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Between The Lines 

'Border To Border' Gathers The Community For A Human Rights Summit.

MORE THAN WILD-eyed vigilantes are taking a stand on the suffering along our border with Mexico. And you can bet your boots that Cochise County ranchers Roger and Don Barnett--who made national press for holding Mexican immigrants at gunpoint--won't show their mugs at Border to Border: Building a Human Rights Movement, converging this week in Tucson.

The broad-based summit will address the human rights crisis, and ways out of the brutal morass arising from ill-conceived immigration policies. Speakers will include keynoter Delores Huerta, co-founder and past vice-president of the United Farm Workers.

Other panelists include Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who chairs the Task Force on Immigration for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Enrique Dovalina, president of LULAC; Raquel Goldsmith, a UA adjunct professor of Mexican/ American studies; Sasha Khokha of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Manuel López Obrador, the mayor of Mexico City; and Felix Pérez of Alianza Contra Basura Tóxica y Nuclear (Alliance Against Toxic and Nuclear Waste) in Juarez, Mexico.

The panel also includes labor leaders, human rights and environmental activists, and José Palafox of the ethnic studies department of UC Berkeley.

Commenting by phone, Palafox stressed the importance of this meeting, at a time when record numbers of Mexican immigrants are dying trying to cross the border; between October, 1999 and last September, more than 370 immigrants have perished in the desert.

"I think this is an important summit bringing together folks within the community, activists and academics, to strategize and build a new movement that counters recent vigilantism," Palafox says.

"There's always been anti-immigrant sentiment in this country," he says, but it has taken a new, dangerous twist "more recently with the Barnett brothers, and also in Texas and California, where there's been more overt vigilante attacks on undocumented immigrants. This has forced many different groups to come together to think about how to connect issues of globalization, militarization and immigration and find strategies to address them all."

He says current Border Patrol strategies only worsen the problem. "We also have to look at the role of the government in fueling the atmosphere of violence. Operation Gatekeeper, Operation Hold The Line, the different operations that the INS has established as its national policy--we have to look at how that has facilitated an atmosphere that the border is under siege."

So what's the answer?

"I think there are many different ways of dealing with it," he says.

But there's only one bottom line along the international line: "How far are we willing to go?" he asks. "How many more deaths? We've already spent $4.1 billion on a policy that has not worked and that has just caused more deaths.

"We have to look at the root causes and the role of our government, in signing things like NAFTA, that causes more immigration. And we have to look at binational solutions that involve both countries and local folks."

Those local folks are responding en masse. They include John Fife and other veterans of the '80s Sanctuary Movement, who are bringing an updated version of their network back to life. Or freelance Samaritans like Clara, a borderland native who does the right thing at the risk of arrest.

"We're down here dealing with people who are suffering, people who need food and water," she says. "They show up at your door, and collapse in your arms weeping. How are you going to turn your back on that?"

Border to Border: Building a Human Rights Movement runs Friday through Sunday at the InnSuites Hotel, 475 N. Granada Ave. The cost is $5 ($10 for those from outside Arizona). It opens Friday, December 8 with registration from 5 to 9 p.m., and continues with two films, La Ciudad by David Riker, and the premier of Border Crossings by Heather Lares, at 7:30 p.m. in the Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St.

The gathering continues on Saturday, December 9 with panel discussions from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and a concert featuring La Nueva Onda, the Santa Cruz River Band and Grito Serpentino from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. in the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. A $10 donation is suggested. The summit concludes on Sunday, December 10 with a panel discussion from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. For information, call 770-1373.

More by Tim Vanderpool

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