Immigrant Rights News - Friday, November 21, 2008
1. Eduardo Stanley: Reforma migratoria es parte de la economía Si Barack Obama quiere arreglar la economía, entonces tendrá que considerar la inmigración.
2. AlterNet: Border Fence to Carve up Nature Reserve
5. Time magazine: In Mexico, a Theme Park for Border Crossers
Eduardo Stanley / 11-21-08
Reforma migratoria es parte de la economía
Si Barack Obama quiere arreglar la economía, entonces tendrá que considerar la inmigración.
FRESNO — Los migrantes se movilizan en búsqueda de empleos que no encuentran en sus paises de origen, a pesar de que los mercados están regulados por las mismas leyes, como se puede apreciar en estos momentos, donde la crisis es también "global".
En Estados Unidos, los "sin papeles" pagan impuestos pero no acceden a ningún servicio social; no pueden reclamar su jubilación (aunque de sus cheques salen los aportes al Seguro Social), no reciben reembolsos de sus impuestos, ocupan espacios sociales marginales y movilizan un amplio sector de la economía como consumidores.
Pero su principal aporte es su trabajo, la plusvalía que generan en sectores de la economía que a los estadounidenses no les atrae: construcción, empaques y agricultura, entre otros.
Por ejemplo, tanto es el aporte de los indocumentados, que cuando la industria de la construcción entró en crisis hace casi dos años, miles de trabajadores fueron despedidos sin que pudieran cobrar seguro de desempleo —gracias a su situación de "indocumentados"— con el consiguiente ahorro de millones de dólares para la industria y el gobierno.
La agricultura del Valle Central de California, que representa unos 18 mil millones de dólares anuales, descansa sobre el trabajo intensivo de unos 250,000 trabajadores que ganan el salario mínimo, en condiciones precarias y con empleos en su mayoría temporales. En condiciones ideales, y considerando $8 por hora (el salario mínimo de California), un jornalero agrícola recibiría $18,500 dólares al año si trabajara de tiempo completo. Según el gobierno federal, el nivel de pobreza de 2007 para una familia de cuatro miembros es de $20,650 dólares al año.
En resúmen, los indocumentados contribuyen a la economía estadounidense en cuatro áreas: pagan impuestos (sin recibir casi nada a cambio), producen (aportan altos niveles de plusvalía con su trabajo), consumen (y al hacerlo también pagan impuestos) y aportan a la expansión económica.
En este ultimo aspecto, lo que muchos presentan como un "gasto" es en realidad parte importante de la expansión del mercado interno en la forma de, por ejemplo, nuevas escuelas o nuevos servicios que a su vez generan más empleos.
En momentos de crisis económica los inmigrantes cargan con las culpas. Sin embargo, la migración es un fenómeno causado por desigualdades socioeconómicas que ellos no crearon y de la cual se benefician las empresas.
Por esta razón, cuando la nueva administración considere sus medidas para activar la economía, la inmigración debe ser parte importante de éstas.
Una reforma migratoria que permita a miles de "indocumentados" integrase a la sociedad ayudaría de manera directa a la reactivación de la economía. Sin temores, los nuevos residentes gastarían parte de sus ahorros que ahora temen invertir debido a las deportaciones. Muchos establecerín sus propios negocios, algo que ya ocurre pero de manera informal.
De acuerdo a testimonios de familias indocumentadas entrevistadas recientemente, éstas están gastando lo mínimo y no planifican a largo plazo.
Una reforma migratoria amplia seguramente contemplará un programa de trabajadores temporales, que de todas maneras ya existe. Asimismo, la industria agrícola presionaría por dicho programa.
Pero lo más importante, esta reforma deberá ir a la raíz del problema y crear un "Plan Marshall" para desarrollar las economías de países como México y otros de Centroamérica.
Por ejemplo, en el caso de México, sus administraciones de los últimos años estuvieron encabezadas por funcionarios formados en universidades de Estados Unidos y quienes han seguido fielmente los dictados de Washington. Y esto significa, entre otras cosas, garantizar un "suplus" de mano de obra barata y abundante a ambos lados de la frontera. Como ejemplo, el Tratado de Libre Comercio de 1994, entre Canadá, Estados Unidos y México, se "olvidó" de reglamentar la mano de obra transnacional.
Pero la actual crisis económica demuestra que este modelo no puede seguir funcionando debido a las catastróficas consecuencias. Es hora de un cambio. Una reforma migratoria integral significa no solo permitir que un puñado de indocumentados logren su residencia en Estados Unidos sino también que las sociedades que los expulsan empiecen a desarrollar sus economías y a generar empleos y condiciones de vida dignas y justas para su propia gente.
