Every day approximately 122 young adults in the United States lose the protection of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). These persons were brought to the United States as children, many as infants, but now face the threat of deportation to lands they barely know. Since the Trump administration announced the cancelation of DACA on September 5, 2017, over 15,000 persons have lost protection, meaning they have lost access to driver’s licenses and work permits (91% of DACA recipients are employed). Congress has the power to stop this untenable situation right now.
South Carolina’s own Senator Lindsey Graham along with other senators have introduced a bipartisan bill to establish a permanent fix for the nearly 800,000 young persons who have been eligible for DACA. Known as the Dream Act, this bill establishes a legislative remedy to a problem that was heretofore addressed by executive action. Yet as time runs out for more and more young adults, some in Congress and the Trump administration are determined to hold up voting on the Dream Act in order to bargain for funds to build the president’s “great wall” along the U.S./Mexico border. Elected leaders are toying with the lives of young adult immigrants to fund a project that now appears will not be funded by the Mexican government. Nor is the wall in any way a good idea.
I recently returned from the current wall along the U.S./Mexico border, spending time with activists in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico and Nogales, Arizona. We gathered from all parts of the country, united in resistance to the increasing militarization of the border. We gathered on both sides of the wall, embracing the hands of one another through a great metal barrior.
So much of our discussion around immigration is uninformed, inaccurate, and dangerous. Upon returning to South Carolina, someone asked how I could have gone to the border wall when it had not yet been built. I pointed out that the militarization of the border began in the Clinton presidency and that the current 700 miles of border wall and fencing began to be constructed in 1994 at a cost of approximately $3.9 million per mile. I shared the strategy employed by the federal government to use geography as a deterrent, walling off traditional and safer entry points into the U.S. with the expectation that migrants would avoid the harsher desert terrain.
I tell this uninformed soul that the federal government’s predictions were wrong, deathly so. I explain that when someone feels pushed out of their homeland by violence, kidnappings, disappearances, or the inability to feed their family, a risky walk through the desertlands seems a legitimate option. I talk about an economy in the U.S. that demands immigrant workers without granting sufficient pathways for those workers to enter legally. I hint at the hypocrisy of allowing free trade of commerce and materials but not labor.
Do we have a wall? Yes. And we know one of the clear outcomes of having that wall: death. I daresay if many people do not know that a wall already exists along the U.S./Mexico border, even fewer know the deadly consequences of our “great, great wall.” Since the increased militarization of the border, over 6,000 sets of human remains have been recovered in the places where the federal government said the geography would be a deterrent to border crossing. In Pima County, Arizona, the desert has always taken lives. Between 1990 and 2000, the average number of migrant deaths in southern Arizona was 12 per year. From 2000 to 2014 that number increased to 170, with some years having well over 200 remains recovered in Pima County, AZ alone. Between October 1, 2016 and July 18, 2017, the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner in Arizona had examined the remains of 129 individuals presumed to be migrants. Sadly, these numbers represent only remains that have been found. One organization, Colibrí Center for Human Rights, has records for more than 2,400 missing persons last seen crossing the U.S./Mexico border. These are the statistics that show how deadly our wall has been over the years.
The large amount of money spent on walls and an ever-increasing militarization of the border are staggering. But so are the costs in human lives. I’ve met children whose parents, after becoming ill, sat down in the desert to die while someone in their traveling group took the child and carried them to safety. Just envision a dying mom, too weak to lift her head from the desert ground, letting go of her spirit with a belief that at least her child will have a better future. Our beautiful desertlands have become places of death, and we often do not know about it. When, in the last election cycle, did any candidate talk of the people who have died in increasing numbers along the border?
The piety of Southern Christianity often includes a declaration after death, “Well, it must have been her time,” suggesting that it is God who controls when we die. Given what we know about the border, we might call this fake theology. It is not God who takes the lives of migrants in our desertlands. It is our policies and practices that kill. It is our wall that kills.
That’s why we must pass the Dream Act without having to negotiate a way to inflict more harm and death along the border through the construction of additional walls. The 800,000 young people who live, work, study, and flourish in the United States deserve to have a Dream Act without having to embrace border policies that lead to death. We have a wall. And it continues to kill.