Border Communities Across Arizona Hold Unprecedented Demonstrations for Demilitarization
On Wednesday, May 27th hundreds of residents from 7 border communities participated in unprecedented protests, vigils, sit-ins, public forums, art installations and public events across southern Arizona, including in Ajo, Arivaca, Bisbee, Patagonia, Sells, and Tucson. The day of action, organized by a coalition of autonomous local community groups, called on the Department of Homeland Security to stop the spread of military infrastructure that continues to degrade residential life in the border region.
The communities’ demands ranged from the removal of surveillance towers, inland checkpoints and walls to the respect for indigenous sovereignty, environmental regulations, and the separation of local and federal policing powers. Together, these actions and demands put forth a strong, local vision of a demilitarized U.S.-Mexico border.
Tohono O’odham Nation
We held a candle light vigil in remembrance of Bennett Patricio Jr., in honor of all lives lost in the desert and in healing and prayer for all who have experiences abuse and trauma at the hands of border militarization. The event began with a prayer and blessing by Richard Pablo, followed by speakers from the community, and ended with the lighting of candles at sunset. We called for a free and healthy community without Border Patrol, surveillance technology, checkpoints and environmental destruction. We call upon our people to protect the land and each other, and respect for O’odham Rights and Himdag (way of life)!
We would like to thank the Four Winds Singers, the Arivaca Community and all the Tohono O’odham who came out to support! The event was covered by the New York Times Journalism School of Tucson.
Our challenge in Ajo: Migrant lives matter and community members in this area have rights.
Our event began at 6PM in an alley just off Ajo’s town plaza. In the alley we had about 25-30 people who came by to watch the painting of a new mural and contribute their own art to a drop cloth that will hang in a local gallery. When fully completed the mural will features a desert scene with the words “humanitarian aid is always legal,” a stack of empty water jugs 15 feet tall, and a new “drop” that we will keep stocked with water and food. All of this just off the central plaza.
At dusk, we held a vigil, lighting one candle for each of the 120 people whose remains have been recovered from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, our backyard, in the past 13 years. We somberly reflected on the fact that the actual number of deaths in Organ Pipe and other parts of our surrounding desert are likely much higher. Meaningful conversation and reflection occurred throughout the event, and several in attendance have decided that the candlelight vigil and community conversation should be a regular event. Photographers and others from our local newspaper were in attendance for the event.
A group of Bisbee residents gathered in Grassy Park in Bisbee on Wednesday afternoon for music, art, and poster making, followed by a demonstration in the traffic circle. The Bisbee protest had three main concerns: environmental degradation, the expansion of Border Patrol complexes, and local law enforcement’s involvement in Stonegarden, in which they work overtime hours focused on the border, for which they may not be trained for. Residents had three demands: 1) the halt to further construction and overuse of roads in the Mule Mountains and surrounding valleys and especially in the San Pedro River riparian corridor, 2) the curtailment of the expansion of Border Patrol complexes, and 3) an end to further Stonegarden involvement by local law enforcement.
In Patagonia, over 50 residents from this small town and surrounding communities gathered in the park to share border stories in a public forum. The event opened with a powerful ceremony from Danza Mexicayotl from Nogales and then moved into a panel discussion with Dan Millis from Sierra Club, David Seibert from Borderlands Restoration, facilitated by Erin Blanding from the coalition. Global Change Theater then shared their performance poetry piece Chasing the Sun and other residents shared their stories and thoughts of border militarization. The evening wrapped with an incredible sharing of vignettes on border life written by our local high school students. The truth and power in their words resonated with everyone present and demonstrated the passion in this town to continue creating change in border policy.
Approximately 100 Arivaca residents and supporters gathered at the Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Road to hold a sit-in and public hearing demanding the removal of the checkpoint. At the checkpoint, peaceful residents and supporters were met with a blockade of armed Border Patrol agents who used physical force to attempt to move the residents back. Despite this intimidation, protesters held their ground and sat-in while community members held a public hearing calling for the removal of the checkpoint. Local business leaders, parents, seniors, youth and experts cited widespread abuse and harassment, rights violations, racial profiling, and economic deterioration as direct results of the checkpoints placed on all outbound roads from the small rural community. Residents called on US Representative Raul Grijalva to deliver on his promise to hold a Congressional Hearing on the negative impact of the Border Patrol checkpoint. Community members displayed a large banner reading, “Rep. Grijalva: When Is Our Hearing?”
Press Coverage of Arivaca Protest:
Community members gathered outside of the Tucson Federal Courthouse to hold a vigil in remembrance of 16-year old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez—a Mexican teenager shot dead by Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz two years ago through the Nogales Arizona/Sonora border wall. On July 29, 2014, the ACLU, along with attorneys for the family and the law firm of Morrison and Foerster, filed a federal lawsuit, Rodriguez v. John Does on behalf of Araceli Rodriguez, the mother of Jose Antonio. Mrs. Rodriguez brought this lawsuit under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments in an effort to hold accountable the agents who shot and killed her youngest son. At the courthouse, Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, presented oral arguments before U.S. District Court Chief Judge Raner Collins in the ACLU’s case *Rodriguez v. Swartz, *arguing that the U.S. Constitution applies in the case, and that the civil suit filed against Agent Swartz should not be dismissed.
Annual Migrant Trail Walk
More than fifty participants from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Central America passed through the Border Patrol checkpoint on Highway 286 on Wednesday. Participants are once against walking 75-miles over the course of a week to call attention to the human rights crisis occurring on the southern border. Participants will arrive on Sunday, May 31st at 11:30 am to Kennedy Park, Ramada #3, for a closing ceremony.