Alternative Migrant Trail 2021 Speaker Full Bios

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Lupe Castillo, Keep Tucson Together

Lupe Castillo is a retired history professor at Pima Community College in Tucson as well as an activist in the Chicano civil rights movement. Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Lupe is a co-founder of the University of Arizona’s Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA). In 1970, she helped organize Tucson residents to establish the El Rio Neighborhood Center and fought to build the Joaquin Murrieta Park on Tucson’s west side.  At Pima Community College, she was one of the first professors to develop Chicano/a studies courses.  She has encouraged students to see education as a tool that will enable positive change, and she has been a fierce advocate of the community for various social issues for more than 40 years.  Today she continues to work with the Keep Tucson Together project and has been present for nearly every Migrant Trail. 

Kat Rodriguez, Migrant Trail Organizing Committee

Kat is a Tejana/Chicana with nearly 15 years working in social justice movement.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University- Sacramento and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Arizona.  She has worked with farmworker struggles in Immokalee, Florida and Woodburn, Oregon.  Most of her social justice work has centered on issues faced by the (im)migrant communities, specifically related to the deaths of migrants on the U.S.-México border. She currently works a Programs Coordinator for Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona, and volunteers with the Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras and Casa Alitas. She has been on the Migrant Trail Organizing Committee since 2004.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Verlon Jose, Traditional O’Odham Elder

Verlon Jose is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona. Verlon, is currently appointed as the Governor of the Traditional O’odham Leaders. This Traditional Council has been around since the early 1920s when Community leaders united to protect the people and defend the traditional lands, the sacred sites of the O’odham, (people). Verlon is also the current, President of PPEP, Inc. First American Resources and Services.

Mr. Jose has had the privilege and honor to serve a four-year term as the Vice-Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, a federal recognized tribe of southern Arizona. During his term he also served a two-term appointment as the Treasurer of the Inter-tribal Association of Arizona, the Treasure of the Arizona Indian Gaming Association and Chairman of the Arizonans for Tribal Government Gaming. He is currently still serving a second term on the National Indian Gaming Association Board of Directors.

Mr. Jose, served as the Chairman of the Chukut Kuk District, 2011 – 2015 and was on the
Baboquivari Unified School Board, for six years with a term ending December 2014 and was reappointed to another term of four years thereafter. Verlon served as the School Board President for four years while serving on the board.

Verlon Jose also had the privilege and honor to serve as the Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council of the Tohono O’odham Nation, served as Vice Chairman, and served a total of eight years on the Legislative Council. He further served the Nation as a Tribal Court advocate, Legal Assistant for the Office of Attorney General, Intern at the Tribal Planning Department and served on the District Council for a number of years, where he also was the Chair of the Youth and Budget & Finance Committees for the Chukut Kuk District.

Mr. Jose attended Business College in Tucson, Pima Community College, Phoenix Community College, and the Tohono O’odham Community College where his primary focus was on Indian Law, Judicial Studies and History/Native American Studies.

Mr. Jose enjoys time with his family, especially his 14-year-old grandson Jojo. He is committed to his traditions, culture, education, youth, and services to the people. He enjoys his time on the family ranch when able to do so and traveling to rodeos supporting his nieces and grandsons who ride sheep, calves, steers, and bulls. He enjoys many genres of music and loves to meet new friends. Family is everything, as we are all related.

Black Gentry, Indigenous Languages Office

Blake Gentry (Cherokee Nation) is an international policy expert in indigenous community health, development, indigenous languages in migration, and climate change adaption. He served as adjunct/associate faculty with the University of Arizona: MEZ Public Health College, Dept. of Geography and Development, and Mexican-American Studies. He was appointed consultant to Rewi Alley Research Center, Lanzhou City University, Ganzu, China. He is a policy advisor to Traditional O’odham Leaders in Mexico, with whom he co-designed an autonomous indigenous census. Blake researches and writes about migration, immigrant rights, and indigenous language rights. He directs the Indigenous Languages Office at the Casa Alitas Shelter in Tucson and the Guatemalan Acupuncture and Medical Aid Project. Blake is an associate with Higher Ground Foundation and Adaptation Ledger, Inc.

