Saturday, February 16, 2013

Border Immersion, Part 1

This is the first of many posts to come from the 2013 Border Immersion!  We traveled to Arizona to spend a week visiting and learning about the U.S.-Mexico border.  It was an intense and emotional experience, and one that will stick with me forever.  To start off the reflecting, here are a few pictures:

Our first morning in Douglas, AZ we visited the wall that marks the border between Mexico and the U.S.  It's incredibly intimidating, and stretches out as far as the eye can see.  On the U.S. side the wall is lit up by bright lights and closely monitored by surveillance cameras with a 3 mile range.  Border Patrol trucks are a common sight.  Douglas, AZ is the city on the right side of the fence, and Agua Prieta, Sonora is the city on the left side of the fence.  Due to its construction, you can see through the fence.  So people living close to the border can wake up every morning to literally see the homes of their neighbors on the other side of the fence.

Catie looking up at the fence.  This section of the fence was recently rebuilt, and was made even taller.  However, everyone we talked to, Border Patrol agents included, admitted that the fence doesn't stop any migrants from crossing.  It might slow them down, and there has been a drastic increase in the amount of injuries from the fence (broken legs, sprained ankles, etc.).  But the people who are crossing are so desperate that even the threat of injury from the fence, a criminal deportation, or death in the desert is not enough to dissuade them from crossing in search of a better life.
We woke up on Tuesday morning to snow in Douglas.  Coming from Cuernavaca's heat, the desert felt especially cold.  But we had met with migrants the night before who were planning on crossing, and most of them were just wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans.  No one was expecting snow.  Waking up to snow, I couldn't stop thinking about all the migrants who slept or walked through the snow in the desert the night before.  It must have been a miserable night.

Painted on the wall of a community center in Agua Prieta.  It reminded me of a quote that stood out to me in The Devil's Highway, that came from St. Toribio's "Prayer for Crossing Without Papers."  "I believe I am a citizen of the world, and of a church without borders."

Another view through the wall.  The landscape is exactly the same on either side.  Lethal desert that has killed thousands of migrants.

While walking in the desert we kept coming across items left behind by migrants as proof of their journey.  The most common items to see were bottles - bottles of water, of pop, of beer.  But we also ran across backpacks, clothing, deodorant tubes, combs, even part of a ladder.  Our guides could tell just by looking at jugs of water how long ago the migrant had passed through.

This is a political cartoon that was on the wall in Borderlinks, which was the organization we stayed with in Tuscon.  Our country's economy relies so much on undocumented labor.  Undocumented workers pick our crops and cook our food.  Without them, costs to consumers would be far higher than we are currently willing to pay.  But at the same time, we have in place a system that punishes workers for being undocumented while still desperately needing them.  The ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, formerly the INS: Immigration and Naturalization Service) agent we spoke to also discussed this a bit.  He mentioned that if we gave everyone papers, then they would move to a new job with better pay and better benefits, leaving behind a job that another undocumented worker would take.  It's a vicious cycle.

This is part of a monument for migrants who have died while crossing the desert.  Each rock holds the name of an individual who died, while the unknown deaths are marked simply by "Desconocido" (unknown).

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