Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Jesus and I were in Taybeh

Three weeks ago I was in Taybeh, a tiny Christian village famous for its beer brewery, the only one in Palestine. But I didn't see the brewery. Instead I saw a place where Jesus is known to have been. I cannot say I have had a personal relationship with Jesus, nor even certainty of his divinity. But I do believe he existed and that he was a Palestinian Jew. And now that I have been in Taybeh, I feel closer to him.

Only 1100 people still live in Taybeh, while 10,000 former residents have left the village in search of employment. As usual in the West Bank, there are Jewish settlements and military bases stealing land that belongs to Taybeh and in general undermining the economy so as to prevent development. Traveling with my friend, Gay Harter, we were invited to spend a night in Taybeh with the family of Jerias (ponounced JERias), a medical school graduate who had stayed two months last summer at Gay's house while he did a residency in Boston. Luckily for Palestine, Jerias is determined to finish his medical training here and not to leave his homeland in search of a better salary. Jerias showed us around his village, and I could see why it would be a good place for Jesus to rest. It is on top of a hill with great views of farmland in all directions. At the highest point, 900 feet above sea level, Jerias showed us the ruin of a Crusader church, which was built over a Byzantine church. (Archeologically verified). He said this is not a ruin, but still a church, and all 3 of the local catholic sects come here to pray together whenever there is a festival or a protest against the occupation. From this spot we watched the sun set and evening star appear, lending an air of mystery to the crumbled foundation and facade.

So, as Jesus stayed here, and I stayed here, I felt a kind of closeness to the person who brought a revolutionary message of love and resistance to a troubled world. I am bringing home a symbol of this felt connection -- a ceramic dove, made in Taybeh as an income-producing craft. The back of the dove holds a glass dish in which one puts olive oil and floats a wick - both supplied with the dove. I hope it ends up on the alter of my UCC church in Ashfield, Mass to replace the little votive candle we light for peace every Sunday. Jerias and his family gave us each a dove - so typical of the generosity and welcome that infuses the culture of Palestine. I suppose Jesus received the same welcome in Taybeh.

Friday, November 1, 2013

There is hope for Palestine

We turned off the main highway that was taking us from the Sea of Galilee South through the Jordan Valley toward Jericho and Bethlehem. The road became a dirt track strewn with bits of refuse left by a heavy rain the day before. The homes we drove past looked very like the temporary shelters we had seen bedouin living in, and likewise there were large herds of sheep and goats among the shelters. But our guide, Mohammed, said these were not bedouin. What we were seeing was poverty and homelessness caused by State policy. Israel has been trying to drive the Palestinian farmers and villagers out of the Jordan Valley since 1967 when Israel's army occupied the whole of the West Bank, including this area of rich agricultural land and abundant water. We had arrived at the village of Fasayil.
We stopped our van in front of a crumbling adobe building, and Rashid came to meet us. He is one of the organizers of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign (www.jordanvalleysolidarity.org). Rashid explained that the community is renovating this building, which looked like the back side of it had been ripped off. Although they are in Area C where Israel does not grant permits to build or renovate anything, they are able to do it to this house because it was orginally constructed befoe 1967. And, since permanent structures are very few in the village, they are determined to hold onto this one. They will use the original materials - mud and straw bricks sealed with plaster - and be able to house income-producing guests and international volunteers.

I thought to myself, "Volunteer here? There isn't a single comfort of modern living in sight." But I kept listening to Rashid and then follwed him toward the school. We had to pick our way over rough and littered ground, skirtiing the muddy places left by the rainstorm. The school was painted a bright pink, had a mural on one wall and a small playground. In 2007 the Solidarity Campaign had built the school where there had been none, in defiance of the above mentioned prohibition on building. When Israel said it would be demolished, the community mobilized enough support including from a university in England to ward off the demolition order. Of course, everyone knows that there are no guarantees for the survival of the school structure, but the Palestinian Ministry of Education has recognized the school and assigned teachers to it. It now provides an education to 150-200 children.

