I got to Tucson on Saturday night at about 10:30pm and took a van share straight to the abandoned convent I was told I could stay. Once there, I met my first NMD's volunteer, Smat. He was here for the training too. We chatted a bit, I made myself a sandwich and headed to one of the empty rooms to place my things on the ground and setup "camp." It's quiet in the convent. There is a room with furniture for toddlers with a play rug and a slide. Everything in this room is in primary colors. There is another room with four bookshelves filled with books on saints for children from the 1950s and such with a few tables and chairs. There is a kitchen, a few bathrooms, and that's about it. No beds, no couches, no internet, no TV. Already on my first night, my sleeping bag and mat laid out on the concrete floor, I thought, what have I gotten myself into? And I quickly chuckled at how unbelievably privileged I am that I can't lay on a floor in silence for more than 2 minutes without wondering how I can get out of this. The following day, Sunday, the other volunteers appeared and we got a 6 hour long training on border history, the Good Samaritan project from the '80s, No More Deaths, open communication and consensus, and a talk on legal matters. This last one was an important talk as some of the things I would be doing in the next 10 days might be on a fine line of what is legal and illegal, but by then my stomach was growling for dinner and my back aching for a stretch, and I just thought, well, I hope I don't get ticketed for anything and made a note to take my ID with me everywhere.
Day two began with a two hour lecture and discussion on the prison industry, SB 1070 and copycat laws, and Operation Streamline. This video kind of gives a quick overview on how these are all connected:
This was definitely new to me, and I still want to do much more research on the subject, but it's hard not to feel an emotional reaction to the profiteering of convicted migrants. Not to mention how it makes my stomach turn every time I see another example of how money really runs the government, not the people.
After lunch we went to the Tucson court building to see Operation Streamline in action. Operation Streamline is an action meant to streamlining the judicial system to get more illegal immigrants prosecuted of a federal misdemeanor in a shorter amount of time. And basically that means a federal judge sees 70 men a day, 5 days a week within the time span of 45 minutes to an hour and a half. And for that to happen a judge calls up 5-7 men at once. It's like a removal factory, except they aren't necessarily removed, but placed in our prison system from anywhere from 30 to 180 days, and then sent back.
It was heartbreaking to see these men and one woman shackled at the ankles, waist, and wrists, still wearing the clothes they walked the desert in, still dirty, still lost. As I walked into the pristine court room the smell coming from the right side of the room where they all sat and then the sound of the jingling chains were the first things to hit me. There is so much more I want to say, but I will leave it here for now. Here is an article from NPR on Operation Streamline.
Tomorrow I finally go to the desert. I have to say I'm a little apprehensive about it. There will be no toilets or showers. There will be rattle snakes and diamond backs. There will be border patrol and ranchers, and of course there will be migrants. Even though I've been told of what I will find out there, I still don't know what to expect. I feel like a soldier new in country. I have my clean socks and I have my water supply ready, but that's about all I can do. That and wait, wait to be in the shit.