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Immigration advocates speak

Christian Myers | Friday, February 15, 2013

While immigration reform proposals work their way through Congress, representatives of the all-volunteer humanitarian group No More Deaths (NMD) visited Notre Dame as part of a national speaking tour Thursday.

NMD is a faith-based coalition formed in 2004 that is focused on addressing human rights issues taking place at the Mexican-American border, NMD representative Kate Morgan-Olsen said.

Morgan-Olsen said NMD provides immigrants with much-needed medical assistance and material goods, both by walking along desert paths to find migrants and leaving supplies in various sites where migrants hopefully will find them.

“What we do is effective. We walk the trails that migrants walk. We don’t run into everyone, but for those we do run into, it changes their lives,” she said.

NMD operates at two sites along the border: a Desert Aid project camp near Arivaca, Ariz., and a site in Nogales, Ariz. Nogales site is a city split by the border wall and NMD provides services on both the American and Mexican sides.

Morgan-Olsen said the group provides medical treatment for many minor injuries that can prove deadly in the harsh desert environment.

“To treat more serious injuries we have to call 911 and that means deportation. We consider it an abuse of human rights that someone is forced to consider walking through the desert instead of receiving adequate medical attention,” she said.
Morgan-Olsen said government immigration and immigration-related policies contribute to the conditions underlying the many deaths that occur in the desert along the border.

“The Secure Fence Act is the nail in the coffin on border militarization. … There are seven mountain ranges in the portion of the desert where we have our Desert Aid camp and checkpoints on all paved roads,” she said.

Morgan-Olsen said Operation Streamline is especially problematic because it does not give immigrants the legal rights they deserve, including a chance to apply for asylum. She said the program involves presenting immigrants 10-at-a-time before a judge, asking them if they plead guilty and sentencing them on the spot.

“One of the worst policies on the border is the Department of Justice’s program called Operation Streamline,” she said. “It’s something we really believe is not an example of justice.”

Morgan-Olsen said NMD used motion sensor cameras to document border patrol agents vandalizing an NMD aid drop sight.

“We consider destroying lifesaving supplies in this hostile environment to be murder,” she said.

She said there are also cases in which Border Patrol agents shoot or taze migrants to death. She cited one such case when a young man was killed on the Mexican side of Nogales when he was not attempting to cross the border.

Morgan-Olsen said her group’s efforts to work with the Border Patrol are thwarted by the high turnover rate among agents – especially among the leadership – and the lack of independent oversight.

Sophomore Lucas Garcia shared his own experience during the question-and-answer portion of the lecture. Garcia said he was pulled over in his car while traveling in New Mexico with his family for “driving a little too fast.”

Garcia said the behavior and the questions asked by the police officer indicated the stop was a case of the profiling Morgan-Olsen had mentioned.

“He wouldn’t tell us how fast we had been going, and he seemed to be searching for a reason to ask us to step out of the car. He asked us if we had any weapons, he asked how we got the car, where we were from, where we were going. … This really does happen. It’s not just that thing going on down in Arizona,” Garcia said.

Junior Shannon Lewry, who worked with NMD in January as part of the Center for Social Concerns’ Border Issues seminar, said she was glad the speaking tour included a stop at Geddes Hall and found the plight of migrants affected her as powerfully as ever.

“It was great to see No More Deaths at Notre Dame after working closely with them in January. Even after seeing the human rights violations firsthand in Tucson, it’s still just as disturbing and troublesome each time you hear about them,” she said.

Contact Christian Myers at cmeyers8@nd.edu