Monday, July 30, 2007


The team is in Washington D.C. on Monday July 30, preparing for a public witness and action. We have a banner that came with us from Brownsville Texas, covered with signatures, and saying "No Border Wall". We have a letter from an 11-year-old girl to President Bush, saying "No Border Wall". That is the message we are bringing. This poem was used in our liturgy this morning.


In Douglas Arizona, on a starry night,

Four blocks from our house loomed a painful sight.

The border wall, what is its name?

The closest description is the Wall of Shame..

U.S. Americans in nice houses to the north;

Central Americans and Mexicans in shacks to the south.

The sign on the border says we don’t want you here;

But there are jobs and employers who say “nothing to fear”.

What to do now, the migrants all ask

To go home with nothing is a losing task

Crossing the desert is dangerous they say,

But you risk your life and do it, there is no other way.

Two hundred die there every single year,

The wall is their killer, that’s perfectly clear

And their families back home,

Will have one more loss to moan.

The Rio Grande Valley shows other dimensions

The families who live there belong to two nations

People have crossed freely for many generations

Now a wall is proposed that will harm their relations.

The wall will hurt families like a knife through the heart;

Mothers and children wll be left far apart.

Fathers with work can only send money;

They cannot go home to be with their family..

And what sort of message does the wall send?

Would you slam a door in the face of a friend?

Keep our Latino neighbors from our land of freedom?

Is that, our dear nation, what we’ve become?

That wall is shameful, you could call it a sin;

Dividing up families, killing women and men.

Locking the river kills the animals too,

While rotting the hearts of both me and you.

Save your conscience.

Save your soul.

Just say no.

To the border wall..

By Haven, Washington DC, 30 July, 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

From the interior borderlands to the belly of the beast

The Borderlands Witness Drive arrived inside the beltway on Wednesday evening, July 25th. The 110th Congress is scurrying to wrap up the current session and depart this steamy city. The ground is still fresh on the interred remains of the comprehensive immigration reform bill, sidelined in the Senate just a few weeks ago. Members of both parties are carrying wounds of dissatisfaction and disappointment at their failure to enact this desperately needed legislation.

For our initial day of meetings with congressional staffers this past Friday, we prepared the following handout to help in the discussion:

Christian Peacemaker Teams
Borderlands Witness Drive
Proposals for Humane Immigration Reform

The Borderlands Witness Drive traveled the length of the United States border with Mexico beginning in Tucson, Arizona, continuing to Brownsville, Texas during July 2007. We met many individuals, communities and organizations that shared stories of life in border communities. We bring these perspectives to help inform the current debate on immigration. Beginning with the framework set forth by Arizona’s No More Deaths Coalition, we have the following observations:
  1. Current policy has failed. It has not stemmed the flow of immigration; rather, it forces people to cross in more dangerous areas. Deaths in the desert have reached an all-time high.
  2. Additional construction of border walls as authorized by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 will further divide families and local communities without providing an effective solution.
  3. Any responsible immigration reform must address the status of the 12 million undocumented people currently living in the U.S. Many families include both documented and undocumented members—there is a dire need to keep these families together.
  4. The vast majority of immigrants come to work. We must ensure humane working and living conditions for temporary guest workers.
  5. A just policy must address the root causes of immigration. Many Mexican and Central Americans have been forced out of their communities by crippling global economic policies.
Initiatives we support:
  • DREAM Act
  • AgJOBS bill
  • Congressional visits to border cities to include those most directly affected in policy debates and decisions
Initiatives we consider harmful:
  • Costly and ineffective efforts to secure the border by means of walls and virtual walls
  • Detention of undocumented immigrants with no other criminal record

Borderlands Witness Drive team members: John Heid, Wisconsin; Sarah Shirk, Illinois; Haven Whiteside, Florida; Brian Young, Indiana

As mentioned in the handout, the five points at the beginning are based on the Faith Based Principles for Immigration Reform provided on No More Deaths' site.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Looking back on Louisiana we left the border and entered the interior last week.

by Haven, July 16, 2007

Entering Louisiana, what will we find?
Immigrants of another kind.
Here they live, here they work;
Hot and sweaty, they do not shirk.

In the cane fields oh so sweet,
With snakes and skeeters round your feet.
On the rooftops in the blazing sun,
Repairing the wreckage Katrina has done.

Gas and oil wells, what about them?
Are they jobs for migrants, or poor white men?
Survival the key while they feed the machine,
Of economic progress, huge and obscene.

Lake Charles Beach, three people in sight,
On a late Monday morning, though the sun is so bright.
Time off is a privilege, like money in the bank
Only the rich have enough; do they thank
The migrants who make it possible?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Who's Imprisoned? Who profits? Who pays?

On July 22, the Burlington, NC Times-News front page headlines read: "Detainees help keep jail full". 319 undocumented people have been detained in the county jail since May when local sheriff's deputies adopted immigration enforcement roles.

In January North Carolina passed legislation whereby local sheriff's departments are mandated to carry out Homeland Security's ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) tasks. On any given day since May, 80-90 undocumented people are held in the Burlington jail. The facility is filled well beyond capacity and pulling in $61 per day per ICE detainee. "ICE detainees have already brought in more than $183,000-about $152,622 in June."

"It's a perpetual door, but that's the way it's designed when you are having a turnover of individuals but no change in numbers," a Sheriff spokesman commented. The article reports that ICE officials have been hesitant to talk to the media about the program and that "operating largely in secret, ICE has 10 immigration deputies working at the Alamance County jail. The sheriff's department has no control over when ICE detainees are brought in, or how many. No one knows when ICE vans come and go, and there is no set schedule."

