Things That Matter

It Hasn’t Always Been A Crime To Cross The US-Mexico Border, So When Did Things Change?

Let’s start from the beginning. While immigration has been an issue on everyone’s lips over the past while after the Trump administration started enforcing a zero tolerance policy against border crossings, a new way of thinking about the issue was introduced during the Democratic debates.

Presidential hopeful Julián Castro suggested that border crossings should be decriminalized. Because if border crossings aren’t a criminal offense, then people can’t be charged for crossing the border illegally, right? Well, in short, yes. But the issue concerning what’s officially known as “Section 1325” is more complicated than what it initially seems, on the surface.

Decriminalization does not mean a free-for-all across the border.

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As much as the Trump administration would likely characterize the proposed policy as a stab at open borders, that’s not the case. The reality is that crossing the border at the moment is treated as a criminal offense, meaning that those without the appropriate documentation are automatically detained indefinitely: they are treated as a criminal.

However, decriminalizing border crossings would instead ensure that those who do attempt to cross the border are not slapped with charges of a criminal offense.

Instead, border crossings without appropriate documentation would be treated as a civil offense. In the same way that people aren’t considered a criminal for accruing a speeding fine, people crossing the border also wouldn’t be automatically treated as a criminal. This proposed approach is also more consistent with the US’ role as a signatory for the United Nation’s 1951 Refugee Convention. That is, that it’s not illegal for people to cross international borders and request asylum from another country.

Decriminalization would mean considering a new model for regulating the traffic of people across the border.

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Granted, the US still has to consider its security interests when processing requests for asylum. However, the current state of things has seen exponential overcrowding and related issues in detention centers near the border, with no indication as to whether people are seeing their requests for asylum considered at all.

Beyond the human rights problems this presents, there is also a legal quandary that must be considered in the US judicial system. Currently, the appropriate punishments for migrating across the border include both detainment and deportation – which, let’s face it, cannot be fulfilled at the same time. 

This turns into an argument around semantics: should someone be deported if they haven’t served their time in a detention center? And should someone stay in a detention center when they really should have been deported long beforehand, to prevent them from accessing the US at all? Castro’s proposal is not just about alleviating the stress being placed on US resources by detaining considerable numbers of immigrants, nor is it only about correcting human rights atrocities. It’s also about considering how immigrants are treated by the legal system.

It’s actually possible that decriminalization could reduce the number of illegal immigrants who stay indefinitely in the US.

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And yes, that’s including those who have been detained. Instead, if an immigrant was caught crossing the border without papers, they would be detained only for a brief amount of time. Once it is determined by authorities that the immigrant doesn’t raise any red flags, they would be released into the US, complete with a case management system to check in on them. The immigrant would then have to attend an immigration hearing, which would determine their status. Should it be found that the immigrant did not qualify for asylum, they then would accordingly be deported.

The positive of such a proposal is that family separation would be a thing of the past. Because border crossings wouldn’t involve criminal prosecution, there would be no reason to detain, and thus separate, families. Children would not be psychologically scarred for life simply because their parents sought a better future for them.

In fact, the US has had a longer history of decriminalized borders than criminalized ones.

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It’s worth noting that this idea of decriminalized borders isn’t really a new one. It wasn’t until 1929 that the US passed a bill that considered border crossings as a criminal misdemeanor, which meant that people could be prosecuted for entering the US without the proper authorization.

Most immigration laws before this point were focused on keeping out alcohol, gun traffickers and Asian immigrants. But, it was a white supremacist senator, Coleman Livingston Blease, who suggested fees and testing at the US-Mexico border – or, Section 1325 of Title 8 in the US Code. Are we surprised? In retrospect, no, no we are not. 

To be honest, even with this relatively short history of the criminalized border crossings, most presidents paid immigration little attention, as doing so would result in forever prosecuting misdemeanor illegal entry cases. Generally speaking, those caught crossing the border were simply informally returned.

Granted, there were some exceptions to this attitude. For example, The Great Depression saw Mexicans demonized for taking much-needed work, and deportations spiked around that time. However, it wasn’t really until the Bush administration that more decisive, ongoing action was taken on immigration. This gradual escalation in enforcing immigration policies led us to the catastrophe we’re seeing today at the borders, under the Trump administration.

So, how can you look forward to a future of decriminalized border crossings?

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Voting for 2020 presidential candidates who favor decriminalized border crossings are your best bet, if you’re keen on seeing the law changed. It’s worth listening to each candidate’s stance on immigration. For instance, aside from Castro, Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren has also endorsed repealing Section 1325. On the other hand, Beto O’Rourke rejected the idea from the outset, proposing his own set of aggressive immigration plans. The key is to listen to the policy proposals – not just smooth platitudes.