He co-authored the report Deprivation, Not Deterrence, (GUAMAP, 2014) which contributed to the ACLU vs Johnson class action lawsuit against the Tucson Sector Border Patrol. His report, Exclusion of Indigenous Language Speaking Immigrants in the US Immigration system (AmaConsultants:2015), was the first national report on indigenous language discrimination, and was cited in a legal complaint to The Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, DHS by American Immigration Council. Blake has worked on issues of trauma and treatment with the African Refugees Solidarity Committee (2009), and received training on Treating Victims of Torture by the Hopi Foundation’s Center for Prevention and Resolution of Violence (2000). He has co-lead workshops for three legal defense organizations in Florida, Texas, and California on Indigenous Children in Detention, with the International Mayan League and Alianza Indígena Sin Fronteras. Currently he is producing a Manual on Indigenous Languages in Migration in 15 Indigenous Languages and Spanish.

Blake’s work is mentioned in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Guardian, Indian Country Today, Arizona Daily Star, and published in Journal of Latin American Geography, and UCLA Chicanx and Latinx Student Law Review Journal.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Isabel Garcia, Coalición de Derechos Humanos

Isabel Garcia, a fourth-generation Tucsonan, is a longtime human rights advocate and organizer with Coalición de Derechos. She attended Pueblo High School before graduating from the university of Arizona with a BA in 1975 and her JD in 1978. After being accepted into the Arizona State Bar, Isabel was awarded a Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship which took her to Del Tio, Texas, to work with migrant farm workers as an attorney with Texas Rural Legal Aid in Del Río.

Isabel returned to Tucson in 1980 to work as an Assistant Pima County Public Defender, then as an Assistant Federal Public Defender until 1986, when she began private practice where she focused on criminal and immigration defense litigation.
In 1992 Isabel was named Director of the Pima County Legal Defender where she fought against the injustices in the criminal justice system and the incarceration of our communities until her retirement in July 2015.

Isabel has simultaneously championed migrant rights, and has fought against the militarization of the US/Mexico border, bringing international focus on policy-driven death along US/Mexico border. Among her many awards and recognitions, in 2006 Isabel was awarded the Human Rights Award from Mexico’s Human Rights Commission, representing the first person not born nor living in Mexico to receive the honor. In 2018 the University of Mexico (UNAM), honored Isabel with the Alfonso Garcia Robles Award for her decades of work in defense and promotion of human rights of migrants.

Xochitl Mercado, Volunteer Coordinator, FOIA’s & Citizenship Team Lead and Sarah Roberts, Volunteer with Keep Tucson Together (KTT)

Xochitl Mercado has been a KTT volunteer since early 2014.  In 2017 she became coordinator of the Citizenship Team.  In April 2019, she became Volunteer Coordinator.  Her commitment is to assist as many people as possible to apply for U.S. Citizenship with all its benefits and responsibilities and giving legal advice to the community that needs answers to their questions

Sarah Roberts is a retired Registered Nurse and has volunteered with Keep Tucson Together since 2011 and with the Tucson Samaritans since its beginning in 2002.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Diego Piña Lopez, Casa Alitas

Diego has been at Casa Alitas Welcome Center, a shelter for asylum seekers in Tucson, for four years. Diego has worked his way up in the program, which has served over 30,000 migrants. He is a second-year Ph.D. student in Public Health, hoping to contribute to recent immigrants’ national health resource network. 

In 2019, Diego received the National Association of Social Workers  AZ region Emerging Leader of the Year award, and is currently on the NASW Arizona Board and Co-Chairing for Refugee Council USA on the Asylum task force.

Tracy Taft, Ajo Samaritans

After multiple careers ranging from teaching Greek philosophy to working in the trenches of rural community development, Tracy lives in the most remote western area of Pima County in the town of Ajo (pop. 3,300) located 10 miles north of Why, both border region towns that have long been on the migrant trail. She volunteers with the Ajo Samaritans and with Shelters for Hope in Sonoyta, Mexico, and this spring was part of the Ajo community’s effort to welcome migrants released there daily by Border Patrol and to assist them in getting to shelters in Tucson or Phoenix where others could help them complete their journeys.

Sarah Jackson, Casa de Paz

When Sarah Jackson visited the US/Mexico border in 2012, it changed the course of her life. She spent time with people who’d been deported, listened to their stories, and learned about their reasons for migrating and the dangers they’d faced. She also witnessed families being separated.

