Risking it all for a better life

Brother Brian McLauchlin SVD speaks on behalf of those whose voices are seldom heard in our society. His work with the Justice and Peace Office of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) focuses on immigration, peace in the Middle East, and environmental justice. A recent immersion experience gave him the opportunity to shed light on the complex situation on the Mexican-U.S. border.

Tuesday, Sept. 15

We gathered early for Eucharist. The pastor of Most Holy Trinity focused his homily on immigration and his recent visit to Mexico. As he explained, the people are joyful and simply want a better life for their families.

Our first presentation of the day was by two border patrol agents. They gave a PowerPoint presentation on Customs and Border Protection (CBP), outlining their general duties and the scope of their work.

Since 9/11, CBP’s number of personnel on the border has doubled, if not tripled. As a result, the “easy” areas to cross are highly militarized with several border checkpoints. Those who choose to cross the desert have been forced to cross over a highly remote and treacherous landscape. Conditions are extremely dangerous and many times CBP encounter people who need water and medical attention. CBP tries to get out information/alerts on the treacherous nature of attempting to cross. Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security has never explored the deeper issues as to why people choose to make such a dangerous journey and under what conditions they decide to do so.

Since that tragic day in 2001, the number of CBP checkpoints has also increased. At the checkpoints, some of which are inside the United States as far as 40 miles from the border—CBP personnel screen individuals for proper documentation, such as drivers’ licenses. Our group was even advised to have passports with us.

CBP talked about their Forwarding Operation Bases, which are “camps” in remote areas where agents stay for one week at a time. In addition to those who are desperate to cross, they also encounter smugglers and members of drug cartels, who very often exploit those who are trying to flee from gang activity, violence and poverty in El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras.

Presently, the migration of people across the border is controlled by smugglers and cartels. As a means of smuggling drugs across the border, cartel members have become the “coyotes” who lead people across the desert. In many instances, innocent migrants are forced to carry drugs, which probably results in higher rates of felony convictions for those who are captured.

CBP explained Operation Streamline, which targets those who have a criminal record. It is meant to streamline those with past convictions and move them quickly through the deportation system. Generally speaking, the total number depends upon the number of those apprehended, but there are about 70 immigrants per day who are streamlined. There are approximately 13,000 to 14,000 immigrants in the system at any given time. Of all those who are captured by CBP, about one in ten is moved through Operation Streamline.

After our meeting with CBP, we traveled downtown to the Pastoral Center to meet with Most Rev. Gerald Kicanas, bishop of Tucson. He has been very supportive of immigration reform efforts. Bishop Kicanas urged us to continue our efforts at passing immigration reform.

A member of the group asked the bishop about his thoughts on providing sanctuary. In the past, the bishop had a bad experience with someone who hid out in the cathedral and would not leave. He didn’t seem very open to the idea of sanctuary but stressed the need to advocate on behalf of immigrants. The system needs to change politically.

In the afternoon, we went to the Evo DeConcini U.S. Courthouse in downtown Tucson to observe Operation Streamline in progress. Several detainees were processed rapidly through the court proceedings, almost like a factory operation. Eight or so detainees at a time were brought before the judge, who asked them several questions and promptly passed sentences upon them. Since all of them have a prior criminal record, each of them received between 30 days to six months in prison and then immediate deportation.

It all seemed so impersonal and cold, lacking compassion and not focusing on the dignity of the human person. These immigrants crossed the desert with a dream—seeking a better life for themselves and their families—and now that dream is shattered. Although all of those who are processed through Operation Streamline have felonies on their records, they still deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion. Most likely several of those felonies have been prior convictions for “illegally” crossing the border. The private prison system is really profiting from this operation. Naturally, they would want as many felonies as possible. As I reflect on it, I can see how cold our system has become.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s