In the April 9 issue of The Watchdog, Andrea Torres, the Associated Student Government vice president of student affairs and pluralism elect got me thinking about the challenges that undocumented students face. With these new insights in mind, I came across a discussion with Allison Lee, a junior attending Fairhaven College at Western Washington University. Lee spent her spring break at an alternative program called No More Deaths in the Arizona Sonoran Desert.
Members of the WWU faculty Shirley Osterhas and James Loucky led the expedition, taking a group of students to provide humanitarian aid such as food, water and medical care to migrants in the desert region.
Lee told me about one man who was from El Salvador who had tried to cross the border many times. He had lived through detention and had been deported, but not back to El Salvador, but to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. This is not his home country and none of his family lives there. Many migrants are deported to dangerous cities within Mexico where drug violence kills hundreds every year. As Migrants are extremely vulnerable and have little belongings on them, they become targets for crime.
Entering the U.S. more than once is a federal felony with a fee of 5,000. The plea bargains usually entail misdemeanor charges and detainment in privately funded prisons for 30-180 days. Migrants on trial almost always plead guilty because they can’t afford the cost of due process. It’s hard for me to believe this is a fair trial if those under verdict have no choice but to crumble under the iron fist of the U.S. government. U.S. tax dollars are used to pay for these trials, but I’m afraid I’m not seeing justice.
Lee’s group worked on several projects on their trip, including leaving out water for dehydrated travelers on the trails. There have been many cases of border patrol puncturing holes in the bottles so that illegal immigrants are left to die of dehydration in the dessert. This is an official government strategy mentioned in the Operation Gatekeeper measure implemented during Clinton’s presidency. The government assumed that if people died in the desert, it would deter others from migrating.
The issue I’m addressing goes beyond the southern border. Legislation in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill would ordain sending 3500 more BP agents to the southern border. But there is also a high local risk. Customs and Border Patrol have jurisdiction up to 100 miles from the Border into U.S. land, extending from Blaine to Federal Way. There is a private detention facility in Tacoma that many local migrants are sent to after being caught.
I was shocked by a particular divulgence from Lee. Four years ago, one of her fellow WWU students was deported from the United States just a couple of weeks before finals. He was waiting at the Amtrak station heading south to Seattle when a Border Patrol agent detained him for speaking Spanish to someone over the phone. He was found to be undocumented, sent to Tacoma and then deported. He has not been able to enter the U.S. since. I’m horrified of the same thing happening to my fellow students at BC, who work extremely hard and hugely contribute to campus diversity and discussion.