Often things are not quite what they seem. This was one of the many thoughts that stirred through my head when I began to learn of the unspeakable tragedies that befall migrants and non-citizens brought under the authority of U.S. Immigration and Border Enforcement policies.

Because I "look white" (and indeed I partly am), most people are confused when they learn of my Mexican lineage.

My Sonora-born mother migrated as a child with her family to the United States, where she would be raised her whole life. She wouldn't attempt the citizenship process until she was pregnant with her first child in the 1970s.

But my heritage wasn't always something I admitted to. As a socialized young American intensely eager to perceptually "belong" in a predominantly white society, I despised my Latino roots as a child, refused to learn the language, even rejected the cultural attitudes that swirled around my home life and upbringing.

Not until I started volunteering with Arizona-based human rights and humanitarian group No More Deaths/No Más Muertes did I witness firsthand the devastating social consequences of a militarized border.

Since the early 1990s, massive levels of military buildup have resulted in at least several thousand migrant deaths and increased systemic abuse of migrants facing detention and deportation.

Meanwhile, inequitable trade agreements favoring U.S. agribusiness continue to depress economies of the Global South and create desperate migrations northward.

In this setting, No More Deaths released a report in late September, "Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody," to demonstrate widespread patterns of systemic abuse, displacement and destruction of families.

In a separate Deportation Impact Survey mentioned in the report, nearly half of deported migrants interviewed in Nogales, Sonora, reported their most recent residence in numerous states in every region of the country and having 2.5 children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.

As the current administration continues its record rates of deportations over the Bush years, President Obama, like his predecessors, claims an emphasis of targeting only migrants with criminal records.

Human Rights Watch exposed this stale claim as fiction in its April 2009 report, "Forced Apart (By the Numbers): Non-Citizens Deported for Nonviolent Offenses," which focused on national data from 1997 to 2007 to evaluate the effects of "sweeping deportation laws" passed under the Clinton administration. "Seventy-two percent of those who were deported" in the following decade, Human Rights Watch stated, "were expelled from the United States for non-violent offenses."

Obama's policies are no exception, both in their mythic claim and contrasting reality.

Today, the mounting death toll continues, (180 known deaths this year alone as of Sept. 30, with 18 more human remains recovered as of midday Nov. 8, according to the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office), while the amount of migrants held in detention has tripled since the Clinton administration.

As administration after administration intensifies the most harmful effects of fundamentally fatal policies, we can expect no less than continued and unremitting mass death and suffering of migrants nationwide.

But if we're to think of migrant families as our families, of noncitizen parents as our parents, then we might burst through the seemingly impervious social fabric of detachment and dehumanization that too often shields us from sympathy and critical thinking.

Then, perhaps, the artificial issues that devalue public discourse on immigration with misleading terms like "security" and "terrorism" will give way to the actual issues of public health, human rights and universal belonging.

Gabriel M. Schivone is an independent writer and native Tucsonan; he can be reached at sgassen@azstarnet.com