Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Desert Musings

The sun is just coming up over the mountains. A supernatural symphony of colors rings around the tiny round house I am staying in. Pinks, purples, blues, oranges, yellows and deep red hang not only in the east, but cling to all the mountains that circle this desert basin around Douglas, Arizona. The mountains that I see to the south of me are well into Mexico.

Out in the desert this morning, dozens, if not hundreds of undocumented Mexican laborers, migrantes, are cocking an eye at the light that is harbinger of sunrise, wondering if they will connect with loved ones today, or perhaps a coyote who will carry them to Tucson or Phoenix. Or will today be the day that they are robbed by banditos, captured by the Border Patrol, hassled by vigilantes? Rising to make good use of the light and the cool hours of the morning, I imagine a small band of folks gathering up their scant belongings, taking a wary drink of water, and pushing on, to the north.

These folks are pulled on by the same life force that draws salmon to spawn, ducks to fly south, and which has drawn people to this continent for millenia. The inexorable pull towards Life, what the Greeks called Eros, pulls them. They are seeking greater prosperity, freedom, expression, exploration of this thing called Life. Most of them have a promise of work awaiting them. In 2003, money sent home by Mexican migrant laborers in America exceeded the value of new foreign direct investment in that country. It is fair to say that the Mexican economy is dependent on these workers.

It is also fair to say that the U.S. economy is dependent on these workers. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2001 58% of agricultural workers, 24% of private household services, 17% of business services, 9% of restaurant workers, and 6% or construction workers in the U.S. were undocumented workers. This is to say, the U.S. economy is totally dependent on this labor source, and has been since the U.S. beat up Mexico and stole the western states from her.

Immigration used to be much more humane, however. The border was a very permeable membrane, risk was low, Mexicans worked in the U.S. and then returned home. However, the trend, following closely the development of trade agreements, has been towards a more and more militarized border. The U.S. Border Patrol now has a $4 billion budget, approximately 11,000 agents, and an increasingly difficult job, as the migration escalation race is on.

Every action has an equal and opposite reation, right? So, what is the consequence of "hardening" the border? Almost three hundred people died in the desert that we know of last year. Forced to cross in more and more difficult places, migrantes are beaten by the desert, and die of hypothermia. The cost of being smuggled across has risen to as high as $1500 from $50 ten years ago. There are robbers in the desert. Reports of rape and human trafficking are frequent, and organized crime syndicates and gangs from as far away as Japan, China, Russia, and Ukraine are involved in the increasingly lucrative trade of weapons, drugs, sex slaves, false documents, and illicit transport across the border.

Sanity and humanity demand that a totally new approach to immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border be taken. If the "free market" is going to govern the flow of goods and capital, it must also govern the flow of labor—let the workers move freely to where their markets are! We could document workers, collect taxes on their wages, and develop a system to encourage U.S. citizenship, or allow seasonal workers to return home. (The border is now so tough that many Mexicans who would have gone home seasonally in the past just stay in the U.S. now.) Why can’t we do this?

The simple answer is racism. I know, I know, the race card. How boring. Must we go there? Well, yes, we must. Imagine if Mexicans looked like Scandinavians. Do you really think that we would be having all this trouble? In fact, imagine that there was a nation that also shared a long border with the United States and was primarily white, and had a huge number of undocumented migrants in the U.S.—oops! You don’t have to imagine it. Canadians constitute the second largest population of undocumented workers in the U.S. and nobody cares!

The Border Patrol was made up of a reconstituted Texas Rangers outfit. The Rangers were primarily charged with keeping blacks, Mexicans, and Indians in line. They developed a totally toxic racist culture, and this carried over to the Border Patrol. The B.P. has to some extent become a professional organization, with a reputation for sucking off the teat of the federal budget while making an appearance of tackling an utterly futile task. The rise of vigilante groups on the border is more disturbing. How could any person of color look at these beer-bellied white men in cowboy hats and jacked up four wheel drive trucks and not think of a lynch mob?

The sun is up now. Coffee is on. I put two litres of water in my pack, and jam my huge Australian hat on my head. My wool vest guards against the morning chill, but will soon go in the pack as the mercury rises. We are going to see the water stations in the desert on the Mexican side today. The tanks on the U.S. side are shot up or otherwise vandalized before many days go by, so activists have focussed on placing tanks on the south side of the border. What surprises await today? What shifts of perspective? In the study of ecology, we understand that the action in natural systems takes place along the borders—between forest and plain, or ocean and shore. Perhaps human culture and the Great Turning towards a just, sane, and sustainable society will get a further boost from the turbulence on the Border.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Robin M. said...

Dear Carl,

Do you read our comments? Do you know how good it is to read your posts?

Thanks,
Robin

8:06 PM, October 27, 2005  

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