Naomi de la Rosa is undecided about becoming a nurse or a teacher — she just wants to help people, a lesson she’s been learning and putting in practice for almost 10 years now.
“I want to be a teacher because I love little kids. Basically because of Bobby, I had to take care of him,” she says of her 13-year-old sibling. And a nurse, “because of my dad,” who she’s also had to learn how to take care of.
During her recent high school graduation ceremony there were a dozen relatives and friends holding signs with pictures of her, proud of everything she had accomplished. They waited anxiously as she walked on the track field to her seat, and had smartphones in hand when school officials called her name.
But some of those closest to her were missing. Her elderly father was at home with her youngest brother, Bobby. The family feared it would be too hot and chaotic for the frail 85-year-old. Her mother was about 60 miles away in Nogales, Sonora, waiting out a 10-year immigration bar that prevents her from coming back to the United States.
Federal district courts in Arizona are already working at capacity and can’t take more prosecutions, their chief judge said Monday. He was responding to the U.S. attorney general’s announcement that the Department of Homeland Security is now referring 100 percent of unauthorized border crossings for prosecution.
“We can only do what we do now,” said U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins. “We are at our limit.”
In fiscal 2017, more than 14,000 people were sentenced to prison for crossing the border illegally (entry and re-entry) in the District of Arizona, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Last fiscal year, the Border Patrol made nearly 39,000 apprehensions in its Tucson sector and close to 13,000 in its Yuma sector — numbers that could potentially mean doubling the number of prosecutions if everyone is prosecuted. While a person can be apprehended more than once in a given year, the recidivism rate among the agency’s arrestees has decreased significantly over the years.
“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday. “It’s that simple.”
This includes parents who come with their children. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said. “… So if you’re going to come to this country, come here legally. Don’t come here illegally.”
In the first four months of the year, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, an Arizona-based organization that provides free legal services to those in immigration detention, has seen 135 cases of parents separated from their children, said Lauren Dasse, the group’s executive director. It had 213 cases in all of 2017, she said, up from 190 the previous year.
“We have concerns, especially when we talk about prosecuting every single immigrant,” Dasse said.
After months of tough campaign rhetoric, the Trump administration touted a steep decline in border-crossing arrests as evidence of a “new era.”
In Arizona, the arrest of an unauthorized immigrant at a Pima County court and a raid on a humanitarian aid camp near Arivaca offered further signs of an immigration crackdown.
But what exactly has changed along Arizona’s border with Mexico?
Federal immigration agents have arrested people at courthouses before.
The Arivaca camp raid wasn’t the first of its kind; Border Patrol agents also raided it in 2014.
And while arrests of border crossers did plummet after Trump took office in January, they had been declining for years. In 2016, there were 65,000 apprehensions in the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, down from more than half a million in 2000.
The truth is, Trump officials are not so muchtaking border enforcement in a radical new direction as they are tweaking the formidable border security machine built during the Bush and Obama administrations.
So Southern Arizonans without legal status find themselves in a familiar position: trying to figure out the new rules. While campaign bluster about mass deportations has subsided, the federal government is threatening to deport non-criminals living in this country illegally and is prosecuting first-time crossers, something that had largely stopped under Obama.
Scaling up those efforts would be monumentally difficult. The U.S. doesn’t have enough judges, immigration officers or detention space for mass deportations.
The Arizona Daily Star spoke with about three dozen faith leaders, school administrators, organizers, law enforcement officials, lawyers, service providers and immigrants, and gathered data from law enforcement agencies and courts to see what has changed — and what hasn’t — under the new administration.
The Star found that while people are scared, they are not hiding. Instead, they are taking steps to prepare themselves and their families in case they are stopped by a local police officer or get a knock on their door from immigration authorities.
They already know they have to be ready, particularly in the seven years since Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070, one of the toughest immigration laws in the country.
Attendance is up at citizenship prep classes and know-your-rights workshops put on by the Mexican Consulate and grassroots organizations. Families are developing plans to protect U.S.-born children in case their parents are deported.
