Tulare County for Families, a local pro-immigration reform group, delivered over 650 white crosses to Representative Devin Nunes’ office on Tuesday, May 13.
The crosses were made to honor 684 people whose remains were found after their attempts to cross the border, and each name was read aloud outside Nunes’ office on a megaphone in a solemn ceremony before they were delivered to Nunes’ office. Between 20 and 30 people attended the protest.
The ceremony, organizers said, was intended to highlight the need for immigration reform and call for an end to the separation of families through deportations. In addition, the group called for constructive action by Nunes to advance HR-15, an immigration reform bill with bipartisan support in the Senate that has stalled in the House.
“When we break up families by deporting husbands from their wives, mothers from their children, brothers from their sisters, daughters from their fathers, we are inviting them to become another one of these names,” said Suzanne Aguilera-Marrero, a candidate running against Nunes in the upcoming election and a TC4F member.
“With this action and ceremony, we are remembering that each name that is read represents a life that was sacrificed for the want of an opportunity at the American dream… an opportunity to provide a better life for their families. We all bear some responsibility for these deaths, as this country runs on a supply of cheap labor.”
The names on the crosses were culled from coroner reports compiled by the Binational Immigration Institute (BIM) at the University of Arizona, and represent remains found in the desert from 1990-2005.
Many of the remains are those of children, and even babies. An updated report, released by the BIM in the summer of 2013, indicates that although border crossings are down, deaths in the desert continue at the same pace.
According to the updated report, “border enforcement strategies undertaken in the late 1990s and early 2000s effectively pushed would-be migrants into extremely remote areas,” a phenomenon the researchers labeled “The Funnel Effect.” Those areas comprise the harshest and most extreme desert and mountain environments in which to travel; many migrants perish in unimaginable suffering.
In a statement given to local news channel CBS47, a senior policy advisor said that the “professional agitators involved are known Democratic Party activists,” and said that Nunes is a vocal advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.
The same advisor told the station that “[TC4F] and others like it on both sides make passage of comprehensive reform less likely with each passing day.”
According to the group Humane Borders, which put emergency water stations in the desert in an effort to prevent deaths, the remains of 2,471 border crossers were recovered from 1990 to 2013; at least 761 sets of remains are still unidentified.
“There’s a lot of people dying in the desert needlessly,” Mark Araiza, a TC4F member, said. “[The United States government] is purposefully funneling people into the Sonoran Desert and forcing them to walk through the desert into the United States, and it’s to die. And the deaths have to stop.”
“We call on Representative Nunes to act on comprehensive immigration reform to provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans,” Aguilera-Marrero said.
“Hispanics represent 44 percent of his district, and he needs to realize we should have a say in what he tells Congress,” Araiza said.
He encouraged those interested in Tulare County for Families to attend their meetings at 1811 W. Sunnyside Ave. in Visalia, the SEIU Local 521 office, held every Tuesday at 5:30pm.
The group also has a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/tularecountyforfamilies.