Humanitarian Aid is Never A Crime
No More Deaths (www.NoMoreDeaths.org) is doing a tour to raise awareness and generate support in the form of letters, petition signatures, volunteers, and financial donations to support volunteers, to help their work continue the desert south of Tucson, Arizona. Two of the presenters, Shanti and Dan are currently awaiting trial for felony charges related to putting migrants in need of medical assistance in their vehicle for medical evacuation last July 9, 2005. Their organization is a project of an organization called The Samaritans, and they operate a roving first aid program, by searching for and administering life-saving aid to migrants in need of food, water, and medical care. The Border Patrol routinely passes by migrants on the side of the road who are trying to flag down cars, in favor of finding and deporting larger groups. No cars will stop and help migrants who make it to major highways flagging people for help after days without water or food drives them to seek help by going to the road.
Of the over 3,000 migrants the Samaritans found last year, only 68 were evacuated to medical facilities, due to their life-threatening medical conditions, and only after consulting with medical professionals and consultation with lawyers about the necessity of medical evacuation. During the week of Dan and Shanti's arrest, temperatures exceeded 100 degrees fahrenheit for 45 days, often going up to between 105 and 115 degrees. The week they were arrested, 78 people were found dead in the Tucson area. Since 1994, 4,000 people have been found dead, and many believe that for every person found dead, there are between 3 and 10 times that many who actually die crossing the border.The death toll rises every year; Each year the number of deaths exceed those of the year before, despite the humanitarian aid being provided by groups like the Samaritans.
The first presenter, Hemma (please excuse - and feel free to correct - my poor spelling of all spanish words throughout this report) is an organizer from Mexico, who filled us in on the history and the reasons people emigrate from Mexico to the U.S. Here is her story, as it was translated to us:
"I will begin with the Debt Crisis of Mexico in 1982. In the decade of the 70's there was a large influx of dollars from the oil industry that was looked to be invested in countries where they would get the most benefit; much of these petro-dollars were from the U.S.
So the Mexican government acquired an enormous debt which the people of Mexico didn't ask for and didn't benefit from. In 1980 the Debt Crisis began when the Mexican government announces that it has no money to pay the interest or capital on the debt. The IMF jumped in quickly to pay that debt so it would be paid on time. These IMF loans brought along with them very stringent policies. The structural adjustment policies/Neoliberal politics begin at this time.
A politic of privatization of industry and social services and large cuts to the national budget occurred. The budget cuts were in the areas of health care, education, social security, and housing, and all these policies bring tremendous poverty to the people. In a few years, the IMF, (which you probably know represents the interests of capital and particularly, in the U.S.), introduces the GATT [General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs] Treaty, and this brings severe consequences to Mexico because [GATT] forces it to open it's borders to foreign products.
We begin the time of Free Trade politics where the biggest beneficiaries are the companies of the U.S. and where it's impossible for businesses in Mexico to compete; Thousands of industries closed, which were the biggest employers of people in Mexico.
At that same time assistance to agriculture was also cut, including low interest credit and other subsidies; And when the Salinas government entered into power, there were amendments added to the constitution about privatization of land and health care, in preparation for the signing of NAFTA. Only a small sector of the Mexican population benefited from this treaty. The banks that were privatized by the Salinas government later declare that they can't sustain themselves any longer. So Salinas bails them out by transforming their private debt into public debt. By doing this the government created a situation where the people were forced to pay a debt that they'll continue paying for at least 30 years.
So there are now 2 humungus debts that the people in Mexico are burdened with:
1) The Foreign Debt to the IMF, and
2) the National Debt; all the banks that were saved by the government, were saved with the dollars of the Mexican people.
And subsequently, all these banks have now been sold off to foreign companies, and they are now primarily (over 90% of banks) owned by companies from Spain and the U.S.
And so that is how the terrible load that destroyed the economy of the country is now carried by the Mexican people who have to pay it off.
After NAFTA was signed in 1994, the militarization of the border began.
In that year the patrol operations in California began. As a result of the patrol operations, people were forced to cross in difficult and dangerous parts of the border.
More than 4,000 people [that have been registered] have died since 1994. Over 500 died last year; the majority of these were young people; To us it's a disgrace that the young people have to come to the U.S. to work; They are in their prime and very valued to us, and it is a disgrace that they must come here to find work.
Large sectors of agriculture have disappeared due to NAFTA; 25,000 rice producers have disappeared. Thousands of pineapple producers disappeeared when Hawaiian pineapples entered the Mexican market. Trade in Drugs increased too, bringing tremendous violence and corruption to Mexico, and we're disgraced to be right next to the country with the largest consumption of drugs in the world. Just 3 days ago there was news that 3 police officers were found tortured and decapitated as a result of the drug trade. Every three days we read of deaths that come as a result of conflicts... And as always happens when a country begins to rely on drug trade for economic stability, there is increased use among the young people.
All these problems are the reasons for Immigration to the U.S. from Mexico.
In the past 5 years, between 2 million and 4 million are estimated to have crossed the border. People don't choose to come' They're forced to come because there is work here. And in the 'Immigration Reforms', we see a great hypocrisy... Because the U.S needs this immigrant labor force. Sectors such as agriculture and construction, rely on this labor force.
In Mexico, the maquildoras, or sweat shop industry focuses primarily on production for EXPORT. [Countries in the Orient] support these industries, which dont' generate production chains. The sweatshop doesn't produce even 3 % of products used in Mexico.
