The terrain along the border is harsh and dry for anyone attempting to cross into the U.S.
At a wildlife preserve a few miles from Sasabe, Az., about 45 minutes from Arivaca and the Chilton’s ranch. The terrain along the border is harsh and dry for anyone attempting to cross into the U.S.

As we set up the interview, Jim Chilton shows us some of the footage he’s filmed of people crossing. Each person is carrying a large backpack, which he contends holds drugs. Some are also wearing carpet shoes, which are essentially pieces of carpet sewn together to go over a person’s shoes and thus prevent a visible trail. He has a large collection of these shoes on his front porch that he has found over the years on his property.

During the interview Sue Chilton discusses how securing the border is the only logical option for ranchers like her and her husband, whose land is separated from Mexico by a barbed wire fence. She talks about the necessity of humane migration and the need for a border patrol that actually patrols the border. She elucidates the viable fear of the cartel watching their every move, which is proven by the cameras they install on known trails, being turned upside down by masked men on occasion. Over the course of her interview she’s made a some interesting and fair points in her argument. To make it absolutely clear: I will never support either the proposed wall or the wall currently in existence. However, I sympathize with the fear of finding drugs on your land and the cartel’s constant presence.

When I was originally told we would be interviewing ranchers who were pro-wall I decided that I probably would not like them on principal. But after meeting them, attending mass with them, and hearing their side of the story I find myself unable to say that they are unlikable. They’ve built water fountains off of their watering stations for people passing through their land and they carry water with them at all times should they see anyone who might need it. They have seen a different side of this issue and while I disagree with their solution to it; I recognize that they are people trying their hardest to do what is best for themselves and what is right in the eyes of God.

Streamlined Through the Justice System

Operation Streamline. Every thing  you need to know about this state sanctioned program is in the name. It’s all about efficiency. Essentially Operation Streamline works to efficiently process and convict undocumented migrants. It requires that states utilizing Streamline charge undocumented workers with a federal crime in order to deter others from crossing the border.

At its worst Streamline is a massive violation of human rights, at its best it’s a drain on the federal system and a waste of taxpayer money. After watching a Streamline court session I feel like it’s closer to a violation of human rights than anything else.

As our group sits in the courtroom, we look at the 50 or more people sitting in front of us waiting for their chance plead guilty. They’re shackled at the waist, arms, and feet despite committing a non-violent offense. The judge reads off their rights as a group while a translator quietly communicates the judge’s words in Spanish through a headset given to each charged person. Then they are called up in groups of five, with their lawyers, to plead guilty to a misdemeanor so that the federal court will drop the felony charge. It’s systematic. The judge doesn’t ask anyone why they chose to cross and no one provides an answer. Before you know it the group of five has been sentenced and are walking out in their shackles.

Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com. We weren't allowed to take pictures during the court session but the chain in the picture seems accurate as a representation of the removal of due process.
Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com. We weren’t allowed to take pictures during the court session but the chain in the picture seems to be an accurate representation of the removal of due process.

The idea that something so quick and concise counts as due process is ludicrous. A truly just system would recognize that prosecuting people for trying to make a better life for themselves is a surface level response. It doesn’t deal with the question of why. Why are people migrating? Why are people claiming asylum? Why is there such systemic violence in these countries?

There is no simple answer to any one of these questions. If it were really as simple as the left or right make it, then immigration issues would have been solved years ago. The problem with issues like immigration is that they’re multifaceted. They contain dimensions far more complex than what Streamline addresses, which is why it’s such an ineffective practice. Leaving large groups of people with criminal records for the crime of pursuing a better life is a failure of the U.S. justice system.

The good news is that several states have already eliminated Streamline and the remaining states will follow suit with enough pressure. It is therefore our duty to raise our voices in protest of unjust laws and operations like Streamline.

The Good Samaritan Retold

The abuses by the U.S. Government in foreign countries are well documented if under-reported by the media. They generally occur in militarized areas and the border is no exception. It was here that Jose Antonio lost his life at the hands of a border patrol agent.
Jose Antonio was a regular kid until he, through death, became the center of an international conflict (conflict in this instance referring to conflicting ideologies and laws, not war or military incidents). He was shot while he was out walking by a border patrol agent* who claims someone was tossing rocks at the wall to distract attention from drug runners hopping the fence back into Mexico. The officer, from the U.S. side, emptied his entire clip into Antonio before reloading and firing several more shots. Without a warrant. Without a warning. And without justification.

A ripped poster of Jose Antonio and art are visible in Nogales, Mexico
A ripped poster of Jose Antonio and art are visible in Nogales, Mexico

The officer claims that because Jose Antonio was walking on the Mexican side, he and his family have no legal standing for either a criminal or a civil suit. While the family has successfully seen both cases go before a judge, both suits are pending (the government has agreed to prosecute the officer but maintains no wrongdoing was committed). A small statue of a cross marks the place where Antonio took his last breath.
Over the past few days I’ve been contemplating the story of the Good Samaritan in the context of this abhorrent crime. It was pointed out to me recently that while the Good Samaritan story has often been interpreted as a parable about treating neighbors with kindness, it is also a critique of law. When the priest and the Levite passed the dying man, they were simply following the laws of cleanliness. Their actions are not unkind, they are in fact righteous in the context of their law.
The failure of U.S. Government to do anything on Jose Antonio’s behalf is an example of the passive excuse: “I was just following the rules”. But for a country founded on the idea of liberty and in protest of unfair laws, isn’t it ironic that the response has been so passive?
It seems callous to say that I am not a part of the problem. On our desert walk the leader said “We would not have a wall if we didn’t have walls in here” as he pointed to his ears. What walls have we placed between us and reality to ignore the world and all of the pain in it? What unjust laws do we follow blindly because we either don’t know about them or choose to ignore them in favor of blissful ignorance?