While voting strategically is probably one of the most effective ways to see decriminalized border crossings, you do have other ways of continuing the conversation. Sharing articles on social media, like this one, can educate people and start worthwhile discussions around the issue. Writing, and even meeting with, your local political representatives can increase their own awareness of constituent interests. After all, it’s their job to represent you! Getting involved with activist groups that promote immigrant rights is another way that you can promote and work towards the decriminalization of border crossings.

Anyway, we’ll leave you with this: the wildest fact is that, from 1980 to 2010, the Border Patrol budget was increased 16 times. This was despite the reality that the number of attempted undocumented entries did not rise during this time. Considering the mounting numbers of detainees at the border, it stands to reason that immigration is yet another issue reduced to sound bites and narrative twisting from those politicians seeking to Make America Great Again – despite human welfare being at stake. While we can discuss all we like about when and how border crossings have been treated by the criminal system, the important thing to focus on is how we value human lives.

READ: Fear And Anxiety Grip Undocumented Community Nationwide As Walmart Arrests Escalate

A New Documentary Exposes The Massacre In Porvenir, Texas That Left 15 Mexican-Americans Dead

Entertainment

A New Documentary Exposes The Massacre In Porvenir, Texas That Left 15 Mexican-Americans Dead

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Porvenir is a Spanish word. If you break it down, por venir literally means to come, and the translation is the future. It’s also the name of what used to be a tiny town in Texas located right next to the Rio Grande on the border. The village of Porvenir in Texas, which is a town no more, had roots that reflect the brutal and deadly colonization that this country was built on. 

“Porvenir, Texas” is a new documentary on PBS that brings to light the massacre that happened on the border more than 100 years ago. 

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As the tense immigration crisis continues in this country today, the documentary “Porvenir, Texas” shows how this struggle has been part of our history since the inception of the United States of America. 

The story of the massacre cannot be told before discussing the war between the U.S. and Mexico. While the U.S. continued to expand in the southwest through its war with Mexico, the battle to live and remain in the country affected the most vulnerable people who weren’t part of the war at all. They were Mexicans who lived in Texas and along the border before it was ever part of the United States. However, after Mexico lost Texas to the United States, those living in Texas, became Americans overnight. That didn’t please the incoming residents — white people looking to make the country their home. 

The documentary exposes the brutal killing of 15 Mexican men — some who were American as well — which the U.S. tried to hide from history. 

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With the expansion of the U.S. throughout its new state of Texas, white ranchers staked their claim in areas that were owned by Mexican-Americans. Like gentrification today, Texas was also gentrified during the Wild West, which meant Mexicans, who were now Americans, were displaced because of higher taxes. 

With the revolution still going on in the Mexican border and new white ranchers taking over land, racial tensions were high. White people were told that all Mexicans were “bandits” and Mexican-Americans were in fear for their lives thinking they could be killed based on the color of their skin.

White people were killing Mexican-Americans outright with no consequences, and the film shows graphic images of that. 

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Here’s a summary of that fateful violent night as reported by NBC News: “In the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 1918, a group of ranchers, Texas Rangers, and U.S. Army cavalry soldiers entered the village and rousted the residents from their beds. They led away 15 unarmed men and boys of Mexican descent to a nearby bluff, where they shot and killed them. These victims ranged in age from 16 to 72, and some were American citizens. The town’s women and children fled across the border to Mexico for safety. The next day, the perpetrators returned and burned the village to the ground. Porvenir ceased to exist.”

We have no idea how many other Mexican-Americans were killed with such brutality during this period because there’s no record of it. The only reason the story of Porvenir can be told today is because of two men that documented what happened. 

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Harry Warren was a white teacher that worked with some of the community in Porvenir and wrote about what happened that night. He also was a witness to the bodies.  José Tomás (“J.T.”) Canales, who was a state legislator at the time, launched an investigation against the Rangers, and his depositions and testimony have been preserved as well. 

“There were many cases like Porvenir, where the initial response from the state was to try to fabricate what really took place,” Monica Muñoz Martinez, an assistant professor at Brown University and the founding member of the public history project Refusing To Forget, told NBC News. “It was not unusual for the state to try to justify such acts, by criminalizing the victims. Residents of Porvenir were described at times as squatters or bandits. None of this is true.”

Christina Fernandez Shapter produced the film and spoke about the importance of making sure these stories are never forgotten. 

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“I am Mexican American myself, I am from Texas, my family has been here for generations,” she told NBC News. “And I know we all have stories in our families, sometimes of land being taken from us or other injustices.”

