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.