Immigration and Border Policies Criticized, Short Interview with Arizona Activist Dan Millis

By Nick Braune

In 2008, Dan Millis was on a team which discovered the body of a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador who had been trying to find her way through rugged deserts and mountains in Arizona’s southern border. Traveling with her little brother and hoping to link up with her mother in the U.S., the girl died of dehydration, after becoming sick and somehow being left behind by the coyote. (See The Death of Josseline by Margaret Regan, Beacon Press, 2000)

With Josseline on his mind, Millis was in the desert again two days later, leaving sealed gallon containers of water around for any lost travelers. He was cited for littering, refused to pay, was convicted in federal court, but after two years of fuss, finally won in appeal court. (Millis, visiting Texas this week as a spokesperson for Sierra Club and for No More Deaths in the Desert, is speaking on Monday, August 22 at Galeria 409 in Brownsville and Tuesday, August 23 at St. John the Baptist Parish Hall in San Juan. Both presentations begin at 7:00 pm.)

Braune: Are there still people who die crossing the Arizona desert despite the construction of the wall?

Millis: Construction of 650 miles of border walls has not decreased the number of people who die attempting to cross our borderlands. In fact, walls, sensors, helicopters, cameras, and thousands more agents have only made the voyage more dangerous for border-crossers. The crashed U.S. economy and higher prices being charged by border trail guides have contributed to lower overall numbers of people crossing the desert. But people continue to die in large numbers, and so the risk of death for those who cross has increased dramatically.

Braune: How do you assess President Obama and Secretary Napolitano on the immigration issues and the wall? – Just like Bush?

Millis: I think Obama’s administration would like significant reforms in trade, immigration, and perhaps even border policy. However, they are wedded to an ideology that these reforms can only happen once the border is “secured.” Their definition of “security” on the border is the same as that of the Bush administration: more walls, agents, helicopters, guns, technology, etc. More militarization. But safety and security are not the priority, as demonstrated by the hordes of well-armed young men driving above the speed limit in white and green [Border Patrol] SUVs, the vast majority of whom have less than minimal first aid training or supplies.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has deported more people per year than any of his predecessors, showing a mistaken allegiance to Bush’s doctrine of deterrence through death, detention and deportation. That’s a lot of ‘D’s…

Braune: Here’s something puzzling me. A year or so ago, Arizona passed some nasty anti-immigrant legislation, and last January a liberal Arizona congresswoman and 13 constituents were shot by a fanatic. Is your state becoming polarized?

Millis: As for the Giffords shooting, I would hardly characterize Gabby as “liberal.” She is a blue-dog Democrat, which is how she is able to hold on to her seat in a whacko, gun-crazy district.

That said, I worked on Giffords’ campaign in October, and felt the heat leveled on us by her genuinely whacko and gun-crazy Tea Party opponent, Jesse Kelly. Though he is obviously not directly responsible for the murders of January 8, I also doubt that shooter Jared Loughner would have ever even known of Gabby’s existence if it weren’t for the constant stream of venomous personal attacks unleashed by extremist zealots and their Citizens United-enabled funders. So I suppose you could say Arizona is polarized, but I think a better word would be irresponsible. And the lack of maturity and competency, especially of the Arizona legislature and Governor’s office since the elections, to me is reflective of an uninformed and indifferent electorate.

[Written for “Reflection and Change,” in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, August 21, 2011]