No More Deaths: Hiking the migrant trail

Our Delegation on Wednesday went to Arivaca where No More Deaths has a Humanitarian Aid Station  to provide resources and help for the residents and the migrants they may find on their property.  Two people die a day in the Tucson sector.  We drove out to Arivaca Lake a man made lake developed from the run off from the mines near by.  THe lake water is not safe to drink  nor are the fish in the lake safe to eat because of the high concentration of mercury.  In a desert, water is precious and when it might be found, it is suspect of being contaminated by mercury or amoebas that will cause death causing dehydration.   We hiked from Arivaca across the public land to the migrant trail carrying gallon jugs filled with safe drinking water.  THe terrain was steep.  Even with our rugged hiking shoes, many of us slipped on the soft dusty soil and rocks beneath us. Most migrants do not walk the trails in the day time. The sun is simply way too hot.  Along the canyon floor of a dry river bed the temps can quickly reachover 110 degrees with humidity in the low single digits.  After walking about 3/4 miles along the canyon floor in the river bed, we reached the migrant trail also a river bed that was dry.  A flash flood could well up with out a moments notice from a rain storm further away, causing the water level to rise suddenly from nothing to 2 or more feet.

The walk to this point had been despite its steep terrain a fairly easy walk.  But now the walk began to become difficult with low hanging trees to crawl under, barbed wire fences beckoning us to do the limbo dance.  The river bed became part of a steep canyon on either side. The trees over the river bent lower and lower over the dry river bed and there were increasing larger rocks to step up on.  We came to a very narrow part of the river bed,  The rocks were jagged.  There we found a water bottle but our tour guide Steve from No More Deaths noted there was an orange residue inside indicating amoebas.  He said the migrant who drank this water would have gotten sick and probably got the water from a cow cistern.  He dumped the water and crushed the bottled. We dropped a few bottles here in the middle of the trail.  Moonlight would cause the bottles to glow so they would be seen.  A full moon would be the only way, unless they had flashlights,  but flashlights might alert the border patrol, to maneuver these trails at night.  The rocks and trees could easily snare or cause an ankle to break.  A migrant with a broken ankle or leg would be left behind by the coyote guides.  We pushed further up stream. At this location  we also found a burlap bag that would have held about 40 kilos of marijuana.  Many coyotes force migrants to carry drugs through the desert.

We came to an apparent dead end. Ahead of us was a 10 to 12 foot cliff and we were told the migrantsclimb down this cliff.  We were going to climb up it. There were foot and hand holds to do so relatively easily but being a tad acrophobic, this was a challenge for me.  We spotted each other going up. Passing up to those on top water bottles to carry to the last dropping stop. The river bed here was not as narrow as below but it still had the challenge of low overhangs and then there was a cliff on the leeft side and a tree in the middle of the river bed.  A hollow in the cliff was adorned with many objects, rosaries, prayer cards, votive candles to saints, a crucifix.  And there were names, Anof those who had died en route.  We wrote on the bottles with the date and a phrase.  I wrote ‘ vaya con Dios –go with god. ‘

Tonight as I write these words there is a full moon.  I am aware that this is a perfect night for moving along the trail towards an unknown future. The stories of those women migrants that I met today haunt me.  The woman who was told the walk across the desert was only 1.5 hours and four days later she is still in the desert. Her water is gone, Her food is gone. She speaks up about her thirst and the coyote taunts her, drags her across the river beds by her hair, pushes her near steep drops of ravines. She says she thought he was going to push her off.  She wants to succeed and make it into the country, but her thirst is too strong and despite the coyotes taunts to keep going, she stops. Seven others stop with her.  They look for the border patrols.  They light fires at night and the helicopters fly over head and they try towave them down. They are ignored. THe border patrol jeeps drive pass them and still they are ignored.  They make it to a highway.  A border patrol vehicle approaches and appears that it too will pass them by but they wave it down.  The Border patrol give them water, give them food, give them first aid.  Ask where they are headed.  To Phoenix, they reply.  The border patrol says they will drive them there, both knowing that there,  is to deportation.  But this woman is grateful that she is alive.  The desert was too harrowing, the coyotes too abusive.

Another woman tells a story where the coyotes were most helpful and the border patrol were abusive.  Her family were in New York City for many years. Her husband’s mother and brother died  so they returned to Mexico and they stayed for ayear. But their two children, one born in the US and one born in Mexico do not know this foriegn land. They do not speak Spanish.  They miss home.  And so the family decides to return to New York.  The child born in NY boards a plane.  The father passes through the desert  and on to NYC apparently uneventfully.  She with her 13 year old son attempt to cross as well.  They have to pay the mafia in order to cross.  If they do not pay, they will not be allowed to enter the desert.  They are caught by the Border Patrol.  The border patrol show disgust to the migrants.  The son who speaks only english hears the  border patrol say, “these people are really stupid.  They got caught.”  Her son and she are deported back to Nogales.  She enters the woman’s shelter, run by the Kino Border Intitiative, where I meet her.  Shehas paid a coyote $3800 to take her son by car to New York City.  She is happy, she hears that he has made it into the states and is on his way back to NYC to be with his dad and brother.  She says she will do what ever it takes to be with her family.

Sister Engracia who works at the shelter has never seen so much violence at the border in all of her 51 years of religious life. SHe is 68.  Everything is controlled by the mafia. One cannot leave the border either north or south without paying the mafia. She tells the story of two men who tried to cross on their own.  They get to the  wall and they have some trouble going over it.  A man comes along and seems to be a humble and good man.  They think he is going to help them.  He talks on a radio and a truck pulls up.  Mencome out and asks the two men some questions.  Who have they paid to cross the border. No one. They are told they are not going to leave. More questions are asked and thenthe men are taken by force, ducktap is placed over their eyes and mouth. They are handcuffed with tape. Their ankles are taped together and then thrown into the truck.  They drive somewhere, they do not know where.  They hear chickens and sheep in the back ground.  They are placed in a small house and kept there for several days.  More questions.  They are beaten with plastic pipes.  They show the sister the bruises. Pistols are held to their heads and the trigger is pulled but no bullets.  Their fear is palpable.  Another vehicle pulls up.  These are the Mafia bosses.  THey demand to know who sent them to cross here. This is their territory, no one crosses without their say so.  They insist they are alone.  They are told they are lying.  They will bring in their coyotes and if one of the coyotes knows them, they will be killed.  The coyotes come andthey do not know them.  So the two men are taken out of the house and dropped off somewhere.  THey try to get help from the Mexican Police, who ignore them.  Finally, a kind stranger comes along and convinces the police to take them to the hospital. They are treated and lived to tell their tale to Sister Engracia.  She documents all of these stories and sends thme to the Jesuits in DC who are collecting this data.

THe government and the mafia are in alliance with one another here along the border. But as one Honduran, fleeing the recent coup by School of America’s trained militia,  recently told Sister Engracia, “If I am going to die in Honduras of hunger then I would rather die struggling to have life.”

These are the stories of desparate people who feel they have no other options for their life but to cross where they may find work and perhaps, just perhaps some piece of their dream.  They walk along the dry river beds like the one I helped seed with clean water.  And I pray they cross under the full moon so they will have at least one celestial body guiding their path.

Published in: on May 25, 2013 at 12:21 am  Comments Off on No More Deaths: Hiking the migrant trail  
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