And there is now a threat that on January 1, 2008, the borders will be completely open to agricultural products; It is being declared by the biggest producers in the U.S that by then they will be able to supply Mexico with most of the staple foods currently relied on in Mexico, corn and beans, by 2008. These biggest producers say they will be able to provide 100% of corn and 50% of beans for the Mexican market.
So what's going to happen to the people who plant corn and beans? How will they support their families?
That's why we say immigration won't end with all the walls and restricting access to the borders.
And while the need for that immigrant labor force exists.
It's not the immigrant labor that's not wanted in your country: They're not wanted with Rights or with their Families.
And don't think this has happened without Resistance... from campesinos, from miners, from teachers, who've been repressed brutally in their resistance to this politics.. [Hemma broke down and started crying at this point]
We need to count on you because we want the people who are already here to have all their rights because they need all their rights. They are part of the American working class. And if we want to end immigration, the short term solution is amnesty for all workers. And the long term solution is to restore wealth to Mexico by ending Free Trade agreements that destroy our national economies and that have even destroyed jobs in the U.S. as the [corporations] flee to other countries;
Capital relies on reducing the price of wages:
The conditions of immigrant workers in the U.S. forces the wages of workers to go down. That's why we need to unite and work together toward amnesty for all workers and toward and end to Free Trade.
In Central America, as you may know, there were great demonstrations against CAFTA because they knew it would destroy them.
Many jobs here in the U.S. will end up in Central America.
That's the importance of supporting the work being done here that is truly heroic by our friends here today. And do they say when our friends come over the border... Well, we're not going to help you??"
Dan and Shanti spoke next:
Since 1994, at least 4,000 dead have been confirmed, and it is known that at least 3-10 times that many actually die, who are never found.
Prior to 1994, migration had been occurring for generations and people mostly had returned to their homes in Mexico almost at will, to and from urban areas primarily. And every year that border militarization policies have been in effect, there have been record deaths, and many of these have been happening in the crossing to the south of Tucson. Over the years people have started up a few humanitarian organizations to help stop these deaths. First Human Borders began putting out water stations in the desert. The Samaritans went a step further, and looked for people in distress, giving food and water to those they could find. In 2004 No More Deaths started setting up First Aid Stations, called Arcs of the Covenant.
There are vast desert distances, with hundreds of paths carved into the desert, in arroyos, etc; In these vast stretches there can sometimes be 20 miles between roads. It is hard to get people to trust you and allow themselves to be found and helped. But even so, over 3,000 migrants were found last year by No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes.
On July 9th, 2005, Shanti and Dan were arrested during a record heat spell, where temperatures remained over 100 degrees, up to 115 for 45 days straight. 78 were found dead that week in the Tucson area. That day they found a group of 9 and asked all about their medical situation, and determined that three of them, who had been vomiting for days, with blood in their stool, and blisters covering their entire feet, were too sick to continue. They called a nurse and doctor and got approval and called a lawyer about the medical evacuation. Dan met up with Shanti, who agreed to go along, in their clearly marked "Samaritans" vehicle, which was on every vehicle used for medical evacuation. In the past there have been a few incidences of border patrol pulling over their vehicles, despite the extensive discussions and agreements that have been made concerning these emergency situations that require medical evacuation. In the past, those in the vehicles have been detained and deported by the border patrol. This time, the officer said: "Are these guys illegal?" To which Dan replied, "We don't know". Then the officer turned to the migrants in the vehicle and said "Do you speak Spanish?" There was no answer from any in the car. The officer then said "Yup, they're illegal". and Shanti and Dan were then arrested and taken to the Border Detention facility, where they were held for 24 hours. They recount that this place seemed like a form of torture to deter people from crossing again... The 1st 10 hours they were there, they were given no food, and there was only Ritz crackers at the detention facility... and the cells were kept at around 40 degrees, with everything made of metal and no blankets to keep warm with. This extreme temperature change can be life-threatening, and the deprivation of food after most people who are picked up have been without food/water for days, would also be life-threatening. Apparently, one border patrol agent summed it up by saying, "If you think things are bad in Guantanamo Bay, you should see how we do it at Border Patrol."
There was a dog-catcher type vehicle used to transport people.
Then Dan and Shanti were taken to federal prison, which seemed like a 5 star hotel in comparison. They have been charged with two Federal Felonies that could carry a combined sentence of up to 15 years for Transportation in Furtherance of an Illegal Presence, and for Conspiracy to commit Transportation in Furtherance of an Illegal Presence. Their trial is expected to start in October. In September the campaign "Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime" launched, and over 80,000 letters have been submitted to U.S. District Attorney Paul Charleton, but he still has not dropped the charges. Many groups have endorsed this campaign, including the ACLU and AFAC. All lawyers are pro-bono, and the organization is entirely made of volunteers; there is no paid staff. Now volunteers are also working more closely with support groups in Mexico to help people after being deported because after losing everything, even in poor health, it is likely that many will try and cross again right away. No More Deaths has twice as many volunteers this year, even with the government threats and intimidation, so the threats haven't stopped volunteers. Funds are needed to support these volunteers.
There is another more stringent agreement being worked out with the Border Patrol, which the border patrol will not sign until after this court case is resolved, to allow for conditions under which emergency humanitarian aid may be administered to migrants by Samaritan volunteers.
The main message we were being told to take with us was:
-volunteer to help out in Tucson this summer!
-sign the petition
-write a letter to the USDA / send the postcard
-donate funds to support volunteers & medical professionals on the ground
-work to repeal NAFTA and get amnesty declared for all migrant workers.
Desert Rat closed out the show with a compelling appeal to do all of the above, and sang songs about these issues.
More information, background, organizing packets, sample letters/postcards & petitions are at:
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