At the border in Arizona that separates the United States and Mexico (Photo by Paradise Gray)

Last week, courtesy of two incredible organizations that formed in protest of Arizona’s racist immigration legislation SB1070, the Sound Strike and Culture Strike, I was blessed to visit Tucson, Arizona.  Part of the trip was to perform at a arts festival for migrant justice called Tucson Stand Up, but the other part was to learn first hand about the severe oppression of immigrants in Arizona and the dangers of crossing the border through its harsh desert.

Our first stop on the trip was the medical examiner’s office, who gave us a graphic powerpoint on the many people who lost their lives trying to navigate the extreme conditions of the desert to make it into the United States. He showed us a refrigerated locker that can hold up to 150 bodies at a time, and is often filled to capacity. He also showed us a bookcase filled with files of unsolved cases, because sadly 62% of the bodies they find cannot be identified due to decay.

From there we got a great lesson on the economics of immigration from famed immigration rights activist Isabel Garcia, at the office of Coalicion de Derechos Humanos. She broke down how the private prison CCA receives $17 million a month from the city of Tucson to just detain people caught trying to cross the border. Form there we went to the federal courthouse in Tucson to watch “Operation Streamline” where they try and convict people caught coming back to their stolen land.

The “Operation Streamline” we witnessed was 70 men and women with hands and feet shackled sitting in the courthouse, all of them being charged with the same crime. The judge took them 7 at a time, each of them with a different lawyer. The clerks in the back played Angry Birds on their ipads, while each group were read their rights and then sent to jail. Seeing all of them sitting closely together and shackled, I couldn’t help but think of my own ancestors, and America’s shameful history of  slavery.

  Paradise Gray, Invincible, and Jasiri X 

The Next day we traveled to the border to record a historic cypher at the wall to raise awareness about this issue. There I was joined by Invincible, DJ Sloepoke, Shining Soul, Progresso, Dirty Verbs & Amy 1. Just seeing the baren desert and feeling the heat made me cringe at the thought of the thousands of people who risk their lives crossing it, in hopes of a better life.

Friday was the show and every artists came and rocked the mic, while Favianna Rodriguez, hosted a art showcase that featured the works of some incredible visual artists. Everywhere we went during this trip we were treated like family and shown nothing but love. Although it looks dark now, seeing the brillant activists we encountered makes me believe Arizona has a bright future and soon that wall will come tumbling down.

If you’re in Charlotte, NC, for the DNC, join me, September 5th for UnDocunation as we raise awareness around the issue of immigrant justice.