The time is 6:30pm I stand hand-in-hand with about 30 people in a circle around three white wooden crosses. The cool evening breeze, smell of car exhaust, and the sound of border patrol dogs barking doesn’t drown out the reality of what just happened.
The 30 of us walked about a quarter of a mile and took turns yelling out the names of the over 260 people. A wooden cross to represent each of them before laying their cross on the side of the road as we walked toward the US/Mexico border. These 260 plus people were found died in the desert in Cochise County, AZ since 2000. That is more than one death each month in this one county trying to reach freedom. We cross the border and have dinner while I try to process what just happened and the dozens of people who’s cross say “No Identificdo” “Unidentified.”
I bounce up and down in the back of a dusty Honda Odyssey driving through the desert. Mountains on all sides of us and a rust colored wall ahead. We stop at two blue 55 gallon drums under a tree that are filled regularly with water for migrants traveling through the desert into unknown territory in hopes for a better life. A man named Raúl talks to us about the desert and a migrant’s journey. Then it’s time…time for us to make that journey.
As I walk through the desert I see footprints of migrants ahead of us who have walked this same path. We keep a look out for snakes, scorpions, cacti, and other harmful things. We jump across washed out paths, and walk down in a washed out path 4′ by 6′ in some places. The washed out path opens up considerably wider and we walk under some trees, we see food wrappers and empty bottles. Raúl explains that these are areas where migrants have camped out typically for 1-3 days before continuing. We come around a bend in the washed out path and there it is a towering rusted giant. The border wall. It takes my breathe away.
I approach the wall slowly with an outstretched hand and touch the mighty beast. It is rough to the touch and has slots just big enough to sick a hand through. I peer through the fence to “freedom.” I reach through carefully not to scratch my hand on the barbed wire or pull the cord that is the sensor alert so the border patrol knows that migrants are there. I pull my hand back and walk away with tears in my eyes as I think about all those names we yelled out not 24 hours ago. I think about the thousands who will die and the countless who already have. I sit down looking out at the vast desert landscape thinking about nothing and yet everything at the same time. The group walks back together, but not talking about what was seen or felt. I sat numb for the rest of the time. Time is a bit of a blur until dinner.
We sit in a circle listening to the Director of CAMA (a migrant shelter). The patrons are those going to the US and/or those who have been deported and waiting to see where God is calling them. Five of us sit at a table with a short man with a kind smile. He shares his story of his migration thus far. He has been beaten and left for dead before, and has traveled a long way to reach the US. He has reached out to a coyote (a smuggler of illegal immigrants) who tells him it will cost 5000 pesos (over 275 dollars) to cross. Which he can not afford. However, no matter the adversities he still holds strong to his faith in God.
He then ask us a question that takes me by surprise. “How are you feeling right now?” I realize I haven’t been processing feelings so much as information. But there I sat now dealing with my emotions and not information. The only one I think of is “overwhelmed.” He then asks “why?” “Because I have taken in these experiences, information, this joy, this sadness, this everything, and I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know how to help.” He smiles again in a very understanding way and then responds. “Pray. Pray to God for strength. Pray to God for migrants and their families. Always pray.” We leave shortly after that.
Today was the least emotionally draining day so far. The good thing was there wasn’t much new and trying information. Unfortunately, I continue to put off processing what I have experienced thus far. Which I didn’t mind, as I needed a mental health day. We volunteered at a local community garden.
We later had dinner with the woman who had made breakfast for us everyday while we were there. We all sat together with her and her five children (ages 3-16) and ate tostadas, laughed, and chit-chatted. After dinner and fellowship the children and the young adult volunteers played outside with a soccer ball under a street light laughing and smiling…a universal language.
We sat in a park talking and hanging out while we waited to talk to a border patrol officer…to say he was honest is questionable. We drove to the wall where we prayed and then drove two hours to Tucson to see one of the most disturbing things I have every seen.
The U.S. Federal Courthouse in Tucson is a towering building where “justice” is served. You know when you’re really hungry and you cook/heat something up, but it is not quite cool down and you burn yourself…that is what “Operation Streamline” is. “Justice” so quick you don’t realize it burns. We step into a quite courtroom there are 70 defendants all awaiting trial. Their crime? Not crossing the border at a port of entry to receive proper inspection. These 70 people get a lawyer who is assigned to about 6 of them at the same time. They get about 30 minutes with their lawyer; who has to explain the process what they’re being charged with, what it all means, and guide them to take a plea deal to only receive a misdemeanor and not a felony.
In groups of 6 they go up at a time, each one has their name stated by the judge, asked if they plead guilty, given a sentence amount (30-180 days) which they will serve before being deported back to their country when it is convenient for the US. All of these people have crossed within the past few days, about five of them where arrested by Douglas, AZ where we yelled the names of the deceased. That means they were in the same area I was just days ago in the same desert at the same time, and I didn’t even know/think about it.
We watched a heart-wrenching movie “Locked in a Box” which documented immigration detention centers. We talked with “Casa Mariposa Visitation Project” and wrote cards to all those at the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, AZ.
Kelly, Jake, and I drive for 15 and half hours back to Austin, TX; sometimes talking and sometimes sitting in complete silence.
Those were my journal entries from my week at the border delegation.
What bothered me most at the border delegation:
- I always feel close to God in nature. Away from the sights and sounds of towns, cities, civilization…whatever you want to call it. However, walking in the desert in nature away from the sights and sounds I felt completely alone, I didn’t feel God’s presence. It was a terrifying feeling, my personal hell.
- When we returned things were different my eyes were opening to a new reality and truth.
- We have heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine” it is why I love laughing, smiling, and making it possible for others to do the same. However, there was nothing fun or funny about the places I went to and the feelings I felt this week.
- The hardest thing about it is for once in my life I couldn’t help or provide for others like I am so used to. I help and provide for my family, friends, co-workers, and community yet this time I could not. I felt helpless and hopeless.
What I learned I can do:
- Talk about my experience and teach others.
- Journal about what I am feeling and thinking.
- Write letters to law makers to change things and to detainees to give them hope.
- I can pray for those who are in need.
- I will continue to educate myself on immigration laws and issues
- I will learn how to minister and help others
I want to close in a prayer:
¡Dios mío! Les pido que estén atentos a los migrantes en el desierto, a sus familias y que los mantengan a salvo. Oro para que tu mundo roto sea sanado, y que yo siga siendo fuerte y ayude a otros. Amo a toda la gente y te amo, por favor no me dejes perder el amor y la esperanza en un tiempo oscuro.
My god! I ask that you keep watch out for migrants in the desert, their families, and keep them all safe. I pray that your broken world will be healed, and that I will continue to stay strong and help others. I love all people and I love you, please do not let me lose love and hope in a dark time.
Peace and Love,