Thursday, May 20, 2010

OPINION: A First-Hand Look At The Arizona Immigration Issue

Can We Talk?
By Jack Fairweather

When I was an adolescent, not quite a teenager but raring to go there, my mother, two younger sisters and I lived at the end of a rural dirt road in Cochise County, Arizona.
The county borders the Mexican state of Sonora. We lived about 25 miles north of Douglas which is located on the Mexican-U.S. border directly across from Agua Prieta, Sonora.
Today, huge processing and detention centers operated by the Border Patrol and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) are located there.. These centers, if you are an “illegal” human being as the people who are picked up have become while trying to enter the U.S. in search of a better life….like food and shelter for their families, are not pleasant…even for the 72 hours you can be held before you are “repatriated.
There seems to be an unwritten, non-publicized policy in these places , and in processing centers and detention centers in Nogales, that the more miserable the often sick and/or injured the “illegals” are during their stay the less likely they will return.
So, for the most part the only medical treatment they will receive will be from volunteers from organizations like No More Deaths and Humane Borders. In the next column I will write of the conditions these migrants face in the desert, while being processed and in the detention centers of our now thoroughly militarized border with Mexico.
For now, though I’m concerned with the Cochise County, Douglas/Agua Prieta area as it was quite a few years ago.
My Mother shared her maiden name “Moreno” with several other families in the Douglas area. In the mid and late 1950’s racism was a given in the county. Mexican people were the majority, of course, but it was not until the 1960s that the first Mexican couple was granted a Small Business Administration loan to go into business.
I had worked with the husband at the Phelps Dodge store in Douglas, sacking groceries, unloading box cars and delivering groceries. Now he was my land lord…and he had a dry cleaning business, too. Phelps Dodge, the copper mining company, practically owned Cochise county. Open pit mining, (the Lavender Pit mine in Bisbee) and the smelter in Douglas which spewed it’s smoke 24 hours a day across the Sulpher Springs Valley where we lived.
Then, as now, the migrants kept coming, on a far easier journey “across the line” than today’s “illegal” humans face. Living, as we did in a relatively isolated area, five miles from the blacktop and three miles down the road or through the mesquite forest to the nearest neighbor, my Mother, a single Mom, who taught music (piano) evenings to the children of various alfalfa/cotton farmers in the valley never really worried about us She knew migrants came through the rocks and sand and mesquite regularly and she kept water and whatever food she could afford on hand for them.
Sometimes my sisters and I ate it before anyone showed up. We hadn’t yet mastered the art of cooking on a wood stove…and we didn’t have an ice box or refrigerator. But a young woman migrant, who with her parents and brothers, was on her way to work at a chili processing plant 20 miles from us, arrived late one evening and decided to warm up the beans, potatoes and skinny rabbit my Mom had left.
That’s when we learned how to cook on the wood stove. And so, we all ate a little bit…even had Kool Aid. El Padre showed me how to trim a wick on a kerosene lamp (Rural Electrification hadn’t got to our road yet), then they washed up, (yes, we had a well, but we used a bucket on a rope) slept on the floor and were gone the next morning They mentioned as they left that they had managed to hide from the “line rider” the man on horseback who patrolled the border 25 miles south. He was a nice man but he would yell at them and make them walk back “across the line”…and, they said, they really had to get to work at the chili plant this year. The wages…about a dollar an hour, would see them through the winter. We thanked them for the cooking and wick trimming lessons.

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