Of the 319 ICE detainees held in May, 149 lived in Alamance county. The article closed with a sheriff's department spokesman comment:"Residents are not citizens."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Perfect Storm

The Borderlands Witness Drive has entered the southeast, a region historically familiar with storms both natural and socio-political. For the migrant laborer the region is fraught with hazards, both institutional and random, communal and governmental. For the first time in the Drive we are hearing accounts of a climate of hate crimes directed against Latinos. Fueled by inflammatory, racialist local media, talk show radio and small town newspapers, random acts of violence are more the rule than the exception in the so called "deep south."

A series of state and local laws have further complicated and criminalized the lives of undocumented residents. A driver's license is now required in Georgia in order to register a motor vehicle. Some county sheriff's departments are trained and charged to carry out federal Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) tasks. Legislative initiatives have been proposed to make 3 citations for undocumented entry (currently a civil offense) into a felony. Local police routinely set up check points and stop traffic at intersections near factories where large numbers of migrants work.

Meanwhile, ICE raids and deportations continue apace. The middle of the night is not an uncommon time for such raids here. As elsewhere in our travels, talk of more detention centers is frequently heard in the background.

In short, we are witnessing, in the southeast, a collision of forces designed to intimidate, abuse and criminalize the Latino community... from vigilante to police, from media to legislative. A perfect storm of hate and dehumanization.

This community under siege is rising with creative nonviolent responses. Marches have been organized. Monies are being raised to initiate English language talk radio programs to put a human voice on the Latino community which has borne the brunt of vitriolic, racialist talk radio. Volunteer cross city trash pick-up drives have begun in Charlotte, NC. Some churches are stepping forward in advocacy roles. Latino workers and families are being educated about their legal rights when ICE raids occur.

The southeast is woven with a fabric of white, black and Latino histories. The economy is an integrated one. Small towns and large cities are dependent on Latino labor and Latino buying power. These communities are richer for this cultural diversity, and Latinos here, despite all, are seeking to raise community awareness to this reality.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Stewart "Detention Center"

Stewart Detention Center, Lumpkin GA

July 19, 2007

We drove to Lumpkin GA, intending to visit Stewart Detention Center. On the way we carefully avoided Ft Benning, where John is permanently banned. Our advance information, that we could just show up and get a tour of Stewart was incorrect. So, we spent several hours waiting at the 4-Way BBQ, while Sarah exchanged inconclusive phone calls with Warden Vance Laughlin. Late in the afternoon, after checking CPT's record, and getting assurance that we would not chain ourselves to the fence, he offered us Friday or Monday, but our schedule did not allow us to stay. So we simply drove around the facility. It is about 1 ½ miles east of Lumpkin, with the usual double chain link fence, razor wire, and patrol road around it.

According to the May/June newsletter of Prison & Jail Project (, contact John Cole Vodicka ) the prison is nearly full, with 1500 men locked inside. This is more than the population of Lumpkin itself (1284)! It is operated by Corrrections Corporation of America (CCA), and was opened Oct. 1, 2006. Shortly afterwards the ICE raids of workplaces around the country increased, and Stewart was soon filled. Like Raymondville, Stewart holds many people who have immigration violations that could be handled in less restrictive and less expensive ways. This is an emerging, widespread problem that we have observed on the CPT Border Witness Drive.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


“Walls don’t work” is a theme we heard many times during our time in the Rio Grande Valley. Laredo Community College sits in a bend of the Rio Grande near a point where migrants often cross from Nuevo Laredo. At a cost of close to 1 million dollars in Homeland Security funds, the college erected a ten-foot-high wrought iron fence all the way across the southern edge of its campus. This has not stopped the people from coming. An art teacher at the college who lives in faculty housing just inside the fence told us that once the fence was built, migrants began prying the bars apart to make it through. The college welded a crosspiece to the bars to hold them together; people began to use this piece as a step to make it over the top. Others have tunnelled underneath. The teacher told us that when it first was put up, he thought the fence was a good idea, but he’s since seen its ineffectiveness. People will always find a way over, under, or through.

Walls don’t work—a Cameron County judge speaking at a rally in Brownsville echoes the refrain. Judge Cascos is typical of many in this majority Mexican-American community: a son of immigrants who has worked hard and is committed to his community. He is also typical of most public officials in the Rio Grande Valley in his opposition to a wall that would separate the U.S. and Mexico along the river. He has just returned from a visit to Washington, D.C., where he advocated with federal officials for alternatives to the wall.

There are, however, walls in the borderlands that are far more effective than any physical structures that the U.S. government might seek to erect. Many young people growing up in the Rio Grande Valley find their opportunities severely limited because their undocumented status prevents them from obtaining financial aid for college. One community leader says, “There are so many talented youths who want to go to school, but their education is truncated.” Graduating from high school is like hitting a wall for many here. Others are walled in by fear of being detained by the Border Patrol and losing everything—family members, community, homes—that they have worked so hard for over so many years.

And within the hearts of those of us who do not have to live these borderland realities,
there are also walls, walls built of fear and indifference. May God grant us grace to make it over, under, or through these walls, that we might see more clearly the faces of our sisters and brothers struggling in the Rio Grande Valley, and that we might join their struggle for a humane immigration policy.

--Brian Young