Some schools saw a slight dip in enrollment after Trump was elected, but for the most part fears subsided and attendance rebounded after principals and teachers reassured students they were safe at school.
Trump’s plan to build a “big, beautiful” wall is proceeding, but not yet on the widely fenced and heavily patrolled border in Arizona. And in recent months, he has said we may need only 1,000 miles of border wall because the rest — another 1,000 miles — already has natural barriers like mountains and rivers.
In Tucson’s federal court, first-time illegal crossers now face criminal charges, but criminal immigration prosecutions are fewer than they were during most of the Obama administration largely because the number of crossers is so much smaller now.
Local sheriff’s departments are holding fewer people for federal immigration officers, and police are not checking as many people’s immigration status, as required by SB 1070, after a state attorney general opinion said an Arizona ID or driver’s license is sufficient proof of legal status. The opinion emphasized that local authorities can’t detain people just to check immigration status.
While Border Patrol agents are catching fewer crossers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are arresting more people already in Arizona. ICE arrests are up nearly 13 percent in the state from January through April compared to the same period in 2016. But that’s still 26 percent below what was reported in 2014.
And Trump’s announced crackdown has run into predictable obstacles, such as the intractable backlog in immigration courts that stymies deportations. Those challenges persist even though two more immigration judges were assigned to Arizona and attorneys say judges are moving through cases faster.
Considering all that, the Trump administration faces a steep climb in realizing a “new era” in border enforcement.
Seven months into Trump’s administration — despite the rhetoric — the Arizona border remains largely as it was before he took office.
When most news consumers think of immigration or refugees, they think of specific geographies — the U.S.-Mexico border or Western Europe receiving people from Africa or the Middle East. But the movement of people is global, and the issues across geographical regions are more similar than different.
Opinion pieces about security and immigration published in a newspaper in Nairobi could be reproduced almost word for word in Washington; Sicilian advocates’ concerns over Frontex are almost identical to what Texas activists say about the Border Patrol; and when businessmen in Greece talk about Islamization and Sharia law, they echo concerns of Southern Arizona ranchers.
Migration has once again jumped to the top of the news agenda on both sides of the Atlantic — fueled by the Trump administration in the United States and by the arrival of more than a million people seeking refuge in Europe — but is the media giving this issue the right coverage?
I have focused on the topic of diversity and migration for the last 10 years and every election cycle, as politicians trot out immigration to motivate voters, we hear about the importance of reporting on this issue. That enthusiasm is almost always short-lived, though, and we find ourselves back where we began. Ideally, immigration should be treated to constant coverage that captures the nuance in the issues, much like education or health care. Instead, the media in general seems to cover it like a natural disaster.
One could argue that coverage in the last decade or so has been hampered across the board, as newsrooms in North America and Europe face shrinking resources while expectations to be faster and do more with less continue to rise. But the use of stereotypes, and the focus on crime and terrorism in immigration coverage by some media outlets, is hardly novel.
While in Germany the media is largely credited with the overwhelmingly positive reaction seen in the beginning of the so-called refugee crisis, earlier (and subsequent) coverage has been problematic. In the United States, coverage on immigration, according to researchers, has contributed to polarization on the issue.
If anything is different in this new wave of coverage, it is the climate in which news is being received. Now, on top of immigration being a hot-button and highly-politicized issue, we are living in an era when everything some people don’t like gets called “fake news” and where the term “lügenpresse,” the lying press, has come back in use. The distrust of the mainstream media is high and growing — especially in the United States. Among President Donald Trump’s supporters, nearly nine in 10 respondents to a new University of Virginia Center for Politics poll said that media criticism of the president reinforces that he is on the right track. The same percentage agreed with Trump’s assertion that the press is “the enemy of the American people.” In Germany, a poll conducted by the Allensbach Institute found 40 percent of respondents described the reporting on refugees as “one-sided.”
