by Zoe Montague ’20
“This is one of the more depressing PowerPoints I think I’ll ever give,” began Dr. William Paul Simmons, University of Arizona professor and director of the university’s Master of Arts in Human Rights Practice.
Simmons’ lecture, Structural Violence, Drug Cartels, and Migrant Vulnerability, was part of the annual Samuel C. Waters Lecture series. He visited campus to speak about the commonalities between migration and violence around the world.
Migration and Violence
Simmons began researching drop houses in 2009 in Arizona. Drop houses are usually rented properties where human smugglers hold illegal immigrants against their will.
“The violence we found was horrifying,” Simmons said.
Simmons found that the violence in Arizona is only one example of the horrors experienced by migrants worldwide.
“The logic of the system plays out wherever migrants are vulnerable,” Simmons explained.
There are migrant routes from Mexico to America and Africa to Europe and in other parts around the globe.
Simmons discussed the different means that governments use to control the migrants, including a border wall, heavy militarization and nature. The professor contends these methods of control always fail, however. The reward that migrants seek by moving to a different country outweighs the possible risk of violence they may face. But migration often leads to death for many seeking a better future.
“Securitization plus vulnerability equals migrant deaths,” Simmons said.
In the Arizona desert alone, authorities have found the remains of 200 people every year. This number does not include the migrants whose remains were not found.
“We can estimate that three, four, five hundred migrant deaths every year crossing the Arizona desert,” Simmons said.
The Influence of Drug Cartels
According to Simmons, the situation had become even worse because cartels have taken over smuggling migrants. The increased securitization of borders has made it impossible for ‘“mom-and-pop” smugglers to continue to work.
“Drug cartels were looking to diversify, and they diversified into human smuggling,” Simmons said.
Cartels have the money, power and resources available to beat the security measures.
The future is not looking any brighter, according to Simmons.
“It’s going to be worse,” he said. Simmons explained that climate change will cause massive disruption as people are forced to find new places to live.
“We have our choice to respond to this with massive securitization…or we can respond with humanitarianism,” Simmons explained.
“I Want a Better Life”
He concluded that migrants should not be reduced to victims.
“Migration is a human fact; it has been going on for millennium,” Simmons said. “Migration is a form of empowerment.
“Someone who decides to migrate is saying, ‘I want a better life.’”
Simmons was heartened by a number of volunteer organizations responding to the needs of migrants like No More Deaths in Arizona and SOS Méditerranée in Europe.
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