Congressman John Lewis from Georgia was honored all last week, at the bridge in Selma, Alabama, the U.S. Capitol and the Georgia State Capitol. A firebrand in his younger days, he was arrested 45 times. His New York Times opinion piece, published on the day of his funeral, July 30, proclaims, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.” He went on, “I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”
We have warriors for good trouble right here on the border. They are the No More Deaths (NMD) volunteers at Byrd Camp in Arivaca. They live rough in the blazing summer heat, rendering humanitarian aid to migrants. I guarantee you migrants would not be in the desert had they other feasible choices. Maybe they walked up from Mexico, but God knows where they started, maybe Venezuela or Central America. And only God knows what they endured to get to Byrd Camp. And only God knows why they left their home because, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark…you only run for the border…when home won’t let you stay…..no one leaves home unless home chases them…” (Warsan Shire, British-Somali poet). Maybe they are their family’s sole support at home or in the States. Or maybe they believe we have fair laws applied by fair-minded people that will give them a fair chance for asylum. And might I point out many migrants come or return for minimum wage and essential worker jobs, regardless of COVID-19.
A jury of peers adjudicated the issue of humanitarian aid unanimously in November 2019, when NMD volunteer Scott Warren was found not guilty for offering water, food and respite in Ajo. NMD volunteers practice according to the Code of Conduct for Disaster Relief for the International Red Cross. They adhere to medical protocols, checklists and best practice standards for informed consent. The Warren jury understood this, as well as that U.S. law upholds the principle of independence, which is, as civilians, there is no obligation to report violations of law to authorities including known immigration violations. The prosecution did not prove its case to the jury, which saw no criminal intent. Instead, they saw kindness and humanitarian aid rendered in a deadly environment.
It is a disaster area in Southern Arizona, where NMD and sister groups strive to save lives and relieve suffering. The Medical Examiner’s Office in Pima County has 3,000 cases of recovered migrant remains, documented since the year 2000. (There are 12 such sites of recovered human remains within walking distance of my home on the southwestern end of Green Valley.) And these numbers are the remains that have been found.
Raid at Byrd Camp
So how come Border Patrol entered Byrd Camp last Thursday morning without a warrant? How come Border Patrol and the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) raided it SWAT-team style on Friday evening, with a warrant (though they would not show it)? How come they used disproportionate military tactics, including helicopters, an armored vehicle, ATVs and dozens of heavily armed agents? How come they did not wear face masks and tore up tents and cut the power to the water source? How come they felt compelled to confiscate cell phones, precluding any ability to document the proceedings? They did it to intimidate and terrify. The same Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents (executive branch law enforcement) executed this raid as were used in Portland, Oregon. Thirty migrants, who were in medical care, were arrested and removed. The NMD volunteers were detained but not arrested.
We have a saying here that “The Border is Everywhere.” Now we can say “Portland is Everywhere.” Last week’s raid had a precursor in June of 2017. The Border Patrol Union had endorsed Donald Trump. Parts of the Border Patrol became empowered and enabled to execute the administration’s heavy handed and militarized border policy. Emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, publicized last week, corroborate these trends.
Wrong end of the bridge
Given the Portland operation and now the Byrd Camp raid, Acting Secretary of DHS Chad Wolf, your words in regard to John Lewis on July 18 ring hollow. You said, “Let us always honor the legacy of Rep. John Lewis. America is a more just place because of his sacrifices.” Sir, you dishonor the legacy of John Lewis. You are on the wrong end of the bridge. People such as the NMD volunteers at Byrd Camp are the warriors of good and necessary trouble. And make no mistake, the rest of us have their back and will manifest the legacy of John Lewis by voting en masse in November.
Laurie Jurs has lived and worked on the border for 36 years. She has been a Green Valley-Sahuarita Samaritan for 14. All citations and references available by request via firstname.lastname@example.org.