Border Fence to Carve up Nature Reserve
By Enrique Gili, IPS News
Posted on November 21, 2008
Another chapter in U.S.-Mexico border relations is about to close. In the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is completing construction of a 22-kilometre triple fence along the San Diego-Tijuana border.
It is being done over the objections of environmental activists living near the border, who are worried both about the toll on wildlife and those seeking entry into the
Created in 1981, the Tijuana River Research Reserve is an island of relative calm at the centre of a political maelstrom that pits conservations against advocates that promote tighter border controls.
Nesting amid coastal sage and tall grass, 400 species of birds inhabit the wetlands. Thousands more birds return each year to one of the last vestiges of salt marsh existing in Southern California, where 90 percent have been lost to development.
"The estuary is one of the few remaining in
However, the estuary has been part of contested territory for generations. The land was granted to the
The estuary has also been labeled a haven for drug-running and illegal border crossings, according to border officials, making it a flash point for
The nearby Otay Mesa border crossing is the most active border crossing in the world. On average, more than 31 billion dollars worth of products cross through the checkpoint each day, nearly all of it related to the regional maquiladora/manufacturing and agricultural industries. Others seek entry through different methods.
"The immigration problem is overblown," remarked a docent on a recent trip to the Tijuana River Research Reserve. The border, however, does have a dark side.
Here the border is tangible. After 3,200 kilometres, the line tumbles into the Pacific Ocean, and a steel fence divides the
During the 1980s, the estuary was in danger of being overrun. Social trails scarred the land. Migrants seeking entry into the
Also known as Operation Gatekeeper, the 60-million-dollar construction project comprises the western portion of the San Diego Border Infrastructure System. A federally funded programme put in place by Rep. Duncan Hunter of
In the coming weeks, two fences will flank the existing one, leaving a gap wide enough to provide access to patrol vehicles, along the westernmost 5.6 kilometres of the U.S.-Mexico border. It will enable agents to monitor a border that marches across the edge of
The plan calls for infilling Smugglers Gulch, a steep canyon through which contraband and people pass. It requires the movement of 2 million cubic yards of earth and calls for building a culvert to divert rainfall that flows down denuded hillsides during storms.
According to local legend, Smugglers Gulch earned its reputation during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and early 1930s, when
The tops of mesas will be graded down and sections of canyons filled to accommodate an extensive defensive infrastructure that in all likelihood will add to the menace that pervades the border.
According to environmentalists, 100 acres of existing habitat will be compromised within the estuary, placing additional stress on the remaining habitat. "The long-term consequences are unknown," said David Massey, director of education at the San Diego Natural History, when speaking of the triple border fence.
The initial plan met with fierce opposition from environmental groups, who cite concerns that fill from Smugglers Gulch would ultimately choke the wetlands with sedimentation. This would violate federal laws that set aside the estuary as a wildlife refuge and water quality standards. The coastal commission agreed that the project would cause environmental harm and blocked construction.
In September 2005, Michael Chertoff, secretary of Homeland Security, trumped all legal challengers by citing the National ID Act, giving him the authority to waive any regulation that impeded construction of the fence in the name of national security.
A local federal district court judge then dismissed all cases that impeded the construction of the fence on the grounds that the intent of Congress was clear in terms of completing its construction.
Construction will move along as the DHS attempts to meet its stated goal of building 225 miles of pedestrian fencing and 362 kilometres of vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border -- plans likely to meet with additional legal challenges in the months and years to come as advocates on both sides of the fence continue to debate border policy over a landscape where cowboys and coyotes fear to go.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Own Records Raise Serious Questions About Inmate Juan Mendoza Farias' Violent Death
By John Dickerson
published: November 20, 2008
Juan Mendoza Farias was handcuffed and alone in a jail cell when guards opened the hatch on his cell door and fired more than a dozen paintball-like pepper balls at him. Then they fired Taser electrical stun guns — more than a dozen times, by one guard's account — into Farias. Next came "the Devastator," a fire extinguisher-like mace sprayer, then an electronic crowd-control "stun" shield and more Tasers.
Two hours later, during a separate altercation with 11 other guards, Farias stopped breathing and then died.
Those details come from Maricopa County Sheriff's detectives' investigation of the incident. On November 14, the Sheriff's Office released nearly 5,000 pages of jail records — four months after New Times requested them, wrote a story about the sheriff's stonewalling, and filed a lawsuit to secure them.