Before the Solidarity Campaign, homes here were routinely destroyed, and there was no electricity in this village and no access to the underground water. Palestinians in Area C are allowed to drill only 200 feet for water, but at that depth there is no longer any water because the nearby Jewish settlements drill 500 feet and take the water. (Settlements are all built on stolen Palestinian land, illegal by international law.)

Rashid supplied us with these vital statistics: The Jordan Valley is 30% of the entire West Bank. Prior to the Israeli military occupation in 1967 300,000 Palestinians lived here. Of these only 56,000 are left. Ninety percent of the Valley is in Area C where no permits are granted for construction, wells, irrigation, etc. in order to force people to leave. There are 6400 Jewish settlers who control 98% of the water. Where Area C meets Area B (larger towns where Palestinian civil authority supplies services and granst permits) Israel drew the lines so as to put the water sources in Area C, i.e. under Israeli control.

On the second floor of the other half of the adobe house which is being renovated, we met Rashid's sister, Muna. She was well dressed in a black outfit and head scarf. Earlier this year she had been arrested at a demonstration and put in solitary confinement for 22 days, in a cell 4' by 5' with no windows and with one place in the ceiling for air to come in, and one for exhaust. She was denied access to a lawyer or anyone else. It is unusual for women to be arrested, so it spoke volumes about her degree of activism. Muna continued educating us about this grassroots effort to defy the Israeli occupation with its infrastructures of permits and restrictions. She said that many inernational NGOs do not invest in Area C for fear their contributions will be demolished, but in this way, they are actually supporting the occupation by going along with its artificial and segregationist policies.

The Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign's primary purpose is to help the indigenous population of Palestinian farmers to stay on their land. They enlist the support of international volunteers like the young woman from Australia who sat with us. She was living on the premises and will stay for 3 months, but many others come on a daily basis to help with the construction tasks and to join protests such as is planned for this coming Saturday. International volunteer labor is needed because the village men and boys have to go to jobs outside the village. (Sadly, the only jobs available are inside the Jewish settlements.)

We left Fasayil at dusk, driving back along the imperceptable "road", past the boys playing soccer in an open space, past the penned goats and sheep, and onto the smooth asphalt of the highway built for settlers. (We could drive on it because Mohammed has Israeli license plates, but that is another story.)

In spite of the desolation of the physical space in Fasayil, I felt an energy and fearlessness in the people that gave me hope for Palestine. Their willingness to stay put and defy the odds by putting facts on the ground is inspiring. And, by the way, the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign supports the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS), giving us in the States a way to connect with the spirit of the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

If you lose your sheep, you lose your life.

"How did you learn English?" I asked the man walking beside me as we were leaving his camp. "I have a Masters in history," he answered, "from Jerusalem University, and my wife is American." This is not the story I expected to hear from a Bedouin who has just endured the loss of his entire community. Israeli bulldozers destroyed their homes and animal shelters on September 11 (is this date cursed?), leaving a tangled mess of corrugated iron, boards, mattresses, clothes, blankets and basic foods such as flour. Another man picked up handfulls of flour to show us what had become of their supplies.

The man with the Masters, Ahmad Abujalia, is a member of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe. He grew up tending sheep and goats, which is the life of most Bedouin, and he acknowledged that it was difficult to study at the same time as caring for the animals, especially when the goats ate his books! This bit of humor contrasted starkly with our surroundings. Palestinian Bedouin have been so persecuted by Israel that the area where they can still graze their animals has been reduced to the driest, most barren soil. They must buy hay and grain for the herds because the vegetation is long gone. In fact, I felt that this land I was walking on could not support life. Yet here 47 people including school children, plus a large number of goats and sheep, a very handsome tom turkey and some chickens had lived until a month ago.

Well, they still do live here but now in three small tents provided by the Red Cross. However, this meager shelter won't last long. Israel has decided that the Bedouin must leave this area to make way for settlement expansion. Even before they lost their homes and barns to the bulldozers, the Bedouin were denied access to water and electricity. They solved these problems by stealing a minimal amount of electrical current from a nearby town and by trucking in water. The water truck was parked there by the Red Cross tents.

