Crossing the line - Page 3

How Mayor Newsom's policies are tearing apart families, imprisoning and imperiling children, and creating a climate of fear in immigrant communities
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Immigration rally at City Hall
Photo by Lars Howlett

Because we can't track them, that may be a death sentence."

DEATH MARCH

As a volunteer with No Mas Muertes (No More Deaths), a humanitarian camp in Arizona, SF Pride member Molly Goldberg has seen firsthand what being deported and trying to cross the border means to immigrants in terms of loss of dignity and life.

Arizona has been an immigrant rights testing ground for years. Shortly after its creation as an agency, the Department of Homeland Security provided millions of dollars to build a wall blocking the easiest terrain, forcing border crossers into the most rugged and dangerous areas, Goldberg said.

"They are bottle-necking it so folks cross in the most difficult, deadly area," she said.

Since the wall went up, the numbers crossing have gone down — but numbers dying have gone up. Goldberg said 184 people have died so far this year. But the numbers of dead could be much higher. "Because of the vultures and other scavengers, bodies are gone pretty quickly," she said.

This year, Service Employee International Union Local 1021 organizer Robert Haaland accompanied Goldberg to the border. Haaland says what he saw convinced him of the need for Campos' amendment.

"I kept thinking about the Campos legislation in terms of seeing the impact of people crossing the border after being deported," Haaland said. He described a makeshift memorial to a 14-year-old El Salvadoran girl named Josseline whom smugglers left behind after she got sick from eating a bad can of tuna, according to her younger brother. He managed to cross the border, but Josseline died after wandering alone and without water in the border's dry and inhospitable no man's land for a week.

Others get left behind and die because they are wearing the wrong shoes and end up with badly blistered feet or are too weak to continue the grueling trek. Haaland recalled seeing water bottles that volunteers had left on the coyote trails but had subsequently been slashed, presumably by nativist vigilantes.

"The Border Patrol is using the desert as a weapon and harassing people who go to the border to give humanitarian aid," Haaland said.

That's where some of the kids Newsom has sent for deportation will wind up.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Although Newsom has made it clear he intends to keep referring kids to ICE, their whereabouts and fate under his policy remains somewhat of a mystery.

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesperson for ORR, which is responsible for detained juveniles deemed "unaccompanied" (a category they could be placed in if they refuse to divulge the whereabouts of undocumented family members in the U.S.) said he can't divulge their precise whereabouts because of juvenile confidentiality rules.

Wolfe told the Guardian that kids could be placed in juvenile halls or shelter-like facilities run by private contractors, depending on their crimes. He said ORR is required to report to Congress annually about the program, but the report for FY 2008-09 won't be available for a few months.

In the meantime, Wolfe e-mailed the Guardian a copy of ORR's 2007-08 report, which includes a map featuring colored circles to represent the numbers of apprehended kids based on Department of Homeland Security referrals.

The map shows that in 2007-08, less than 100 juveniles were apprehended in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington; 100-250 were apprehended in San Diego; 1,000-1,600 in Phoenix; and 1,600-2,600 at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Presumably, next year's map will include a colored circle around San Francisco, representing an apprehension rate similar to San Diego.