Here’s a clip of the film.

Click here to watch the entire documentary. 

READ: This Exhibition Told The Stories Of Mexicans And Mexican-Americans Who Were Illegally Deported In The ’20s And ’30s

Many Of The Migrants Seeking Asylum In The US Are Not Latinx And Here’s Why That Matters

Things That Matter

Many Of The Migrants Seeking Asylum In The US Are Not Latinx And Here’s Why That Matters

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While much of the attention has been given to the Latinxs crossing the southern border, largely because they have been the targets of President Trump’s ire and the perception that only Latinxs would be entering via Latin countries, migrants from 50 countries have been detained. 

According to Roll Call, Customs and Border Protection say they have seen a rise in migrants from India, China, Egypt, Bangladesh, Romania, and Turkey. Much like the countries Central Americans are fleeing, these nations are also grappling with catastrophic instabilities whether it be climate change in Bangladesh, civil unrest in China, or fascism creeping further into India. 

Like all migrants, they want the same thing: a safe refuge from imminent threats to their humanity. However, their journeys to cross the southern border between Mexico and the United States is no easier. 

Rise in Indian migrants.

Migration from India has dramatically increased along the southern border with attorneys claiming they see an increase in clients persecuted for political affiliation, religious beliefs, caste or social status. Although Indian migrants are a mere 1 percent of the total migrants in 2018, the numbers have vastly increased by 4,811 percent since 2007. 

Roll Call’s analysis of CBP data saw an increase of Indian migrant apprehensions from 76 to 8,997 at the southern border. While Central American migrants face a unique set of obstacles, so do these groups. Immigration services are not equipped with language services, translated materials, or religious accommodations. While they can anticipate Spanish-speakers at the border, as migrants become more multicultural preparing for their arrivals can be all the more difficult. 

In the case of these particular migrants, “targeted prejudice has eroded any semblance of due process, advocates say, and makes these migrants even more vulnerable to reprisals while in detention.”

These obstacles don’t just affect European and Asian migrants, but indigenous ones as well. Attorneys, judges, and advocates say the immigration court system has become overwhelmed with a backlog of over 1 million cases because there is a lack of non-Spanish and indigenous language interpreters. 

Indian migrant goes on hunger strike due to mistreatment. 

The inhumane conditions migrants are subjected to have led to a plethora of related issues. Ajay Kumar and other Indian migrants were detained in New Mexico and felt he was treated so poorly he went on a hunger strike. Kumar told authorities there were no translated reading materials and that vegetarian food was mixed with meat which many could not eat. 

He was sent to an El Paso detention center where he and largely other migrants from India were force-fed following a court order. His lawyers say he was placed in medical isolation, called a troublemaker, and had his mala (or Hindu rosary) taken away from him. Kumar was held down and forced to eat and drink while his immigration case was threatened by officials. After 72 days of his hunger strike, he was moved to a long-term care facility. Still, Kumar believes his best chance at life is in the United States. 

“USA is a very good country and there is no other country as helpful and strong as this,” Kumar wrote while in the hospital. “I only hope for my freedom and I hope for help from the people of El Paso.” 

A 6-year-old migrant girl from India died at the southern border. 

Just before her 7th birthday, Gurupreet Kaur crossed the southern border over the summer. Arizona temperatures reached 108 degrees. Gurupreet’s mother left her with another mother and daughter while she went to search for water. The two groups, who wandered a very remote area, were never able to find each other again. A day later, Border Patrol agents discovered Gurupreet’s remains. 

“We wanted a safer and better life for our daughter and we made the extremely difficult decision to seek asylum here in the United States,” her parents’ said in a statement released by the nonprofit Sikh Coalition. “We trust that every parent, regardless of origin, color or creed, will understand that no mother or father ever puts their child in harm’s way unless they are desperate.”

The mother and daughter were trying to meet the girl’s father who had been in the U.S. since 2013 with a pending asylum application in New York immigration court. The pair were with three other migrants from India. 

Advocacy groups say government policies are to blame for these tragedies which are affecting more and more communities of color. 

Advocacy groups fight back. 

Immigration advocacy groups continue to challenge these harmful policies in the courts. The Sikh community in the United States and other South Asian advocates have expressed much outrage. South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) noted that while DHS and CBO budgets have increased significantly, the treatment of migrants has only degraded. 

“As US Customs and Border Protection has escalated border enforcement and aggressively turned away migrants attempting to cross at ports of entry, deaths have continued to mount,” SAALT said in a statement. “Migrants are forced right back into the dangerous conditions that CBP and other federal agencies often blame on migrant traffickers and smugglers.”