“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and human rights.” – UN Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

Thursday, International Human Rights Day, Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) hosted a special screening of The 800 Mile Wall.  The film highlights the impact of new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border on migrants trying to cross into the U.S. and the communities that receive them.

The Tohono O’odham Nation, for example, has seen an unprecedented number of bodies recovered on their tribal territory in Arizona.  The wall funnels migrants directly onto the reservation.  Tohono O’odham Tribal Members, Mike Wilson and David Garcia, have spent the past year filling water stations for those who crossing the desert.  Though Tohono O’odham tribal leaders have approved water trucks for horses and cows in the same area, they have prohibited Mike and David’s water stations.

In California’s Imperial Valley, hundreds drown in the current of the All American Canal.  Despite repeated appeals for improved safety features on the canal, the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors ignored the human coast and focused instead on relocating the canal’s carp and bass.

Then, there’s the mistreatment and human rights abuses committed by U.S. border patrol during apprehension, at processing centers, and during the repatriation process.

Violations include: 1) failure to inform migrants of their rights, 2) failure to respect basic dignity of migrants, 3) failure to provide or denial of food, water and medical attention, 4) verbal and physical abuse, 5) inhuman processing conditions and more.  For a comprehensive (and shocking list) see:  Crossing the Line Report Findings & Recommendations by No More Deaths.  According to No More Deaths volunteer, Sarah Roberts, deportees are dumped back across the border into what honestly looks like a refugee camp.  The vast majority of them, she says, will try to cross again.

The film’s message:  U.S. border strategy has not succeeded in stemming undocumented migration; it has succeeded in increasing the number of husbands, wives, grandmothers, and grandaughters who die each year as they try to cross into the United States in search of work.  More than 5,000 migrant bodies have been recovered in U.S. deserts, mountains and canals in the past ten years.  Knowing that many bodies are never found, some put the death toll as high as 10,000.

Congressman Grijalva closed the film by stating: We can no longer afford to dehumanize the question of migration to the United States.  The deaths of undocumented migrants cannot be seen as “collateral damage” of our national security strategy.  The deaths at our nation’s border are systemic.  Ignoring this fact, refusing to deal with the problem at its root (our economic and immigration policy with respect to Mexico; NAFTA anyone?) raises fundamental questions about the United States’ ability to respect and protect human rights.

Human rights should be the guiding principles of national and international law, not get lost in it.  Senator John McCain has been quoted as saying that those who believe that a wall is the answer to our country’s immigration problem do not fully understand the conditions of the human heart.  Not until I sat down to write this post did I discover that non-discrimination was the theme of this year’s International Human Rights Day.

Something to think about…

“Discrimination lies at the root of many of the world’s most pressing human rights problems. No country is immune from this scourge. Eliminating discrimination is a duty of the highest order.” – Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The 800 Mile Wall is currently touring the United States.  If interested to find or host a screening, please visit their website and contact the film’s director, John Carlos Frey, at john@gatekeeperproductions.com.