The lawsuit was filed in October. Without a court order or ruling, sheriff's attorney Michelle Iafrate volunteered to release most of the records — about one week after Arpaio won re-election.
New Times first reported on Farias' death in September ("Dead Again," September 11). At that time, the sheriff refused to hand over a single public record regarding Farias. New Times based its story on photos of Farias' beaten body, as well as an autopsy and jail guard reports, secured through a public-records request made to the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner.
The limited records secured in September revealed that Farias stopped breathing on December 5, 2007, when 11 guards pinned him face-down on a concrete "bed" in the Lower Buckeye Jail. When the guards pulled a "spit mask" off Farias' face, they noticed blood coming from his mouth.
The release of additional records reveals a fuller and even more disturbing scene. According to eyewitness reports from guards and inmates inside the jail, guards violently subdued Farias three different times. Jail guards say that Farias was violent, but testimony from inmates contradicts that. It's difficult to even see what Farias is doing in video footage because so many guards piled on him and the video has no sound. The altercations included two different groups of guards on different shifts.
The altercations lasted from approximately 8:30 p.m. to 11:10 p.m., when Farias urinated, stopped breathing, and began bleeding from his mouth and nose. By that time, Farias — naked, with his legs shackled — had been moved through three different isolation cells. Doctors at
The new records contain a sheriff's "criminal investigation" into Farias' death, including detective interviews of more than 50 jail guards and inmates. The detectives produced an investigation summary for the county attorney. The records stop short of naming which guards the investigators thought played a role in Farias' death. The county attorney also issued a grand jury subpoena, the records indicate.
The records do not reveal the ultimate outcome of the criminal investigation or the grand jury proceedings.
In the sheriff's interviews, inmates say that guards "high-fived" and congratulated each other after the first of three brawls with Farias.
The guards repeatedly told detectives that they didn't use excessive force, nor did they see other guards doing so. The second-shift guards also say that they weren't aware how harshly Farias had been handled when they came on shift.
The records also include video, which offers 29 different camera angles of Farias in the jail. The videos are in color and show Farias in focus. That is, until the time when guard reports say that Farias stopped breathing under their weight. At that time — and for the next 40 minutes of CPR — the sheriff's attorney claims no camera angle captured what happened.
The biggest holes in the records are the missing camera footage — of the first Taser and pepper-ball attack and the final dog pile, when Farias stopped breathing. The reports also fail to give a clear conclusion of the detectives' findings.
What follows here is an overview of new information about Farias and the guards who handled him, revealed in the 4,978 pages of documentation compiled by the sheriff's homicide detectives.
Farias, 40, was a legal
About 15 minutes before doctors declared Farias dead, the MCSO ordered an immigration specialist to triple-check his immigration status, the records show.
"On 12/06/07 . . . at 7 a.m. I was assigned the task of verifying the immigration status of Juan Mendoza. Even though Mendoza's booking record for this incident states he had been interviewed and no ICE holds were required . . . I was told that Mendoza was legally in the United States, with Legal Permanent Resident status," investigator T. Sullivan wrote.
Farias had been in Arpaio's jail for only two days when he died. But it was evident that Farias needed medical attention from the time he was booked. According to the sheriff's reports, Farias experienced a number of seizures when he first entered the jail and was taken to the jail infirmary.
At least two of the guards told detectives that Farias should not have been released back into the general population.
On Farias' first day in the jail, he was "clammy" and in pain, according to inmate Armando Salgado. "Armando described Juan to be calm, but had a very clammy and/or sticky appearance. Armando observed that Juan talked with his eyes almost closed, as if he was in a lot of pain when he spoke," detectives wrote.
Officer Dallas Uphold was one of many jail guards who saw Farias have a seizure on his first day in the jail. Uphold said Farias "began shaking violently and then fell to the ground. He said that he asked for medical personnel to respond and that they responded and removed
That's not the only seizure Farias had. At the jail's intake, Officer Adrianne Epperson also saw Farias experience a seizure and heard what sounded like vomiting noises.
The jail's medical personnel saw Farias, but their actions are redacted from the records. What is clear is that within hours, Farias was released back into the general population. Officer Rutherford (no first name listed), a guard who observed Farias firsthand, thinks that decision was fatal, according to her interviews with detectives.
Jail medical staff also put Farias on the anti-seizure drug Dilantin.