When we first entered the camp I detected a bad smell, like something long abandoned and left to die. Maybe it came fom the heap of discarded animal skins which covered some animal carcasses, or maybe from the insecticide that Ahmad told me they have to spray in order to control infestation by rodents or insects. But I couldnt shake the sense that it was the smell of destruction.

Three little boys, about 5 or 6 years old, sat near us on some rubble. When we talked to them, they were all smiles, belying the fact that they had witnessed the flattening of their homes. Our guide for this visit, Angela, explained that children like these become chronically traumatized and cannot heal from the experience because the occupation is an on-going trauma.

I took pictures, which I am sorry not to include here, of the sheep and goats in their make-shift corral. Because without a shelter for the animals, their babies will die in the winter cold. Without the babies to sell for meat, the owners will have to kill the larger animals and thus reduce the herd. In this way, the livelihood of the Jahalin Bedouin is stolen from them, and Israel succeeds not only in cleansing them from the land but in forcing them to give up their culture and way of life.

Our guide, Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, has creaded an organization to defend the rights of the Jahalin who number 2,000 in this area near Jerusalem. ( Jahalin Association.org) She urged us to tell our politicians about what we saw, and to ask our media why they didn't cover this story. (Philip Weiss did cover it: Mondoweiss.org) Two other Jahalin camps were demolished on the same day as this one, so the total displaced were 88 persons. One of the places Israel offers to relocate them to is on top of a Jerusalem landfill, where others of their tribe have already been condemned to live.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A visit to Yazan

Palestine is celebrating the 4th day of its biggest holiday - Eid Al-Adha, akin to our Christmas, complete with a shopping frenzy right before it starts. Then each day, after dressing the kids in their new outfits, the family sets out to visit each and every relative, and everyone tries to forget about the occupaion. Which works up to a point.  If the extended family lives within the confines of the village or city, they can move easily from house to house or neighborhood to neighborhood, carrying traditional sweets and gifts for the children, and a festive mood prevails.  But not so easy if their aunts, uncles and cousins live in another town.  Then the experience can be like it was for my friend Mohammed and his wife, Samar.

The day before the Eid they needed to go to visit their older son, Yazan, about 30 miles north of their home city of Nablus.  The Israeli soldiers, whose duty it is to monitor the movement of Palestinians in the spaces between the cities, towns and villages, were of a mind to interfere with family visits.     So they were operating the checkpoint with a heavy hand.  They pushed Mohammed, his wife and several other families into a small room where there was hardly space for them to stand, and made them wait, and wait and wait while the soldiers checked their documents, and their packages, and their handbags.-- as if this were the border with another country. The process of checking IDs is easily accomplished by computer in only a few minutes. But as if to show maximum disresspect for the native population whom the solders now held as virtual captives, the security measures were prolonged enough to cause babies to cry and adults to argue.

Finally that miserable ordeal was over, and the captives were released back into their own land to continue their journeys.  Mohammed and Samar headed a bit further North to reach Magido Prison, an Israeli prison located right on the border btween Israel and Palestine.  For the convenience of Palestinian families who want to visit their sons and brothers, there are a set of gates on the Palestinian side of the border.  And for the convenience of the Israeli guards there are gates on the Israeli side also.

Hence my friends could eventually see Yazan, and the 45 minute visit was extended 15 minutes by the benevolent authorities in recognition of the Palestinian holiday.  However, gratitude for this gesture was tempered by the fact that the entire journey took 13 hours instead of the 6 hours usually required for such visits, and it was peppered with intentional acts of humilation along the way.

Yazan had been arrested last February 11 for failure to report the fact that an Egyptian man had tried to recruit him into a terrorist group.  As Mohammed said, the Israelis should have thanked Yazan for his refusal to accept such an offer. Instead, he was accused of the crime of not going straight away to the occupying army to inform them of the enemy in their midst.  After his arrest, he was scheduled for court appearances 6 times, and his parents made the difficult and exhausting trip to be present to offer support and hopefully to bring Yazan home.  But each time his trial was postponed . The last and final court date was for the day following this visit.

