Arizona is a border state, and Tucson is only an hour or two from Mexico. So when I hear people talking with fear and anger about closing or protecting the border, I wonder who, exactly, they think illegal immigrants actually are. Living in a border state, knowing people descended from parents born on both sides of it, it becomes clear pretty quickly that those who cross the border aren’t any different from those who stay on one or the other side of it, save by accident of birth and economics. I’m willing to bet nearly every person who lives in Tucson has run into people who live here illegally, likely without even knowing it–because illegal immigrants don’t look any different than the rest of us. It ought to be instinctive that they don’t look any different because they aren’t any different, but it isn’t even in here, let alone in states farther away.
Am thinking about this because I came upon the story of this border crosser when doing my morning web run. A biologist on the verge of getting his first teaching position, worried about family financial pressures, he finally lost patience with waiting for something to work out at home. Possibly he should have waited a bit longer; but he didn’t try to come here for reasons any different than the reasons any of us go anywhere: because he thought it the best way to build a life for himself and his family. With just a few changes, this guy could be one of any number of U.S. citizens I know.
There are real challenges surrounding the whole issue of immigration. But we’re never going to approach those challenges humanely (let alone sensibly) if we start from the assumption that those on the other side aren’t, well, as human as we are. Instead, we’re going to wind up with things like the particularly nasty Proposition 200, which is on Arizona’s ballot this year, and which would (among other things) deny health care to anyone who can’t present proof of citizenship. Proposition 200 has a fair chance of passing, in large part on the basis of those who in Phoenix: further north, further from the border.
There are two things I often think of when I think about border crossers. The first is simply that I wouldn’t be here if there had been immigration quotas the early part of this century.
The second is of a time lnhammer and I were camping in Organ Pipe National Monument, which borders Mexico. On an isolated dirt road, we found a spot where someone had broken the fence between the U.S. and Mexico. Because, well, that was another country over there, I walked past the fence. And though I didn’t really expect otherwise, I couldn’t help thinking how the bit of desert on the southern side felt exactly the same as the bit of desert on the northern side: same cacti, same dust, same ecosystem, same bright sky. I walked back and forth several times, as if doing so would make the border more real–but instead with each crossing I felt, in a bone-deep way, just how arbitrary that line was, between Here and There.