Angry

Shrine in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo Cred: Nicole)
Shrine in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo Cred: Nicole)

 

I grew up in a conservative, small town in Wisconsin. I was raised to believe that immigration was wrong and that the “illegals” were stealing our jobs. I accepted that because I wasn’t exposed to the reality. Perhaps that is why I am understanding of those who are still against migration. The north is like a bubble, safe from the truth of the ugly parts of the south. However, it is a personal responsibility, no matter where one lives, to be educated and exposed.

When I entered college, I began to think for myself and discover what makes me mad. For me, anger is the strongest motivator. I am so angry here. I am angry that for every person found dead in the desert, there are ten more bodies. I am angry that men have come back to the comedor with bloody, torn up faces because BC pushed them into barbed wire. I am angry that the cartel keeps constant watch over the people and migrants of Nogales. I am angry that our country is just now processing paperwork from 20 years ago. I am angry that the reason some migrants carry drugs is because of the Americans who demand them. Mostly, I am angry that these people are classified as criminals and rapists when a large majority of them are just trying to survive.

As I said, anger motivates me. I’m the type of person who needs to brainstorm solutions whenever I hear a problem. I think that stems from my dad’s catchphrase, “Ok. So what are you going to do about it?” With him, I could never just complain or vent, I had to take action to solve my own problems. Listening to the stories of the people here, from both sides of the issue, has confirmed my desire to attend law school so that I can start a solution of my own.

So many of the people we have interviewed here have talked about young people and how they give them hope. A lawyer we spoke with called us “dreamers”. Those same people have also said that the dreamers fade out and the next round comes in and tries to change the world. I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to learn until I am no longer ignorant. I want to think until a problem is solved. I want to dream until I am no longer angry.

 

More to come,

Natalie

A22

I know his name, but I won’t say it.

They know their names, but won’t say them.

When I interviewed Fr. Neeley, who used to work in detention centers, he told me that the guards would call migrants by letters and numbers. According to Fr. Neeley, dehumanizing migrants made it easier to mistreat them. For me, this was one of the most disturbing moments of the interview. I couldn’t imagine categorizing another human to avoid my own reality.

For this blog, I will do just that. I will tell the story of a migrant that I met and only call him by A22. I want to prove to myself and to the readers, how uncomfortable and disgusting this practice really is.

I had just finished cleaning up the evening meal at the comedor. Almost all of the men and women whom I encountered during dinner spoke Spanish. I communicated with a smile, service and a lot of Spanglish. I was surprised when A22 approached me and even more surprised when he spoke perfect English. A22 wanted the proper translation of an English word for his friend and asked for my help. Somehow A22 and I went from speaking about synonyms to telling his story. Right away, I could tell that A22 just wanted to be heard, and so I listened.

A22 came to the country when he was just 13 years old on a temporary visa. He stayed when it expired and started to make a life for himself in Arizona. He fell in love and had a son with his American girlfriend. After his son was born, his girlfriend became a drug addict. A22 told me that the plan had always been to marry her to become a real family and to also earn his citizenship.

“People always ask me why I didn’t just marry her. I know I wouldn’t have been deported if I did, but I couldn’t. The drugs took over her life. It ruined our relationship and it ruined her role as a mother. I wasn’t going to do that to my son. I wasn’t going to be that stereotype,” said A22.

At this point in A22’s story, I was almost in tears. The far right likes to believe that Mexicans are all criminals who will cheat the system to enter the country. A22 was a perfect example of how this idea is untrue. There are people with citizenship who do not have the moral compass that A22 holds; his girlfriend is a great example.

A22 won full custody of his son and split from his girlfriend. After some time, A22 made, what he called, a human mistake. He got back together with his girlfriend. His girlfriend became pregnant again and, according to A22, she continued to do drugs during the pregnancy. A22 told me that she was receiving the drugs from her brother.

“I made a mistake. I was so angry with her and her brother. This is my kid that she was hurting. She wouldn’t stop. He kept giving her drugs. I tried to warn him. She was killing my child. I had to do something,” said A22.

A22 assaulted his girlfriend’s brother, was charged with a felony and was deported in April.

“I just want a second chance. Why don’t I get a second chance? Is it because I’m brown? Is it because I’m different? I tried to tell the judge I was protecting my family, but he didn’t listen. Why does she get to keep our kids and I have to leave? I don’t get it,” said A22.

A22’s first son is now in the mother’s custody. His second son was born with Down syndrome and a missing limb because of his mother’s drug abuse. A22 has never met him.

A22 has been in Nogales for about a month. A22 shares an apartment with other migrants and has a job that only pays him about $10 a week. A22 is developing a case with a social worker to return to the country and raise his sons. It could take six to twelve months to process.

 

A22 is important.

A22 is real.

A22 is human.

 

Our Chat in the comedor
Our chat in the comedor