And so it was that Yazan was finally sentenced to 11 months, including time served, for his "failure to report".  His family will continue to suffer the necessary humiliations in order to visit him until he is released, free to return home to the larger prison that is Palestine under occupation.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Criminalizing Immigration & Militarizing Our Border with Mexico, Part III

     From May 19 to 27 I was in Arizona and Nogales, Mexico to try to grasp what is happening to migrants since the U.S built a wall along parts of the border. The delegation of 17 U.S. citizens was led by School of the Americas Watch founder Fa. Roy Bourgeois.  We were hosted by BorderLinks in Tucson, AZ  which is part of a network of organizations working together to provide humanitarian aid to migrants and to change U.S. immigration policies that both criminalize the migrants and militarize our 2000 mile long border with Mexico.  Within the network we met with Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, No More Deaths, the Kino Border Initiative,  Casa Mariposa and Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (HEPAC) in Nogales, Mexico.
NAFTA is the North American Free Trade Ageement, passed by Congress in 1994, and hailed as mutually beneficial, especially in the area of employment.
     The tale is not over without talking about NAFTA, a nefarious agreement if ever there was one, a service to U.S. corporations and a disaster to the majority of Mexican small farmers.   The plot is revealed in the requirement that Mexico eliminate Article 27 of its Constitution.  This Article guaranteed a system of land sharing called “ejidos”, wherein groups of farmers cultivated land in common. There was no private ownership of land, and foreign  ownership was forbidden.  Under NAFTA Article 27 disappeared, and foreign ownership became legal.  NAFTA also demanded that Mexico not subsidize agricultural production, even though the U.S. would continue this practice.
     Mexico agreed to receive U.S. grown corn at a low price, in return for which the U.S. would import fruits and vegetables from Mexico.    The ejido system gone,  farmers received deeds to a plot of land on which they could grow corn as they always had.  But, as cheap U.S. corn flooded the Mexican market,  Mexican farmers could not compete, and thus were forced to sell their land.  U.S. corporations were ready and bought up much of it.  Two million farmers were thus pushed off their ancestral lands, the source of their livelihood,
     Other U. S. corporations were ready with factories inside Mexico needing cheap labor. These factories, mostly located near the border, became known as “maquiladoras” because they assemble parts from the U.S. and send back the finished products.  We observed long lines of huge semi’s going back and forth across the border from Nogales, Arizona to Nogales, Mexico -- NAFTA on the move. Products can cross; people cannot.
     On May 25 we observed another common phenomenon, workers who had been locked out of their maquiladora without warning and without pay.  We went to the Legacy factory in Nogales which made ink cartridges, and found a group of laid-off workers  outside the locked factory under a small tent trying to shield themselves from the hot sun.  They have been holding a 24 hour a day vigil there since the day in February when all 166 workers lost their jobs.  The purpose of the vigil was to prevent the company owner from removing the machinery before granting them the severance pay due them by Mexican law.  The machinery is the only leverage they have. Of the 166 workers, some  have had to look for other work, but a core of 20--30 men and women maintain the struggle .  Legacy is owned by an American, Frank Day, who apparently owns several chains of restaurants in the States, and is wealthy.  He owes back taxes to Mexico.  We plan to find him.
    The workers explained that their salary for assembly line work is no more than $10 a day, six days a week, with no benefits.  (The average salary in maquiladoras is $70 a week.)  The Mexican government has had a huge part in this displacement  of farmers into factories, as it promoted the establishment of maquiladoras instead of  the  cultivation of food products as it had promised.  As of 2010 there were 25,000 maquiladoras in Mexico. 
    So, when we wonder why so many migrants risk their lives and separation from their families to enter the U.S., we must remember NAFTA.  And NAFTA should remind us of the wall which the U.S. started to build the same year NAFTA was passed.  And the wall should signal that we have chosen militarization as a means of controlling the human reaction to loss of land and livelihood.  And we might ask ourselves if this reflects our values.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Criminalizing Immigration & Militarizing Our Border with Mexico, Part II

From May 19 to 27 I was in Arizona and Nogales, Mexico to try to grasp what is happening to migrants since the U.S built a wall along parts of the border. The delegation of 17 U.S. citizens was led by School of the Americas Watch founder Fa. Roy Bourgeois.  We were hosted by BorderLinks in Tucson, AZ  which is part of a network of organizations working together to provide humanitarian aid to migrants and to change U.S. immigration policies that both criminalize the migrants and militarize our 2000 mile long border with Mexico.  Within the network we met with Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, No More Deaths, the Kino Border Initiative,  Casa Mariposa and Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (HEPAC) in Nogales, Mexico.  The people’s stories below are from some of the migrants I met.
Five thousand humans died crossing into the United States in the 13 years between 1998 and 2011- that is, remains were recovered  for that many.   In the Tucson area alone, 1,286 deaths were recorded since 2008.  First the Samaritans (2002) and then No More Deaths (2004) were founded  to prevent deaths in the desert.   They carry food, water and medicine to the  narrow trails  most frequently used by the “coyotes” who are guiding small groups of migrants  to a hopefully secure pick- up spot.  On a Wednesday, half of our group went with a No More Deaths (NMD) volunteer to carry gallon jugs of water to such a trail.  The footing was hazardous as little stones made the trail slippery. In some places we had to duck low to avoid tree branches, and thorny plants crowded the paths on both sides.   We had to scale a  10 foot vertical wall using small hand and toe holds.    Our destination was a small shrine under trees against a rock face, where migrants had left photos and small relics.  Along the way we also found a sock, a  t-shirt and a burlap sack such as are used to carry drugs. (more later) I kept trying to imagine walking this trail in the dark, as the migrants are forced to do.  It didn’t seem possible.
As for transporting drugs, some men are coerced into shouldering the large sacks of marijuana, others do it to reduce the $2500-3000 fee they owe the coyote.  One migrant told me that the coyotes are constantly high and thus don’t feel pain or cold.
NMD has started a new effort to prevent death and inability to keep up due to blisters.  They are assembling “Harm Reduction Kits” containing anti-blister creams, vials for water purification and a whistle.
      The group also helps to operate the comedor in Nogales, Mexico, which serves 2 hot meals a day to the recently deported, and gives every one of them two free phone calls to anywhere in the U.S., Mexico. or Central America.  In addition, they supply “Dignity Bags” to replace lost backpacks, and go to great lengths to try to retrieve the belongings that were confiscated by the Border Patrol when they were detained in the U.S.  Another part of their mission is to change the “war zone” policies of the U.S. and bring the plight of migrants to public attention.
     NMD volunteer Steve told us that when migrants are detained, their money is stored until their release.  Then it is returned to them in the form of a debit card that must be activated in the U.S., or as a bank check that costs 30% of its value to cash in a Mexican bank.  So, in effect, migrants are robbed by U.S. immigration officials.
    We met Cesar from Guatemala at Casa Mariposa, an intentional spiritual community that works with migrants and provides hospitality to some of them in their home. One of these is Cesar, a 26 year old Guatemalan who  has crossed into the U.S. 12 times and been detained and deported 9 times. The last time he was detained, he was granted a special ID that allows him to stay in the U.S. for one year but not to work.
     Cesar said 50% of his family in Guatemala was massacred, and he fears he would be tortured if he returned.  He is looking for another country where he can be safe, because he doesn’t trust that he won’t be deported again.  When someone asked him if he is angry, he responded, “I am not angry because God forgave me (through his son Jesus), so I must forgive those who massacred my family and jailed me. “
                 He told us about the conditions in ICE detention cells.  “First they put you in the ‘freezer’.  I was there for 15 days once.  You don’t have room to lie down. They give you a plastic cover, and you are very cold.  They throw some bread to the whole group and cold drinks.  The guards refused to speak in Spanish or turn their backs when you ask for something.  They wouldn’t hand him the key to his cell with their bare hand, even though everyone had been checked for AIDS and TB..  If you were sick, the only medicine was water.” 
          Cesar’s forgiveness is not my forgiveness.  Steve said two people die every day in the desert.  I now wear a medallion around my neck which bears the face of Antonia. She was crossing with her son to reunite with a daughter in the  States.   She fell behind and died.  There are 5100 children of migrants now in custody in the U.S., separated from their parents. 1500 of them are in child protective services around the country.  The rest are with relatives who have stepped forward to help.  But a relative is not this child’s mother or father.  204,000 parents of minor children have been deported in the 16 months between 2010 and 2012.
RAUL , an undocumented man who know of the pain of separation, threw himself under a Border Patrol jeep to prevent it from arresting the father of six children. He was arrested and deported, as was the father.
               In some communities immigrants are organizing Networks of Protection to be prepared in case of the deportation of  an undocumented parent.  They make detailed plans for the children, for pets, for a house or for a car that a spouse may need to get to work.
And what of the financial costs?
·      Immigration enforcement,  paying and equipping Border Patrol agents,  cost $17.9 billion in 2010, more than all the other Federal enforcement operations combined. 
·      The wall costs $3-11 million per mile. It is already over 500 miles long and many politicians are calling for extending it for the entire 2000 miles of our border with Mexico. 
·      Central Americans are flown home when they are deported at a cost of $12,500 per person. So far 76,216 have received this treatment 
·      Our profit-making prisons received $5.5 billion to house detained migrants since 2005. 
Operation Streamline – trying and sentencing 70 migrants a day in Tucson alone costs billions, and subsequent incarceration costs $688,800 per day.
And that is not all, but I stopped adding it up when I saw the figures reaching into the billions.  I figure none of us knows how much money one billion dollars is, except to say it is a lot, and most of us can think of better ways to spend it.

