The Criminalization of Migration Courtney Perales ’17 Two summers ago, I volunteered in the Arizona desert with No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid organization, which provides food, water, and basic supplies for migrants who are traveling through the Arizona deserts and mountains. They provide vital humanitarian aid, medical treatment, and organize protests and visibility campaigns to raise awareness about the hundreds of deaths that occur every year in the deserts. It wasn’t until I had this experience with No More Deaths that I learned how over 6,000 people have perished along the Mexico-US border since 2000 and the complete disregard that politicians and border police have for these lives lost. People disappear every day in the desert, yet there isn’t some national outcry to provide these individuals with emergency shelter or medical treatment. The fact that no one is talking about this humanitarian crisis at our southern border reveals the horrifying reality that in the United States, some lives just don’t matter. Conversations around border security and militarization often ignore the deadly consequences of their implementation along the Mexico-US border. Through the construction and fortification of a border wall, migrants have been funneled from previously traveled trails to the mountains and remote desert areas. Since 2000, thousands of people have died attempting to cross the Mexico-US border and the number of deaths continues to rise. It is deeply disturbing that after spending days traveling through extreme conditions in the desert in order to get to this country, migrants are received with cruel treatment from immigration police, racist rhetoric in the media, and restrictive immigration policies. When apprehended by immigration authorities, migrants are often denied adequate food, water, and blankets while in their holding cells. These cells are called “ICE boxes” and are known for their near freezing temperatures, overcrowding, and poor food. Some cite the poor conditions in these cells as being a form of psychological torture on the part of the border patrol. Border patrol agents are also known to vandalise water drop sites by slashing or kicking life-saving water that is meant for migrants. They have a history of lethal violence in the Southwest and have been implicated in the deaths of over 40 people since 2010. Their reputation for brutality is so pervasive that humanitarian aid organizations like No More Deaths, End Operation Streamline, and Derechos Humanos have dubbed it a “culture of cruelty.” Once transferred from border patrol custody to federal court, some are subject to public humiliation in criminal court, shackled and presented as dangerous criminals. The court proceeding is known as Operation Streamline, and is operational in the Border States of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Operation Streamline can sentence up to 75 migrants to prison every day in under two hours for the felony charge of “illegal entry.” Upon attending an actual Operation Streamline court proceeding, I was horrified by the lengths the state took to criminalize migrants. People were chained by their hands and feet and were required to answer judges in Spanish, even if they didn’t speak the language. They served sentences between 30 and 180 days all for entering into the country without proper documentation, something that had previously been labeled a misdemeanor before 2005. Operation Streamline takes places in border cities like Tucson, Arizona and Del Rio, Texas and continues to profit from the “othering” and criminalization of immigrants. Once they are sentenced and placed in prison or detention center facilities, migrants continue to face poor treatment and physical and verbal abuse from prison guards and detention center officers. People cross the border every day for more working opportunities, to be reunited with their loved ones, and to escape violence in their countries of origin. Instead of being heralded like the heroes they are, they are met with racialized state policies, abusive border patrol agents and detention center officers, and dehumanizing rhetoric. This is shameful and the United States needs to be held accountable for its actions both abroad in the countries of these migrants and at its own border. Though there is much work that needs to be done in condemning this oppressive and racist immigration system, the actions and powerful testimonies of migrants and undocumented peoples throughout the country have brought the conversation a long way. These individuals have propelled change through their incredible artwork, writing, public disruptions, and active resistance. And in spite of the state of immigration, that is beautiful. This article is for my father’s parents, Sylvia and Luis Perales, who migrated from Peru so that their children might have a better life. You are the real heroes and are dearly missed every day. Courtney Perales is from Windsor, Connecticut. She is a junior in the Anthropology Department and getting certificates in Latino Studies and Latin American Studies. Please contact her at email@example.com.
Spring 2016 Print Edition