That's notable because Farias' "fights" with guards reportedly resulted from his acting confused, "crazy," and failing to obey guards' commands. Some of the most common side effects of Dilantin are confusion, hallucinations, and unusual thoughts or behavior. The day after Farias saw medical staff, he exhibited unusual behavior — possibly from alcohol detox or, perhaps, from the Dilantin. The fact that Farias couldn't understand the guard's commands in English obviously made matters worse.
Inmates report that Farias was acting "crazy" but not violent. They said he talked about having barbecues and missing his family. They also said he tried to eat a bar of soap and constantly talked about food because he was so hungry.
Inmate Gabriel Chavez remembers that Farias "became frightened when they shut the cell door and would bang on it. [Chavez] noticed that [Farias] was shaking and talking . . . Mr. Chavez remembered waking up one night and seeing the inmate sitting on the floor of the cell, killing insects with his shoe," investigators wrote.
Guards told investigators that Farias was acting as though he were on meth, but Farias wasn't on drugs, the autopsy shows.
When Farias ignored the guards' English commands, the guards grew frustrated and increasingly violent, inmates told investigators. Farias appeared to be "fighting for his life," one inmate said.
The guards locked Farias alone in an isolation cell. When they fired pepper balls through the hatch on the door, Farias attempted to block the projectiles with a mattress.
"As soon as he saw the pepper ball coming in, that's when he pulled one of the mats, the mattress to protect himself. And that's when Officer Keever saturated the, um, the cell. And that's when Sergeant Straight had advised or told me . . . to go back," Officer Yazzie told detectives.
Yazzie added that before guards engaged Farias, he was uncooperative but not violent. "He wasn't kicking or trying to bite nobody, but you know he kept us from securing him," he said.
Detectives interviewed more than 25 guards in the Farias case. Each told detectives that appropriate force was used, in their opinion, during the altercations with Farias. But their statements are revealing.
Officer Chauntel Dwight said officers sprayed so much pepper spray into Farias' cell that they "were choking, including herself, and she almost got sick to her stomach because of the smell from the pepper spray," detectives wrote.
"It should be noted that Chauntel became very emotional toward the end of the interview, and she clarified that she was upset about Sergeant Wardlaw's decision in regards to putting Mr. Mendoza Farias back into general population [after his seizures]," they added.
Officer Richard Keever, who acknowledged that he fired between eight and 12 pepper balls at Farias, told detectives that Farias was shaking during the incident. Investigator J.G. Edward summarized his interview by writing, "Whatever they threw at him, the inmate would absorb it. As time went by, the inmate started to shake — not like a nervous shake."
After the pepper balls and after another officer shot Farias with a Taser, Officer Ronald Heino shot Farias with a Taser an additional 11 times, according to his recollection of events.
"And then I pulled out my Taser and I shot, and I must have hit him because he went down, kind of face first and towards the back of the cell," Heino said in a sheriff's interview.
Heino then described the next 10 times he shot Farias with a Taser. "I stood at the door while they went in with this gun shield . . . There was a lot of pepper spray in there . . . And the lieutenant told me to continue to Tase him. And then I let it off and then I Tased him again. And I think it probably went three or four times . . . There was a lot of people fighting with him . . . And they couldn't put him in handcuffs. So then I took my Taser and I went in and I Tased him in the, I believe it was the back right cap . . . and I Tased him there several times. Nothing happened. And then I moved up, I Tased him once in his, in his butt. And then, ah, and then I looked forward and the officers still couldn't crank his arm back to get him in handcuffs. And he wasn't moving, so I, ah, Tased him, I believe. I'm not for sure. I believe it was in the shoulder or, like, in the back of the, ah, triceps area . . . And after all this Tasing he just, ah, just didn't respond to it."
The Tasers, pepper balls, mace, and "stun shield" were all deployed during the first of Farias' three brawls with guards.
The jail video given to New Times begins after that incident. It shows Farias' second altercation with guards, when two guards used their knees to pin him face-down on the floor, while another two held his legs. Those guards cut Farias' clothes off and left him naked in an isolation cell.
The guards strapped a mask over Farias' face, cuffed his hands behind his back, and shackled his legs. Farias then rolled around the isolation cell for about an hour and a half — unable to stand, at first, and then bumping up against the walls once he did stand.
Next, the video shows 11 guards move Farias to the third cell — where he stopped breathing, according to officer accounts. When the guards carried Farias into that cell, they walked off-screen, and the next time Farias appeared onscreen, he was being wheeled out on a stretcher.
In contradiction to a number of other guards, one guard told detectives that Farias was already bleeding from his mouth when he was thrown into the second of the three cells. Officers wiped up the blood with a towel.