Her own family is super close—the kind of tight-knit family that looks forward to every minute together. They also believe in treating others compassionately. So, when Sarah saw families being torn apart, she couldn’t look away. She returned to Colorado, but there was no going back to normal.

Back home, Sarah took stock of her resources: a one bedroom apartment, a love for volleyball, and a belief that families belonged together. It wasn’t much but it was enough. She opened Casa de Paz and started Volleyball Internacional, a volleyball league that donates 100% of its profits to pay for operating expenses of the hospitality home. She’s been hosting and helping to reunite families ever since.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Katy Murdza, American Immigration Council

Katy Murdza is the Advocacy Manager for the Immigration Justice Campaign at the American Immigration Council, where she focuses on legal advocacy and policy related to immigration detention across the country. She previously advocated for asylum-seeking mothers and children on issues including medical care, pregnancy, family separation, and access to counsel at Proyecto Dilley.

Before earning a Master’s degree in International Policy and Development from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she assisted migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border with No More Deaths and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama.

Jenn Budd, Former Senior Patrol agent and Senior Intelligence agent for the US Border Patrol

Former Border Patrol agent turned immigrant-rights activist Jenn Budd is an advocate against militarization and for immigrant rights and an ambassador for the Southern Border Communities Coalition. 

Jenn Budd was one of the first agents to be hired as part of Operation Gatekeeper (1994), marking the beginning of the era of militarized deterrence that persists today. As an agent, she witnessed firsthand the cruelty, racism and violence that we now know to be cultural pillars of the U.S. Border Patrol. 

Jenn has written, ““I refused to ignore the corruption I witnessed on a daily basis or pretend that the wall wasn’t pushing people out to dangerous terrain and leading to their deaths. I declined to do as ordered and looked the other way as agents smuggled in drugs and assaulted migrants. So I left.” (“I used to detain immigrants at the border. Now I help them”). 

As a Border Patrol Agent, Jenn learned first-hand that militarization and enforcement-only policies lead to more violence, corruption and death

Since leaving the Border Patrol, Jenn has dedicated herself to speaking out against their culture of corruption and impunity.   Through her activism, Jenn is atoning for the abuses her former agency has committed, and is asking that all current border patrol agents lay down their guns and badges and join her.

Todd Miller, Author, journalist, Co-founder of the Migrant Trail

Todd Miller has been reporting from international border zones for over twenty-five years. In his new book “Build Bridges, Not Walls,” he invites readers to join him on a journey that begins with the most basic of questions: What happens to our collective humanity when the impulse to help one another is criminalized? 

Todd is a contributing editor on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its column “Border Wars”.  Todd is a founding member of the Migrant Trail and has walked many times.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Margo Cowan, Immigration Attorney, Keep Tucson Together

Margo Cowan has been an advocate for migrant justice for more than 30 years and has been involved with the Migrant Trail since its first journey in 2004. Before becoming an attorney, she was a farmworker organizer mentored by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. 

Margo’s efforts in the areas of border and immigration policy, as well as the development and representation of undocumented persons and refugees, has spanned decades. She is a Defense Attorney for the Pima County Public Defender, was the lead counsel for the Sanctuary movement, where churches and synagogues offered sanctuary to the undocumented facing deportation and co-founded the organization No More Deaths, which seeks to reduce the number of deaths in the Arizona Desert.

Jose Ulises Bernabe Garcia, Immigration attorney

I am a person committed to truth and justice. During my life, the good values instilled by my family and those that I have learned from have made it clear to me that honesty and humility make us pleasant people. In any place that I have arrived, I have always walked hand in hand with these values and I have managed to obtain many personal recognitions, but the best recognition I can have is knowing that raising my voice has helped so that things do not remain opaque and in an injustice. Being able to contribute my work, knowledge, enthusiasm, experience to each and every one of my civil and professional obligations has been (and will always be) an obligation. 

