Border Issues

Throughout this adventure we have crossed seven borders and visited eight countries. In each country we heard comments about migration and border issues. In Costa Rica people grumbled about Nicaraguans entering their country illegally and taking jobs. In El Salvador people talked about security concerns with the Guatemala / El Salvador border being made easier for goods and people to cross. In Southern Mexico we heard comments about Guatemalans coming to Mexico for work. And as we crossed the US / Mexico border we heard comments on both sides about needing to make changes in the border policy. This last feature of the week is written by a friend of ours, Karen Green, who has been working with border issues on the US / Mexico border. Many of these thoughts could be applied to other country borders as well.

The Face of Mexico to U.S. Migration in the 21st Century
By Karen Green

I work for an organization called BorderLinks, which has offices in both Tucson, AZ and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. We are a non-profit organization dedicated to dispersing information by taking people from the United States on experiential education programs along the border. The border offers insight into the effects of globalization. Nogales, Sonora, for example is kind of like a laboratory, where the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is in full swing. People have come to many border towns from southern Mexico where they used to have dignified work as farmers. Part of NAFTA took away Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which guaranteed that Mexican farmers could own and work communal land. With NAFTA came large multinational agro-business, putting small farmers out of work. The border called to them, with “good” jobs in foreign-owned assembly plants, where most people can earn around $1/hr. This miserable $1/hr multiplied by 68,000 workers is what the city of Nogales will earn, even though many workers go across the border to the U.S. to buy goods because they are cheaper.

The Nogales population skyrocketed within the last 20 years, growing from 30,000 to almost 400,000. It is like a teapot at its boiling point, blowing a whistle at the government policies that created this chaos. In line with a U.S. policy to secure the border and curb illegal immigration, it created a series of walls in larger urban centers. The wall in Nogales was built in 1996 from excess landing mat from the Gulf War. Due to the wall in this urban area, migrants who wish to cross have to do so in the harshest part of the Sonora desert.

Every summer there are more and more migrants who die from heat exhaustion or dehydration while trying to cross the border. More than 2,000 people have died since 1998 and 226 died just during the 2004 fiscal year. Up to 1,000 people per day try to cross just in the area along the border with Arizona. These migrants are desperate to earn a decent wage in the U.S. and then return to their families. The U.S. economy depends on their labor in all sorts of areas like harvesting produce, meat-packing, landscaping, construction, etc.

I became part of a movement along the border called, “No More Deaths,” which was started by the original Presbyterian church in Tucson that organized the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s and 1990s, helping Central American refugees who were fleeing persecution during wartime and seeking asylum in the US. No More Deaths is a coalition of organizations that collectively put water tanks in the desert, educate the public, provide medical assistance to migrants and work for policy change here in the US. There are an estimated 9-12 million undocumented migrants in the United States... Millions of people without a voice.

I can offer a few main points in this complex situation: