BorderLinks Fall Fundraising Campaign


I arrived in Tucson a year and a half ago and immediately jumped into migrant justice work. I volunteer with Keep Tucson Together, helping people fill out citizenship applications. I volunteer with the Tucson Samaritans in efforts to prevent more people from dying in the treacherous journey across the Sonoran desert and am currently tracing a trail that appears to be heavily used and does not have water or food drops. But those efforts don't address the injustices that cause so many people to migrate in the first place. As Executive Director of BorderLinks, I am directing more of our resources towards efforts to building a national migrant justice movement, strengthening efforts to change the policies driving migration in the first place.

BorderLinks has been a vital part of migrant justice efforts since its conception in 1988. Since then, we have held fast to our mission of raising consciousness and inspiring action in the borderlands. Now we want to increase and improve our communication with delegates once they've returned home. To do this, we need to raise more revenue from individual donations. You can make a difference by donating to my fundraising campaign right now.

Help our campaign succeed. Your money goes to BorderLinks' unrestricted fund, which means the money can be used in a variety of ways. Our fundraiser this year is dedicated to strengthening the local and national migrant justice movement. We need to strengthen our relationships with local community migrant justice organizations like Mariposas Sin Fronteras and ScholarshipsA-Z, and we need to dedicate staff time and resources to see what has come of the actions delegations planned, and to connect delegations with migrant justice activists across the country.

I've made a donation to this campaign, and I invite you to do so as well. Click here to donate today. My fundraiser runs through November 10, with a goal of $10,000. While we need large donations, small ones are important too. Can you give $500? $100? $25? Give what you can and help strengthen the national migrant justice movement today.

Mil gracias,

Brian Best
Executive Director

BorderLinks welcomes new staff member Josue Saldivar

Josue is an undocuqueer Mexican immigrant directly impacted by the risk of being detained and/or deported. His activism started in 2009 when he was employed by ScholarshipsA-Z, one of BorderLinks’ community partners. ScholarshipsA-Z provides resources and scholarshipsto make higher education accessible to all regardless of immigration status. In 2014, he was introduced to another BorderLinks community partner, Mariposas Sin Fronteras, and has been a member since then. Josue’s first involvement with BorderLinks was as a presenter for ScholarshipsA-Z in 2011. He became a BorderLinks delegation leader in 2015 and has led a half-dozen delegations.  Josue's position is a temporary one, funded through the end of June 2018, when the number of delegations drops significantly.

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Staff Update: Patricia Hohl returns!

Long-time Program Organizer Patricia Hohl is back on the staff of BorderLinks.

Patricia left employment at BorderLinks in March. Her return, along with her fellow program organizer and now Education Director Cathie Pacheco, is very good news for BorderLinks.   

Patricia is originally from upstate New York but has called Arizona home for the past seven years.  For nearly a decade, Patricia's studies and community organizing have centered on raising consciousness and building power to change unjust U.S. immigration policies. She has volunteered and organized with a number of grassroots community organizations, including  No More Deaths, the Southside Workers' Center, the Protection Network Action Fund, and Tucson Showing Up for Racial Justice.  

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Pardoning Bigotry: Trump’s words and deeds strengthen systems of oppression

President Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio sends a signal of support to those who believe that some people in this country are less human than others.

Trump pardoned Arpaio on August 25, after Arpaio had been found guilty of contempt of court for ignoring a federal judge’s order to end racial profiling. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Arpaio oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history. The pardon proclaims that racial profiling and the criminalization of people of color  are legal and socially acceptable methods of policing.

Grassroots opposition to Arpaio was strong in response to the many dehumanizing tactics that he directed his department to employ. He targeted brown-skinned people in a state that has a large Latinx population. Arpaio’s defeat in the November 2016 election was due in large part to years of organizing work done by migrant- and Latinx-led organizations in Arizona. Trump’s pardon sends a signal that even victories claimed at the ballot box can be undermined with the stroke of a pen.

Arpaio’s actions as sheriff are similar to the actions of bigoted officials during the civil rights movement. Arpaio used the power of the office of sheriff to harass and imprison people based on nothing more than the color of their skin. Trump’s pardon tells Arpaio and others with similar views that there is nothing wrong with mistreating people based on their appearance.

Racism is rooted in systems that give power and privilege to white people while denying the same benefits to others. Those systems of oppression deny people of color and people who don’t speak English equal access to employment and housing and have led to the deaths of over 6,000 migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Arpaio used his power to support those systems, and Trump has now endorsed those actions, giving succor to the enemies of freedom and justice. This was an inexcusable act, and it sets back the fight for justice for migrants by decades.

BorderLinks calls on the people of the U.S. to proclaim in words and deeds that bigotry and oppression have no place in this country, nor in our world.

BorderLinks Statement on DACA

BorderLinks stands with our undocumented and DACAmented community, especially as the current administration’s pronouncements and policy directives shake up people’s lives on a daily basis. BorderLinks supports dignity for all people in this country, regardless of status.

The latest news from Washington DC shows that groups are being bargained against each other: DACAmented people may receive a pathway to citizenship while their parents may not, and people who undertake the migrant journey in a year or two may find the hazards of the journey have increased significantly due to increased “border security”. One person’s dignity does not outweigh another’s. We cannot gain our humanity by denying someone else theirs. We stand in solidarity with our immigrant community’s fight for a just and humane life for all people in this country, and we ask you to stand in solidarity with all undocumented people.

Please call your representative and senators (202-224-3121) and demand that they support a stand-alone DREAM Act/ Immigration Reform bill that does not increase the militarization of border communities like Tucson or criminalize other migrant communities.

Operation Streamline

A delegate from Montview Presbyterian Church wrote this reflection during a BorderLinks trip in 2014.

On Monday, we had the opportunity to go and be witnesses to Operation Streamline at the courthouse building here in Tucson. None of us really knew what to expect walking into this courthouse building on our second day in a brand new city. The only information we had was the short description of the process that our group leader, Kathryn, had told us while we were waiting to be invited in. Everyone was excited and anxious as we silently walked into the courtroom and had a seat. As the doors opened and we walked in, we could hear the sound of the 70 migrants’ shackles clanging as they all turned around to look at us. The judge began the trial and called 8 people to be sentenced at once. He read the questions in run on sentences that had to be translated by a women into a microphone that played her translation into the headphones the migrants were wearing. Prior to the beginning of the trial, these people caught by border control had no more than 30 minutes to speak with their lawyer and had to sign documents in English that they couldn’t fully understand. The judge asked them if they understood what they had done and what the consequences would be and after answering yes to these questions, the judge would give them a sentence of anywhere from 30-180 days. The sentence depended on the previous criminal record these people had. After the 8 people before the judge got their sentence, they would walk, shackles and all, out of the courtroom and would be transported to a private prison. Private prisons are very expensive and because, obviously, these migrants aren’t paying for their time in prison, millions of taxpayer dollars every year are spent on these private prisons. If you’re as confused as I am, you are probably wondering why we are spending so much of our money on private prisons for people who we are just going to deport again after they serve their sentence. I understand that these people have broken the law and that many have previous criminal records from anywhere from 1-20 years ago, but spending money to keep the people we want to keep out of our country in our country for up to 6 months is a little bit of a confusing concept.

After the trial, we had the opportunity to speak with a public defender. It also happened to be his last day as a public defender, so we may have heard many things the public wasn’t supposed to hear, but some of the stories he told us were absolutely appalling. He spoke of one day when he was running late for the trial and he had run into the judge in the elevator. He apologized to the judge for running late and said he was on his way up. The judge’s response was that that was fine because the trial was already over. This particular judge had asked the migrants if they wanted to talk to their lawyers of if they just simply wanted to get the trial over with. They didn’t speak much English and ended up doing the trial before they even had a chance to speak to a lawyer. The judge simply asked them if they had crossed the border illegally and when they answered yes, the judge gave them their sentence and dismissed the court, all within approximately 5 minutes. Another story the public defender told was of a young man living in L.A. who had migrated as a child with his parents. He was caught by border patrol and deported. However, he spoke little Spanish and had no idea how to adjust to life in Mexico. This man also had a previous criminal record from 20 years ago that caused him to have to serve jail time for simply living in the U.S. since he was a child.

All of these stories got me to thinking about what it means to be an American. Legally, it means you were born in the United States or waited 25 years to get a visa. For most of us, it means having an American flag shirt from Old Navy and eating hamburgers and hotdogs with your family and friends on the 4th of July. However, for many people who have migrated to the United States, it means working as a garbage man or working in a slaughter house because even these “dirty jobs” pay better than the factory job they could have in Mexico. It means living in fear every single time you see a white truck that might possibly be border patrol, just seconds away from pulling you over and deporting you. Being an American to them means doing all these things, all because they want a better life for them and their family. After seeing all of these things, I have come to understand that the way we classify people as citizens and criminals is just plain wrong. The people who want to be in our country so badly that they are willing to risk their lives walking through the desert for days on end are the ones who deserve to be Americans.

Legal Immigration Simulation

A Prescott College student in the US-Mexico Border Studies Field Program reflected in 2014 on participating in the Legal Immigration Simulation workshop at BorderLinks:

Today we visited BorderLinks, an ‘awareness-to-action’ organization based in Tucson, Arizona. Along with No Mas Muertes, a humanitarian aid organization, BorderLinks started under the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s, which was focused on cultivating knowledge and care for those impacted by US immigration policies and national security. The need for BorderLinks’ was realized when many participants of the Sanctuary Movement came with no knowledge or understanding of what was happening at the border/in the borderlands. We met with BorderLinks’ education coordinator, Indira Arce, and Grace, who just started working with them this summer.

Indira informed us that BorderLink’s mission is to “bring awareness to inspire action” through education programs. They offer Border Delegations, Extended Civic Engagement Programs, Special Focus Delegations, and Community Workshops. They hope that through experience and interaction, participants will become allies with social justice and maltreated communities. BorderLinks acquired a building ten years ago now, where they host delegations in a dormitory setting.

What was most important for us to hear wasn’t about the organization itself, but the essence of humanity: Indira told us she became involved in immigration work, because she herself is an immigrant, and she “didn’t want to forget what [she’d] been through.” Our class has interacted with similar passion before: one of our hosts last week told us she felt the need to be involved in social justice, because she was just one step away from being that victim (illegal and undocumented). These organizations exist not only because there is impalpable injustice in our world, but also because there are extremely compassionate and strong-willed people who believe in the justice we all deserve. I say that these women’s expressions are expressions of the essence of humanity, because our ability to be connected to and impacted by each other is our humanity. We are a holon made up of holons; we are individual, but we are one. This is not to say that other organisms do not connect with each other, or with us, but they have their own vocabulary and language for their relationships, and we interpret whatever language we can to help us conceptualize the connections we do have with them. We are all holons made up of holons: humans, insects, soil, birds, light, etcetera.

After Indira introduced herself and the space, we spent the rest of our time enacting an immigration simulation. We were each given a character that held hopes or intentions for immigrating to the US. Due to judicial discrepancy and policies, very few cases were accepted:

A wealthy British resident has a job offer to play professional soccer; he was granted residency within 18 months, and citizenship in 5 to 6 years.

A single Mexican man is sponsored by his brother, who is a US citizen, and he currently has no job in Mexico; he will be granted residency in 17-28 years, and he cannot get married during that time, because it would change the conditions of his application.

A man in Honduras is sponsored by his father, who is a resident and needs his son to work. The man has a family, though, who would need to come with him. The rest of the family cannot apply for residency, because they do not have an immediate family member who is in the US. The man’s application is denied, because the risk of the rest of the family illegally immigrating to the US is too high, and the man would probably export his earnings to the family, as opposed to spend it within the US economy.

A Canadian resident is wealthy, attended law school in the US, and has a job offer as an attorney for a company that will pay for his application. This person is granted residency, and will become a citizen in 7-10 years.

A Pakistani man has a sister who is a resident in the US. She is his only family, and she wants him to migrate there to be with her. However, she cannot sponsor him, because residents can only petition for their spouse or unmarried child.

Once we completed the simulation, Indira explained the ‘rules’ to us: When a person wants to migrate to the United States, they must first apply for a visa and lawful permanent residency, which is what I commonly knew as a green card. People may immigrate under four conditions: employment-based, family-sponsored, asylum, or diversity. 50,000 visas are available each year for the sake of diversity inclusion. Visas are also available for those who plea asylum, or protection from fear or threats in their home country; albeit we heard the process is arduous and rarely upheld.

140,000 to 150,000 Employment-based visas are available each year based on a tiered preference system: (1) Priority workers, such as scientists, athletes, and business executives; (2) goes to professionals with college degrees or high-level of expertise in the sciences, arts, or business; (3) is for skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers (e.g. teachers, nurses, law enforcement); (4) certain special immigrants, such as translators or religious workers; and beneficiaries or survivors of US citizens; and (5) investors of at least $1 million, but there are exceptions for $500,000. Categories 2-5 must have a guaranteed employer who turns in a labor certification to the Department of Labor, but Priority workers do not, and (2) can apply for exceptions. 86% of the employment-based visas available are reserved for the first three categories.

Family-sponsored migrants must be petitioned for by a family member with legal status in the US. A US citizen may petition for their parent, spouse, child, or siblings; but a lawful permanent resident can only petition for their spouse or unmarried child. Children being petitioned for will be given more credibility if they are under 21, but a child petitioning for their parent must be over 21. Like the employment-based application process, those with higher priority (as viewed by the Department of State and Bureau of Consular Affairs) are processed first—it is not in order of submission, e.g. an application from a petitioner with citizenship will be viewed before one from a resident. The amount of family-based immigrants is limited in all categories, except for those who are either a spouse, child, or parent (of a child who is at least 21 years) of a US citizen; everyone else is subject to the 226,000 visa maximum.

Today was rather confusing. US immigration policy is one of the most complex and convoluted of any US law; and by the looks of our simulation, it supports the immigration of affluent white people, while subordinating people with higher needs to migrate…sound familiar? Sounds like the ringing of White Supremacy to me. What’s more, I realized another part of the expanse of my privilege when Indira told us that US citizens are among the few (of a nation) who must apply for each visa as they travel—we just simply pay the fees as we go along!

I thank Indira and Grace for their time and sharing of knowledge with us today. It surely gave me more of a foundation for the work I am to do in social justice. With each expression of our humanity, our connectedness and need for each other, we get stronger. 

Two Sides

By Esther Wang

I started my DukeEngage journey on a hot summer day in Tucson, Arizona. As a person who spends one third of her life on the East Coast, my impression of Arizona mostly stays in the context of AriZona Iced Tea. But after two weeks of delegation and work, Tucson, a city in the desert with Spanish style architecture, I began to uncover a different side of its personality–the story of immigrants hidden behind the mountains and the sublime government buildings.

The first week consisted of time spent as a delegation and orientation, during which we learned about immigration history, the context of SB 1070 and the complex background of immigration policies in Arizona. The United States is a country founded by immigrants, yet the history of minority immigrants who devoted their lives to this country is not even taught in school. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, immigrants from Asia, Mexico, and Central America were recruited by the government and entered legally to create infrastructure and build railroads. After the work was done, they were immediately told to go back and the promise of residency never came true. Despite their contribution, many became “illegal” immigrants, and never received the respect they deserved.

After 911, the U.S./Mexico border became increasingly militarized and the image of “dangerous immigrants” was used to sensationalize the public. Large corporations provided campaign funds for politicians, who in turn pushed prison privatization and used taxpayers’ money to profit from these companies. To pass relevant legislation, politicians portrayed immigrants as people who are violent and criminal. However, immigrants actually tend to be more conscious of their behavior because of their identity. Meanwhile, Border Patrol is implementing the policy of “deterrence by death.” By making the trip extremely dangerous, Border Patrol intends to stop people from entering through the desert. However, for people who are subject to political violence in their home country or who have families in the U.S., the legal process of attaining residency is both complicated and lengthy. A person may have to wait up to twenty plus years and still not get a green card. Even for those who are able to attain a temporary work permit or go through the process, the system would constantly remind them that they are “aliens” and not welcomed in this country.

Because of misinformation and sensationalizing the media and politicians, thousands of millions of Americans have started to hold a hostile attitude toward undocumented immigrants and support harsh immigration policies. Under such rhetoric and political background, it is easy to forget immigrants are human beings like us. When we walked through the edge of desert near Arivaca to do the water-drop, the heat and difficult trail almost devoured us. I cannot imagine how migrants manage to walk for weeks in the desert and risk their lives to see their loved ones. No one’s life is less than another, yet everyday people die trying to pursue a better life.

During my first two weeks with BorderLinks, Scholarships A-Z and No More Deaths, their commitment to our allies make impressed me. I admire those allies who go into the desert on a daily basis to provide humanitarian aid and who abandon lucrative careers to fight for migrant rights. As an international student and someone who shares part of the immigrant identity, I have experienced challenges and stressful moments that make me doubt myself, but those moments have lead to strength and self-realization as well. I am very privileged to have the opportunity to learn about the immigration policies and conflicts in Arizona, and I am committed to pass the knowledge and information to people around me. When I look from the U.S. side of the border in Nogales to its counterpart in México, I hope one day there will be no more deaths, walls and hatred on either side.

Migration is a Human Right

by Cristina Perez

I had heard about the border on many occasions, from the experiences of my parents, educational lessons and the media, yet nothing compares to personal experience. That is what my first week in Tucson taught me. Going to Operation Streamline, a process in which up to 70 immigrants are criminalized in less than an hour, showed flaws in the system. There was a lack of understanding in the part of the immigrants who were prompted by the judge and other immigrants to answer a certain way. Several microphones were laid out in front of about 8 immigrants that would go in front of the magistrate judge, who only asked the question once and moved on to the next person asking, “do you?” It was heartbreaking to see how we, as society, treat immigrants. In one case the US. Attorney referred to someone as “a threat to society.” We allow U.S. citizens to get away with much more, yet sentence immigrants to bails so high they can never afford them. Increased presence of Border Patrol has forced immigrants to cross through the most dangerous parts.

Immigrants cross through the Arizona desert every day, in remote trails not easily accessible. Groups such as No More Deaths, aim to place water jugs and snacks in places commonly traveled by migrants, in an effort to prevent deaths and decrease risks they face. As a group we did a water drop in Arivaca, AZ with a No More Deaths volunteer, where we walked on steep parts, rock climbed a portion and I ended up with several scratches and sore feet. The nicer weather made it easier but I cannot imagine how unbearably hot in can get or how cold it can be during the winter. This was a migrant made path, not one man-made and entirely safe to walk on. I kept looking down to make sure I didn’t lose my footing or slip. There were rusty cans, water jugs and articles of clothing scattered throughout the trail. It reminded us that this was a journey many completed but that not all make it. An altar full of rosaries, crosses, and photos of a teenager whose remains were found nearby saddened me because people shouldn’t have to suffer so much just to make it to the United States.

Border wall in Nogales, Arizona

Border wall in Nogales, Arizona

The Nogales border made it all that more about politics and perceptions of the border. I had always pictured a fence that stretched through most of the border and desert. Yet what I saw was a wall so high with cameras scattered throughout that it was impossible for anyone to ever cross. It emphasized how highly politicized immigration has become. We make it so difficult for people do something that is inherently a human right, to migrate. We politicize humanitarian aid when it should not have to be. Why is it that aiding immigrants, because they too are humans, has to mean we are taking a stand? The border just made it all that more real. I have met countless of individuals who have aided immigrants, given them rides, a phone to call home, shelter and food. And when I hear why, it’s always because they don’t deserve to be treated as less than human. The wall in Nogales has disrupted the community and goes right through the town. Nogales is a town in both Mexico and the US and through the small spaces in between this wall we could see through to Mexico, people living their lives as if the wall did not exist. The truth is, our political leaders and representatives are making decisions from Washington, far away from the border, not knowing how their decisions actually impact our communities.

The partner organization I have been working with is Casa Mariposa. Casa Mariposa provides community, support, and a safe place to live for individuals affected by the criminalization of migration or that have previously been in detention. It also has a visitation program where volunteers can visit detainees to provide company and support. When I joined it was hard to hear they were losing the house in September, but I was excited to know I would play a part in fundraising this summer. I got to know the individuals who live in the house and in a way it felt like a home away from home. On Wednesdays they host a community dinner that I'm a part of and it always impresses me how much the community has done and continues to do. I also get to read letters sent to the visitation program. It is heartbreaking to read the stories of individuals and feel powerless not being able to do much. Many write, hoping we can help and unfortunately we don’t have the financial means to bail people out or provide legal help.

As part of the visitation program I go to the Eloy Detention Center. I was a bit nervous and anxious because I had never been to a prison or detention center. All I had were images from shows and movies, but it was nothing like that. There were seats in a room, we all went in and slowly all the prisoners were let into the room. I had pictured a room with tables and guards and the warden watching over us but it wasn’t like that. It was much more causal and felt normal. I was anxious about not knowing what to say, but I found that it came naturally. Conversation could be slow to start, but they all warmed up to me and told me stories that I will never forget. From their treacherous journeys in cold freezing weather to how violence had impacted their lives, I empathized with their pain. One woman was reluctant to share specifics at first but after getting her to laugh and joke with me she broke down and I found myself crying with her. It was once again painful to feel helpless because I wished that I could do more, yet there was nothing more I could do. Another woman finally made me realize why I was there. It wasn’t necessarily to help them get out, but it was to be a listening ear because they, for the first time, said what had been circling around their minds for a long time. I was there to hear them out, provide comfort, friendship, human interaction and some laughter.

The criminalization of migration has impacted the lives of many. It benefits prisons who make money by keeping migrants in jail, they treat them inhumanely, paying them only a dollar a day for any work they do. The way we see immigration needs to change, because in the process we forget that it should not be wrong to migrate and we shouldn’t be making it so hard. Migration is a human right and should not be a crime. My first two weeks have been eye-opening, impactful and I can’t wait to see what more this summer brings.