Officers also removed a bloodstained mattress from Farias' first cell, they admit in reports. Inmates additionally reported that trusties were sent to clean the first cell up just 10 minutes after the altercation — before jail investigators could document the scene.
Because the general-population cells were on lockdown during the first altercation with Farias, only two inmates had a view of the incident. The final two altercations happened in isolation units, so no inmates saw what happened to Farias.
In separate interviews, the two inmates who saw Farias' first altercation echoed what jail guards described. But the inmates added a number of details that guards left out, including descriptions of guards "elbow-striking" Farias and "high-fiving" one another.
Inmate Shawn Kirkpatrick "said the officer shot the man in the cell 'at least 20 times' with the pepper-ball gun. He said that a Taser was then used against the inmate, and then a canister of mace was used," detectives wrote.
"Kirkpatrick said an electric riot shield was brought in . . . He said they started hitting the man while he was handcuffed. Kirkpatrick said the officers were then 'high-fiving' each other like it was the thing to do. He said a hood was placed on the man's head and he was carried from the pod."
Another inmate, in a separate interview, offers the same story. Louis Deangelo told detectives, "The man was brought out and put face-down on the ground in front of the cell door. Deangelo said that several officers hit the Mexican guy with elbow-strikes. He said when the officers got up several of them were giving each other 'high fives' and laughing . . . Deangelo said while the incident was going on, several of the inmates were yelling at the officers to quit because the Mexican guy was handcuffed."
Inmate John Michael Reed couldn't see into Farias' cell, but he could hear officers "laughing" as they sprayed pepper balls at Farias. Reed could also see the ground in front of Farias' cell, once guards pulled him outside.
"John stated there were three officers on each side of the inmate and were holding him by his clothes face-down as they took him out of the pod. John stated as the officers were taking him out of the pod that the inmate was not fighting or resisting with the officers," detectives wrote.
Inmate Jesus Rodriguez said that Farias was shouting that he couldn't breathe under the officers' weight. "Upon being taken to the ground, Jesus advised that at least 8-9 officers were pinning the subject down to the ground. At that time, the subject was yelling in Spanish to get off of him and also that he could not breathe," detectives wrote.
"Jesus also stated that officers were banging the subject's head into the ground while he was pinned down . . . Shortly thereafter, he observed the subject being dragged out of the cell and down the stairs."
The autopsy photos of Farias' face make it clear that his nose and lips were slammed into a hard surface at some point during his jail stay.
The records produced by the sheriff include a number of redactions. Some pages are entirely blacked out.
The records also contradict the sheriff's reasons for initially withholding the records.
In August, Lieutenant Dot Culhane, the sheriff's legal liaison, told New Times the records couldn't be released because an "ongoing investigation" was under way. However, the records show that the most recent investigative movement was in March 2008, months before New Times' July request.
The records do not clarify whether the case was closed.
In September, after New Times filed a lawsuit to obtain the records, the sheriff's legal liaison claimed that releasing the videos of Farias might alter the memories of guards involved and, thus, compromise the investigation.
However, a review of the records shows that some of those guards watched the videos of Farias less than 24 hours after he died.
By December 6, 2007, at 6:10 p.m., one of the sergeants and her lieutenant had already viewed the jail's video footage of the altercation with Farias.
"I saw a shot where the safe-cell door opens [and] it looked like the inmate just walked out on his own," Sergeant Debra Renteria told a detective. "God, this is going to sound awful . . . They put a blanket over him. Over his head, body."
In addition to those contradictions, sheriff's attorney Michelle Iafrate blacked-out entire portions of the record. Some records — including Farias' medical records and a grand jury subpoena — are confidential, by law. Other redacted records, however, are not clearly confidential, including:
• The jail log of what cells Farias stayed in,
• Employee logs, which could show a full list of the guards who interacted with Farias,
• A written summary of the jail's video-surveillance footage of Farias.
Finally, the video footage itself may be redacted, as camera angles during the crucial moments of Farias' altercations with jail guards supposedly don't exist.
According to a December 27, 2007 note by sheriff's investigator C.F. Garcia, 28 camera angles exist "[showing] the incident where inmate Mendoza Farias is escorted from Level One, T13 to Level Three, T-31 on Wednesday, December 5, 2007, after getting into altercation with detention staff."
Detective Garcia was given another "23 camera angles" in January.
Iafrate gave New Times 29 of the total 51 camera angles.