Criminalizing Immigration & Militarizing Our Border with Mexico - Part I

From May 19 to 27 I was in Arizona and Nogales, Mexico to try to grasp what is happening to migrants since the U.S built a wall along parts of the border. The delegation of 17 U.S. citizens was led by School of the Americas Watch founder Fa. Roy Bourgeois.  We were hosted by BorderLinks in Tucson, AZ  which is part of a network of organizations working together to provide humanitarian aid to migrants and to change U.S. immigration policies that both criminalize the migrants and militarize our 2000 mile long border with Mexico.  Within the network we met with Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, No More Deaths, the Kino Border Initiative,  Casa Mariposa and Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (HEPAC) in Nogales, Mexico.  The people’s stories below are from some of the migrants I met.
I want to tell you the stories, and the history, and the pain.  I want you to know how many dollars we are spending to  make the migrants – from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador into criminals or enemy non-combatants (my term).   I want to communicate how much human misery we are creating by our so-called immigration policies and practices.
Our border with Mexico is 2,000 miles long.   The wall and or or fence extends  between 580 and 700 miles of it.  The rest is either patrolled by Border Patrol agents or by electronics and drones.  It is a war zone, and the migrants crossing it are the enemy.
In the early 1990’s the U.S. established a policy to “solve the immigration problem” by “prevention through detention and voluntary removal”, whereby detained “illegals” were simply dropped on the Mexican side of the border.  Then we passed NAFTA and put up the wall – never saying the two were connected.  As migrants fled the consequences of NAFTA, our immigration policy  became a “consequence delivery system,”  i.e.  “you will pay dearly for trying to enter the U.S.  NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) was a knife to the heart of Mexico, and to stop the flood of migrants who had lost their means of survival – growing corn – the U.S. put up a wall.   (More on the effects of NAFTA to follow.)
The wall is 20 feet high, made of metal two by fours spaced a few inches apart so the Border Patrol can see if anyone is attempting to approach it from the other side.  At its base on the U.S. side, it is piled with rocks, in order to assure injury if someone climbed over and jumped down.   It is also equipped with surveillance cameras . In Arizona there are large gaps in the wall, precisely where it is the most dangerous to attempt to cross – the Sonora desert.  The wall designers either assumed no one would try to cross into the desert, or hoped they would cross there and die in the attempt.
Pepe  is 19.  He was just deported yesterday, so I met him on the Mexican side of Nogales at the “comedor”, the dining room run by volunteers with Kino and No More Deaths.  He is there to have the  hot meal supplied twice a day for the first three days after deportation. After that, he must have made a plan for where to go next, and make room for the unending flow of new deportees.  With worry on his face and in his voice, he said,  “I was in the desert for a month.  I had paid $3000 (to a coyote who usually promises safe passage within three days).  I saw a lot of people die.  I suffered a lot. People were falling down in front of me.  I won’t do it again.  I suffered too much.”
Also in the comedor were  about 8 women who were caught trying to get back to their U.S.- born children.  They had thought it would be easy to cross, as it had been before.  Now, if they try again and are caught in the Tucson area, they will be charged with a felony and be tried by Operation Streamline.  They will receive a prison sentence and possibly never see their children again.
