TLDR: There are two ways you can support #FloodtheDesert:
I am writing from Ajo, Arizona. It's an old mining town in the remote desert southwest of Tucson that has become home base for Border Patrol in this region. It's about 100 degrees at 9pm. They claim it's the humid time of year, but it feels bone dry on my East Coast skin.
I am here with 50 other clergy, including four other rabbis, and about 20 other local folks who regularly bring water to the desert in this region. We spent the day learning and preparing for action. Ajo rests between 100 miles of barren wilderness and 100 miles of Native Reservation. There are Border Patrol checkpoints on every highway leading out of town. It is probably the most remote place I have ever been.
Today we learned about the political policies of the U.S. government in relationship to Mexico and Latin America that have created a crisis of disappearance and death in the borderlands. We learned about the policy of "Prevention Through Deterrence," which has forced migrants to take dangerous desert routes to escape poverty and violence, and in turn transformed the rugged desert into a weapon of Border Patrol. We learned about the practices of Border Patrol to undermine and criminalize those offering humanitarian aid, largely in the form of gallons of water. These are life saving measures in the face of extreme heat and 100 miles of rugged terrain. And we learned about volunteer search and rescue efforts to find migrants lost in the desert. All in all, the violence and suffering is immense, as are the compassionate efforts to undermine government policy. You can watch these videos to learn more.
Tomorrow we will wake at dawn and drive two hours deeper into the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness. What feels especially important to share is that the goal of this action, even more than delivering hundreds of gallons of water, is to draw attention to the criminalizing of the humanitarian aid. This is essential because at the moment nine volunteers with No More Deaths have been charged with misdemeanors and one person has three felony charges. The misdemeanor charge that our action directly tries to leverage is the claim that leaving water jugs in the desert is abandonment of property (i.e., littering). The threats of these charges effectively deter humanitarian aid and increase the risk of death for those traveling through the western desert. The hope is that either the police will give us all citations, in which case we will leverage the courts to question whether they are going to really charge 59 people with abandonment of property, or that they will leave us alone, which would set a precedent that in fact it is not a criminal offense.
Given that either outcome has political leverage, what the organizers need most is massive media attention. I will be documenting in the field and plan to post to social media tomorrow afternoon. CNN and NPR are here with us and the organizers are hoping the action will go viral to draw major attention to the criminalization of humanitarian aid for folks crossing the border. Please sign on to their call and boost all media as you are able. The relevant hashtags are #floodthedesert, #waternotwalls, and #dropthecharges, and you can follow No More Deaths/No Más Muertes on Twitter and Facebook.
Driving through the desert I simultaneously felt terrified and captivatingly alive. Being here I feel acutely aware that fear and awe, the concept of Yira, are the same thing. And that if a cloud were following me in the desert providing much-needed shade and keeping me warm with fire at night, I would most definitely believe in God.
Shavua tov to you all,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.