Immigration touches on issues of identity, human rights, justice and fairness — all against a backdrop of real and perceived economic impact. And based on the current picture researchers paint of how we in the media are doing, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
The stories we cover or don’t cover, the language we use, the voices we choose to represent, play a major role in shaping the public policy debate on immigration.
TOHONO O’ODHAM NATION — Steel barriers line most of the 75 miles of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s southern boundary. But a wall?
“Over my dead body,” says Verlon Jose, the nation’s vice chairman.
“We have animals that migrate back and forth, and when you start affecting one animal, it’s going to change the entire ecological system,” says Tribal Chairman Edward Manuel. “The plants that grow here rely on some of those animals, the animals rely on each other and we have to rely on all those in order to survive in our way of life.”
Besides, “artificial barriers are never going to stop human trafficking, they’ll find a way to get through,” he adds. What he hopes is that the government comes up with comprehensive immigration reform.
Over the years, the reservation has been caught in the middle of illegal trafficking and enforcement.
The reservation, roughly the size of Connecticut, is sparsely populated with about 30,000 members and thick vegetation of tall saguaros, mesquite trees and creosote.
Before the fence, dozens of loaded trucks used to barrel through daily on their way north.
Then came 9/11, followed by the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which aimed to add barriers along most of the border. The three-strand, barbed-wire fence was replaced by waist-high metal posts.
“We are older than the international boundary with Mexico and had no role in creating the border,” former Chairman Ned Norris Jr. testified before Congress in 2008. “But our land is now cut in half, with O’odham communities, sacred sites, salt pilgrimage routes and families divided.”
The traffic, the cartels and the hundreds of agents and technology that followed have changed the O’odham way of life.
Some members stopped crossing the border to avoid the hassle. Trips to ceremonies in Mexico got longer. Tribal members can’t hunt without running into a Border Patrol agent.
Apprehensions are down, but the western corridor is still busy, especially for drugs. Besides, how many get through is unknown.
Now, a plan for 15 surveillance towers within the Chukut Kuk and Gu-Vo border districts is underway.
This spring, with Donald Trump’s “build the wall” message resonating so powerfully that he became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, I was part of a team of Daily Star reporters that visited the southern border states. Our goal was to go beyond the political rhetoric and talk with people who live and work along the international line.
Two Palestinians traveled more than 7,000 miles, through eight countries, to present themselves at the port of entry in Nogales more than a year ago.
They were seeking refuge in the United States.
“Because it’s a free country and you have the right to live as a human being,”Hisham Shabantold an immigration officer when asked why he sought asylum.
Both men have been in an immigration detention center in Florence, about 80 miles north of Tucson, since November 2014. In May, after an immigration judge found no evidence that they would be in danger if they returned home, their bond was set at $9,000 each. They said they couldn’t afford it.
While the case ofMounis Hammouda, 29, is ongoing, Shaban, 32, is stuck in limbo since his asylum claim was denied in August because an immigration judge didn’t find credible his fear of returning home due to the general political and economic situation in Gaza. His attorneys, who weren’t representing him when the decision was made, believe procedural misunderstandings and lack of evidence to support his claim were contributing factors.
Since the United States doesn’t recognize the state of Palestine, it can’t deport Shaban back to Gaza, and the likelihood of other countries accepting him is slim.
But the U.S. can’t detain someone indefinitely, so Shaban’s pro bono attorneys will file a petition for his release during his upcoming six-month review, they said.
Shaban’s continued detention “seems to violate any principle we have as Americans,” saidLiban Yousuf, civil rights director with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Arizona and one of two attorneys representing both men.
And the possibility of sending him to a third country worries them. “We don’t know what will happen to him in any of these countries. We want him to either be released here under supervision or sent back to his family,” Yousuf said.
“They are refusing to release me here,” Shaban said through an interpreter from Florence, a tattered envelope with his case documents in hand, “and they are refusing to keep me here.”