    Operation Streamline is a special procedure is for people who were deported, crossed again and were caught a second time, which constitutes a felony. We observed the process in the U.S. District Court in Tucson on May 21st.    62 men and 4 women filed into the room in shackles, with chains  joining their cuffed hands to their cuffed feet and also between their feet, so they could not take a normal step.  So right away we should see them as criminals.  They are seated in the other half of the courtroom from where we are, and some are in the jury box, because there is not enough space.   They are without exception brown-skinned. Some are from Guatemala, some from Honduras and El Salvador, and most from Mexico.  Their lawyers tell the judge the names of the 6-8 prisoners they are each representing.  That makes for about 8-9  lawyers.   The first batch of migrants, the only 4 women, are brought before the judge. The judge asks each one a series of questions.
                       Do you understand the charges against you?, translated into Spanish through earphones supplied by the court.  Each one answers, ”Yes, sir.”  Do you know you can remain silent?  Translated.  “Yes sir.”  If you have no money for an attorney, one can be appointed for you.  If you plead “guilty” the maximum sentence can be 6 months in jail and $5,000 fine plus a $10 court fee.  Do you understand?  “Yes sir.”  You have the right to call your own witnesses and to have a trial by jury.  If you give up these rights by pleading guilty, do you do so voluntarily?  “Yes sir”.   The court will dismiss the felony charge for entering the country illegally after having been deported if you plead guilty to a misdemeanor.  How do you plead?  “Guilty.”  The sentences are read : For woman number one- 150 days,  for woman number 2- 30 days, for woman number 3 – 30 days, for woman number 4 – 60 days.  Do you agree to your sentence?  “Yes sir.” 
I                      I made note of the date each woman had entered the U.S. “unauthorized”. They had been  in ICE jails (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) from 3 to 7 days each.  Now they would enter our regular, privatized prison system.   The 4 were lead out of the courtroom, right past where we were sitting, so we could see their faces.  Stoic.  It was 2:04 p.m.  The whole procedure for the women took less than half an hour.  Next the men were led forward in batches of 7, and the judge went through the same routine with each batch, with the same outcome – except that a few men asked the judge’s forgiveness for entering the country illegally.   One of the Honduran men had been in ICE detention since May 7th–- 14 days.  The sentences for this batch of men ranged from 105 days to 180 days.  Three men asked the judge if they could be incarcerated in the state of California because they have family there.  The judge agreed.  A touch of humanity.                      
                          By the 5th batch of men I began to feel distracted.  I thought about eating ice cream instead of sitting here.  Then I thought about how four days ago I had been hiking with friends in the beautiful, dry and rocky mountains of northern Arizona while these men were  struggling through the desert, parched and tired, hoping for  some money to feed their families or to reunite with children and spouses, and getting arrested instead. I forgot about the ice cream.
                       Last batch – Once again a man said to the judge,  “Forgive me for entering your country illegally.”  He was not begging for a lighter sentence.  He meant it.  I wish he could hear us say, “Forgive us for ruining your life.”
                    P.S.    Prison sentences given out by Operation Streamline are to be carried out in U.S. jails.  Most of the time these are for-profit jails under  the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) or GEO Group (which was Wackenhut).  CCA houses 60% of all  migrant detainees and they reserve 80% of their beds for migrants.  As you might imagine, these entities lobby for strict immigration detention policies.  CCA gets  $3,438 a month per detainee.   Our tax dollars are the source for that fee.  Interestingly, CCA and GEO don’t pay taxes.