Father Pete greets our small delegation with a big smile and a loud voice. We arrive at the “comedor” (dining room) in the early afternoon to help serve a meal to people who have just been deported. The comedor is a simple room with a tiny kitchen (we Americans wouldn’t want an apartment with a kitchen that size). It is a simple ministry. They serve a meal to people who have been apprehended. The comedor, supported by Kino Border Initiative, is a short walk from the border.
We help serve meals to 70 people. The numbers are down from the peak a couple of years ago, but the migrants still come. Funny, the word “migrant” utterly fails to convey the reality of these Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans. These are desperate people. It would be more accurate to call them economic refugees.
One man I see has his feet heavily bandaged and can barely walk. Having just seen the rugged mountain desert trails these people attempt to cross, I wonder that anyone makes it. I spoke with a man who had not been caught crossing, but had been deported after 18 years in the U. S. He leaves behind two children, both U. S. citizens. He was stopped for allegedly not wearing a seatbelt and taken into custody when he did not have a driver’s license.
Every day the comedor feeds them, offers a prayer and a smile. It treats these dejected people with respect. Father Pete, who has been at this for years, wonders when it will end.
Back in Tuscon the following day we visit the federal courtroom that is processing around 70 undocumented immigrants as part of “Operation Streamline.” The scene is surreal after the comedor. Here is a vast, opulent, courtroom larger than most church sanctuaries. The immigrants are processed in a procedure no more personal than a transaction with an ATM. Each deportee has a court appointed attorney who stand there and does absolutely nothing–but collects $125 an hour. Operation Streamline is in a number of cities and costs about $3.5 billion a year. It was touted as an anti-terrorism measure. Last year 327,000 were arrested. Not a single terrorist has been caught. Not one in the seven years of the program.
If they have been caught before, the detainees are given prison sentences. Most of these prison terms will be served in for-profit prisons run by the CCA (Corrections Corporation of America). Prisoners appear handcuffed and shackled with chains dangling. As they shuffle up to the front of the courtroom the chains rattle. They clink again as they hobble out of the room. This happens every day.
The federal prosecutors and public defenders hate the process. The magistrate hates it. The marshals hate it. They are caught in a system they see as insane and a system they cannot control or even influence.
What has become of us as a people that we tolerate this?