No More Deaths
The coalition of No More Deaths, composed of advocacy groups such as Humane Borders, Border Action Network, and others for illegal immigrants, recently had a meeting to train volunteers in dealing with both law enforcement and aliens.
The primary speaker was Margo Cowan, a middle-aged, formerly-indicted lawyer who has defended undocumented people for 35 yrs, and who is now legal counsel to Rep. Raul Grijalva. Lupe Castillo and Kat Rodriguez of Derechos Humanos also attended. There were 30 volunteers, 70% of whom were from other states.
The stated purpose of No More Deaths (No Mas Muertes--http://nomoredeaths.org) is to provide humanitarian aid for illegal aliens to prevent their deaths in the desert, and to do so in a non-violent way, while not cooperating with Border Patrol. As Marie Minor, a Quaker participant said, “It’s not my job to call Border Patrol—why should I interfere with their (aliens’) destiny?”
No More Deaths members, in cooperation with church groups such as Christian Peacemakers (mostly from out-of-state), and American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), provide food and water for immigrants being detained by Border Patrol, and also in the field from mobile RV aid stations set up in Arivaca and Douglas.
Cowan stated that for every immigrant death reported by authorities, there are 10 more that go unreported. (She did not provide any evidence for where the other 90% of the bodies are found.) She said that most of the aliens coming here are 14-26 years old, and she referred to them as “our children.” She said that the Tucson Border Patrol sector was the most active, with 500,000 apprehended in 2003, and that the Border Patrol estimates 5 come through for every 1 caught, meaning 5 million “friends,” as she refers to illegal immigrants, have come over the border recently.
She said the rate of recidivism (those who’ve crossed, gotten caught, and re-crossed) is so low as to be described as “statistically insignificant” by the Border Patrol. (Studies by others indicate that once caught and deported, most illegals will try again and again, until they succeed. After all, there is no penalty but deportation, so why not?) And, although the Border Patrol claims that they have caught more felons, she said that is just a label that can be applied to undocumented aliens depending upon how many times they’ve been apprehended while crossing the border.
Cowan continued that with 2-3 million “guests” coming through every year, the U.S. Attorney can’t prosecute every one, so they decide to go after the coyotes. Often a group of aliens will appoint a person to be their leader, and each person will give him $50 or so. Then whoever is apprehended with money is the coyote.
Cowan said that we cannot aid or abet aliens in furtherance of their illegal status in the U.S., so we do not ask if they are illegal or where they are from! No More Deaths volunteers, can, however, transport possible illegal aliens to medical help. You can ask them questions to see how they are feeling, and observe their condition. There is a list of approved doctors and nurses that a volunteer can call to get an OK to take the alien for a medical evaluation.
Someone in the group suggested putting magnetized Samaritan signs with a red cross on their car when approaching illegals or transporting them, so that all will know their mission is a medically-necessary or humanitarian one.
Another volunteer said that doctors he had worked with in the organization had said that if a person is crossing the desert in the summer, that regardless of whether or not they look sick, that they all need medical help. Volunteers were instructed that if stopped by Border Patrol while transporting aliens in their cars, to identify themselves as being with No More Deaths, since there is “an umbrella of political protection” associated with the group.
And they should also say that they were taking them for a medical evaluation in Tucson at St. Mary’s or for a respite at South Side Presbyterian Church (home of Humane Borders).
According to Cowan, “we are transparent,” so there is no attempt to conceal aliens by making them lie down in the back seat or hide in the trunk.
Someone asked, “Is it OK to take them home with you if you need to pick up the list of doctors and nurses you need to take them to?” Cowan said, “Yes, but you must take them there,” (to medical help). If you meet a group and some are in distress, and others are not, you CANNOT transport those who are OK,” Cowan answered in response to a question. Then she continued: “We encourage people who want to (transport those who are OK) to do that, on their own,” but we don’t want to get in trouble, so we don’t do that as a group, under the name No More Deaths.
Someone asked if they had a 48 hr. respite recommended by a doctor, could they take the aliens home, let them take a shower, and then let them use the phone at the end of that period of time. Cowan said that although a church designated as a respite center was preferable, it was all right to do this, but if the alien calls out on your home phone, you want to make sure your ID is blocked, as you do not want coyotes knowing your number.
Kat Rodriguez asked, “How do they get from your home to the bus, or other transportation (if you are not allowed to transport them)?” Others also wanted to know if it was OK to give them some money for their trip.
Cowan responded: “Almost everyone coming over has family here who will come and pick them up. Public transportation is just too dangerous.” Other volunteers were still puzzled and asked further questions about how to aid aliens in resuming their journey after a medically-recommended respite.
Then Cowan added, “This is just what No More Deaths does; other friends do other pieces.”* And once more, for emphasis: “We can’t do this piece—other people do this piece, just in case there are some government spies here.” The volunteers smiled and laughed.
“It’s important for us to do everything to keep the criminal enterprise part away from our humanitarian efforts.” Later Cowan also said that all of us might know someone who would “do the other piece” and that there was no organized group to perform transportation functions for illegal aliens. And if you are detained for any reason by law enforcement while transporting an alien, the case must be turned over to the state’s attorney, whose decision it will be either to dismiss it or to prosecute.
A volunteer wanted to know if he could give the aliens a map, so that they knew where they were and how to get to where they were going. Cowan said that it was a legal gray area; and “we are concerned that ppl may misinterpret them and they won’t be helpful.”
Others in the group shared stories about Border Patrol agents who did not want them to give water or food to alien detainees in the field, and they were assured that is perfectly legal to give them the “Know Your Rights” card, and to share food and water with them. Cowan said those agents who are resistant to NMD volunteers’ help are: “young agents, scared to death, based on lack of knowledge, substantively and culturally, of who they are dealing with.”
Kat Rodriguez chimed in: “God forbid you feed a felon.”
The group discussed the necessity of getting a written commitment from local law enforcement (cities, county sheriff’s) to not enforce immigration law, since only the Department of Homeland Security has authority to inquire into a person’s illegal/legal status.
As far as the Border Patrol is concerned, they have no authority over you while you are on private property, and that includes churches that may be used for respites. [Subsequent inquiries of Border Patrol indicated they do have authority over private property if there are illegal aliens or smugglers there, although they try to cooperate with property owners as much as possible. As a general policy, BP doesn’t go into churches unless invited by the minister or other concerned citizens, although if illegal presence is suspected, ICE would investigate.]
One of the speakers claimed that there were no kitchens in the detention facilities, and sometimes people there said they had not been fed for 48 hours. She wanted to know if the group cared to organize an effort to bring a mobile kitchen to the incarceration facility to feed the aliens.
Toward the end of the meeting, Lupe Castillo blurted out: “Let’s not get so wrapped up in humanitarian aid that we forget our principle effort is in changing border and immigration policy.”
Margot Cowan said, “We have a schizophrenic public policy. While we need illegal workers (without them, whole industries would collapse), politically, we make it very difficult for them to get here.” She claimed that the second largest source of Mexico’s GNP is the remittances from illegals here.
The group discussed the difficulty of finding respite churches in the local Douglas/Bisbee area. Someone with experience in persuading their leadership said not to take no for an answer, but just to keep coming back until ministers yielded to their bullying and gave in.
*After much reflection on the word Cowan used, “friends,” I strongly suspect that this may in fact identify persons from the Quaker group, American FRIENDS Service Committee. I really think that some of them are convinced that they are running another underground railroad, but this time for illegal aliens. (Some of you may recall the Quakers had a history of helping pre-Civil War runaway slaves.)