JCRC tour illuminates issues on U.S.-Mexico border

The border fence separating Nogales, Ariz., from Nogales, Mexico (Michael Zaccaria)
Bob Feinman, vice chair of Humane Borders, tells participants on the Jewish Community Relations Council’s May 3 border tour about Humane Borders’ work in providing water stations to prevent migrant deaths. (Courtesy Jewish Community Relations Council)

Twenty-seven people joined the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona for a tour of Arizona’s border with Mexico on May 3. The day included a visit to the site of a Humane Borders water station in Arivaca, a speaker’s session at the Fresh Produce Association in Nogales, Ariz., and tours of border fence, port and Morley Avenue, as well as lunch from an authentic Mexican restaurant, delivered across the border.

“The border tour made vividly tangible and moving so much I thought I had understood,” says Michael Zaccaria, a JCRC member. “I found the Border Patrol and vegetable importers briefings so informative. It was the first time I was not intimidated by Border Patrol officers. They were well-trained and knowledgeable PR people able skillfully to handle challenging questions.”

In Nogales, the border fence built in 2011 is made of 15-foot high steel pipes filled with concrete poured around interior skeletons of rebar, according to Popular Mechanics. There are four-inch gaps between the pipes. “No one on either side wants a solid wall,” says Zaccaria. “Civilians want to see the integrity of their side-by-side towns. Officials want to see what is happening.”

Nancy Koff agrees the tour was an excellent, powerful experience.

“Border issues regarding immigration, commerce, the environment, and humanitarian concerns are even more complex and fragile than I had thought. I was very impressed by the impact that further restrictions on the flow of commerce will have on the economic viability of border communities, Arizona, and the southwestern United States,” says Koff. She added that she was saddened to see the negative impact border issues have already had on the quality of life for residents of both Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Sonora, and the surrounding communities.

Koff, a former senior associate dean for medical student education of the University of Arizona College of Medicine, was moved to learn of Humane Borders’ work in trying to prevent the deaths of immigrants who attempt to cross the Arizona desert, who are often abandoned by the guides they have paid. She was surprised to learn about Border Patrol programs aimed at helping immigrants and their families.

“Prior to this tour, I had a uni-dimensional impression that the Border Patrol’s aims were limited to enforcement of immigration laws,” says Koff, who recommends that everyone take a similar tour “before they solidify their opinions about these very important issues and the people most affected by border policies.”