By Kathy Long, OP
Across Mexico and U.S. border cities like Nogales, one witnesses people living in desperate realities. I joined Roy Bourgeois and Lisa Sullivan of the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch and 14 others to deepen our awareness of the human issues regarding immigration and deportation in Arizona and its partner state, Sonora, Mexico. This trip was disturbing as we saw the suffering and met people victimized by border regulations, laws, criminals, and the desert terrain.
In Nogales, Mexico, with West Cosgrove of Kino Border Initiative, we went to a soup kitchen (comedor) staffed by Mexican religious and volunteers. Our focus was to meet those who travel this dangerous journey. Each day started with a welcome, prayer, announcements, and breakfast. Upon arrival, we peeled and cut up cucumbers for juice and then visited with travelers from Central America (about half were Mexican, others Honduran or Salvadoran). One man had a leg amputated; he fell off the train and was now resting and healing. He planned to return home. One 19-year-old was distraught because he separated from his friends in the desert and did not know if they were alive or dead. They had already traveled far and dangerously through Mexico to cross into the U.S. The border wall is constructed of 18-feet-tall metal posts which also extend six feet underground; migrants find an area with no fence, deep in the Arizona desert near Nogales.
Kino Border Initiative also has a shelter for female deportees; here they recuperate from their tragedies in the desert. One woman who traveled with her husband was completely dehydrated; they had crossed into the United States via the Arizona desert. When she became so weak, the “coyote” said to the group, “Leave her, let’s go.” Her husband stayed with her. (Who is my neighbor?) He called 911 on his cell phone, and the Border Patrol sent in a helicopter and took the woman immediately to a Tucson hospital. She was completely dehydrated, near death. Her husband was deported. When she was healthy, they deported her to Nogales, where she was recuperating at the women’s shelter.
Statistics state that 50 percent of deportees try again. Detention separates families; husbands and wives, parents and children. Children are deported without their parents while the parent is held in a U.S. jail. Parents are deported and children put in foster care. Later it is extremely difficult for a mother to locate her children. Family systems are under great stress.
Border Patrol officers save lives; they also abuse and kill innocent people. In October 2012, agents shot through the Nogales border fence and killed 16-year-old Jose Antonio with eight bullets in his back. We met his mother and grandmother and visited the memorial where he was gunned down. He is one of several killed by the Border Patrol since 2010. No justice has come of these tragic shootings. Shooting across country borders is illegal. It happens often. Where is the justice, the accountability? (Visit Southern Border Communities Coalition: www.soboco.org.)
The border between Mexico and the United States is extremely militarized and dangerous. People on both sides live in fear. Migrants and undocumented persons have a human face; these are people’s lives at stake. This was a sad and empowering journey to the border. What will we do to bring about systemic change?
No More Deaths (No Mas Muertes)
Applied Research Center: Shattered Families Report
Southern Border Communities Coalition