In my time in Mexico I worked in politics, in the mayoralty of my city advising and supporting the peasants. I was a legal adviser of public security and a qualifying judge in public security of my city. These are just some jobs that I performed and I did it with professionalism and in ways always attached to the law, but the most important thing always attached were my principles and my human side. I could tell you many good stories, but we would not finish for a long time. Yet, what I can tell you is that even here, I will continue to contribute to supporting our brothers and our fellow migrants in struggle. Today I am working at Keep Tucson Together; a job that has given me the same satisfactions of my work in Mexico…satisfactions that have no comparison. I know it is appropriate to give my biggest thanks to Ms. Mary M. Cowan for the unconditional support that I have received from her and those close to her. Thanks.

Perla del Angel, Attorney in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico

[Bio and photo pending]

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Ajahn Sarayut, Buddist Meditation Center

Ajahn Sarayut Arnanta is the founding abbot of the Wat Buddhametta: Tucson Buddhist Meditation Center in Tucson, Arizona. Born in Thailand, he became a monk in 1983 when he was 15 and took full ordination at age 21 in 1989. 

After his graduation from Buddhist University, he moved to the U.S.in 2000; he has been working to serve Buddhist and non-Buddhist community alike in Tucson ever since. He cares deeply on immigration issues in southern Arizona and elsewhere and he has been supporting Migrant Trail Walk for more than a decade.

Natividad Cano, Indigenous community member

Natividad Valenzuela Cano was born in Sasabe, Sonora and immigrated to the United States in 1960 at the age of 13 along with her mother and 6 younger siblings.  Her first legal residence in the U.S. was the Buenos Aires Ranch a few miles from the border.  Her father had been a Bracero during WWII and had gained legal residence in 1953; however it took at least 7 years before the family was allowed to enter the country legally. 

Nati graduated from Pueblo High School in Tucson and Cochise College in Douglas, AZ.  Nati is the coordinator of the Native Ways Program, a residential treatment program for indigenous women with substance use disorders.  She has participated in the Migrant Trail since 2013. 

Tom Kowal, Quaker

Tom Kowal is a border and immigrant justice advocate for over 30 years, and a Migrant Trail caminante and organizing committee member for 17 years. Tom resides in Colorado and in New Mexico,  is a founding member of Coloradans For Immigrant Rights/AFSC, and active in other faith-based and political organizations.

A  lifelong Quaker, his activism and advocacy flow from the Quaker principles and testimonies of Equality, Peace (Justice), and Community, and from a calling to ministry for Border peace, justice and mercy. St. Francis’ call to “Preach the Gospel daily; use words if necessary” provides daily inspiration to this work.

Mark Adams, Presbyterian

Mark Adams is a Presbyterian Church mission co-worker serving since 1998 with Frontera de Cristo, a binational ministry centered in Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, AZ.  Together with Jocabed Gallegos he coordinates the ministry which seeks to build relationships and understanding across borders and to respond in faith to the realities of immigration through prayer, education, humanitarian aid, economic development and advocacy. 

FDC has provided the evening meal for the Migrant Trail for over 10 years and many staff and volunteers have participated in the Migrant Trail over the years.

Mohyeddin Abdulaziz, Palestinian community member

Mohyeddin is a Palestinian Arab American who immigrated to the United States in 1978 and has lived in Tucson since then. He is happily retired after working for the University of Arizona and the Arizona Court of Appeals for more than 30 years. 

Moyheddin has been an activist for justice, equality, human rights and peace all of his life. He serves on the board of directors of Borderlands Theater and the Asylum Program of Arizona. He enjoys life with the grandchildren, organic gardening and playing tennis among other things. He has been a participant of the Migrant Trail for more than a decade.

Br. David, Franciscan Brother

Br. David read about St. Francis of Assisi and met his first friar in 1977.  He was assigned to San Xavier Mission in Tucson in 2005 and since 2017 has lived in the Franciscan Fraternity in Elfrida, AZ, 25 miles north of the border in SE Arizona. 

He has served on the Migrant Trail Organizing Committee since 2007.

Bob Norris

Bob Norris retired from remediating contaminated groundwater and soils and foruntiously moved into the neighborhood of El Comite de Longmont.  After first volunteering he eventually became board president and subsequently joined the board of the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition, the Hispanic Education Foundation and the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition. 

Bob has participated in the Migrant Trail for the last eight years. Unsatisfied with several protestant churches, he found a home with Unitarian Universalist where everyone regardless of faith is welcome and likely to be active in social justice groups.