My first two weeks in Tucson have been powerful and eye-opening. For the first week, the focus was on learning about what is really happening in the Arizona borderlands. After discussing privilege and examining the distinctions between charity and solidarity, we delved into workshops, videos, and outings that exposed us to the issues at hand. We also got the chance to meet with people from different organizations in Tucson who have dedicated themselves to fighting the powers that be so that migrants can be treated with humanity and respect. Whether it was a lawyer committed to documenting the injustice of mass criminalization and deportations or a volunteer who drops water and food in the desert for crossing migrants, I was incredibly inspired by their relentless dedication in the face of minimal resources and harsh legislation.
I am truly shocked and disgusted by some of the policies and practices sanctioned by our government. Last Thursday, we attended Operation Streamline. Essentially, a judge gives criminal record to 45 people at once for illegally entering or re-entering the United States. Every person was assigned between 10 and 180 days time to serve in detention centers, after which he or she will be deported. Each defendant is given about 20 minutes with a public defense attorney, but it was clear to me that most of them did not understand what was going on. Some of the people being given criminal records were younger than me. The whole process lasted an hour. I could not help but feel overwhelming guilt when we walked into the courtroom and made eye contact with the “criminals,” chained by their hands and feet and wearing the same clothes they had on when Border Patrol picked them up. If I had been born somewhere else, I could have been the one in chains, and if they had been born into my shoes, they could have sat safely in the back of the courtroom like I did.
My biggest realization thus far has been how complicit I am in the oppressive structures that dominate our society. It is easy to say that I am not racist or that I support undocumented immigrants, but it is difficult to prove that through my actions, and it is even harder to accept that the biases and misconceptions I have grown up with are contributing to the injustices I claim to oppose. After learning about the violations of human rights we allow and the many steps anyone can take to stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized, I now understand that I have many more hard questions to ask myself before I can honestly call myself an ally.
By now, I have started to become familiar with the Tucson bus system and have memorized my route to work. Jair and I just finished up our first week interning with the Southside Worker Center, an organization that connects individuals, many of whom are undocumented, to work opportunities that pay just wages. Every day, “la rifa” (the raffle) randomly assigns an order to those who come to the center looking for work. When an employer pulls into the parking lot with a job, the coordinator approaches the car, asks for details about the job’s type and length, and assigns the job to the next person on the list. Workers are not allowed to accept less than $10.50 per hour for a job.
Jair and I take most of our direction from Davíd, the current coordinator, and Sarah, one of the center’s board members. Davíd speaks primarily Spanish, which has been a challenge for me; while I can understand most of what he is saying, I often need Jair to translate for me to make sure I did not miss any important details. Since Davíd is busy negotiating with employers and Sarah only comes once a week, most of our work so far has been logistical office work. We have been updating a new online database with workers’ information, going through an orientation process with new members, and creating identification cards for members who have been at the center for at least a few months.
I am looking forward to getting into a routine and unpacking more of what I have seen so far. Hopefully, there will be many more tough conversations and opportunities to grow my understanding as my time in Tucson continues.