Massive 'Homeland Defense' Joint Exercise Is Under Way
By Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive
Posted on November 15, 2008
This week and into next, NorthCom and NORAD are conducting a joint exercise called “Vigilant Shield ’09.”
The focus will be on “homeland defense and civil support,” a NorthCom press release states.
From November 12-18, it will be testing a “synchronized response of federal, state, local and international partners in preparation for homeland defense, homeland security, and civil support missions in the
NorthCom is short for the Pentagon’s Northern Command. President Bush created it in October 2002. (The Southern Command, or SouthCom, covers
Vigilant Shield ’09 “will include scenarios to achieve exercise objectives within the maritime, aerospace, ballistic missile defense, cyber, consequence management, strategic communications, and counter terrorism domains,” the press release states.
NorthCom’s press release also says that other participants in the exercise include the U.S. Strategic Command’s “Global Lightning 09,” which is a plan to use nuclear weapons in a surprise attack.
The Pentagon’s “Bulwark Defender 09” is also involved in the exercise, and it is a cyberspace protection outfit of the Pentagon.
Something called the “Canada Command DETERMINED DRAGON” also is participating, as is the California National Guard and
“Under the leadership of Governor Schwarzenegger and direction of his Office of Homeland Security, the nation’s largest state sponsored emergency exercise will take place November 13-18,” a press release from the governor’s office states.
“Golden Guardian 2008 tests
NorthCom is being shy about giving out additional information about Vigilant Shield ’09. When I called for a fact sheet on it, I was told there was none.
But the Pentagon did issue such a fact sheet for Vigilant Shield ’08.
Last year’s exercise included “the simulated detonation of three nuclear dispersal devices.” The fact sheet stressed the need to support a “civilian-led response” and to “exercise defense support of civil authorities,” including involvement in “critical infrastructure protection events” and coordinating “Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection activities.”
That fact sheet ended by saying: “There will be minimal deployment of active duty forces and no crossborder deployments. We anticipate little to no direct impact on local communities.”
NorthCom has been in the news lately, after the Pentagon designated to it a battle-tested fighting unit from the war on
On top of that, NorthCom was up to its eyeballs in getting peace groups spied upon.
“The security people at USNORTHCOM . . . had begun noticing some trouble at a few military recruiting events in 2005,” Eric Lichtblau recounts in Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice. “Military officials at NORTHCOM asked their counterparts at CIFA [the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Activity] to ping their powerful new database -- do a broader study and find out how many episodes of violence and disruption were actually imperiling their recruiters."
And NorthCom even was in the loop at the Republican Convention in
Is it too much to ask Congress to look into NorthCom?
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive.
Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2008
By Ioan Grillo / Parque Alberto
Men in border-patrol caps tackle a young Mexican to the ground amid jagged rocks and cacti. "You need papers to come to this country. This is not a game!" shouts one agent as he yanks the man's arms behind his back, almost tearing them from his shoulders. It looks like a scene on the
The so-called night hike in the highlands of
To many outsiders, this seems an odd way to enjoy a night out. But the participants and organizers all say it is both a great deal of fun and an important way to raise consciousness about the migrant experience. "It was fantastic. It totally exceeded my expectations," says medical saleswoman Araceli Hernandez, nursing a bite from a giant ant and brushing off dust after the five-hour slog. "But it makes me feel sad thinking about what the real migrants go through."
The hike was started four years ago by a group of Hnahnu Indians on their ancestral lands. Some of the poorest people in
"We wanted to have a type of tourism that really raised people's understanding," says founder Alfonso Martinez, who dresses in a ski mask and goes by the name Poncho. "So we decided to turn the painful experience all of us here have gone through into a kind of game that teaches something to our fellow Mexicans." Poncho and other ski-masked comrades play polleros, or chicken herders — the human smugglers who guide wannabe migrants over the deserts and rivers into the
In hot pursuit are the migra, or border-patrol agents, played by other Hnahnu. Most migrants have been nabbed at least once and know well what it feels like to get a pair of handcuffs slapped on after days of exhausting travel. The actors play their nemeses with energy and zest, tearing across fields to get the migrants and insulting them in a colorful language: "Don't you speak Spanish. You are not in
The participants are mostly middle-class professionals and students from
Poncho hopes the experience will be life-changing for the participants. With the night-hike tours, he envisions himself as a revolutionary fighting for a better world. In a final pep talk, he drills the group about their class differences and how they can overcome them. "What do you call our ethnic group?" he asks in a booming voice. "You call us Indians, and say we are lazy and ignorant. Don't worry, I'm used to it. This experience is about showing we are human beings."
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