Monday, March 23, 2009

Sophie's Choice at Arizona Border: A Humanitarian Crisis

Crossing the border can be deadly. Body of migrant found outside Tucson

I drove down to Nogales on Wednesday and crossed over to the Mexican side. No More Deaths has an aid station set up there where they ask migrants being sent back to Mexico if they need medical assistance and if they were abused by Border Patrol.

No More Deaths aid station in Nogales

While I was standing there taking photos, an older woman with two younger girls walked up. The older woman told us with terror in her eyes that she was held for 30 days for a false passport and that her money was taken from her. The tears were welling up in her eyes. The volunteer nurse who was standing next to me got the number on her documents and immediately made a call to the Mexican Consulate. The nurse was unable to make contact, but left a message.

No More Deaths aid station and Red Cross combine efforts to assist migrants

Later while we were at the food bank they have set up about a block away, this nurse got the call from the Mexican Consulate to say they were going to get every cent that woman had back. The point of my story is that the exploitation of the migrants who are in desperate situations is appalling.

Food Bank in Nogales

At the food bank, the migrants are provided with donated food, clothes, shoes, and socks. The lines are long and often the donated items run out long before everyone has a chance to get what they need. The volunteer nurse who came down that day provides medical attention.

No More Deaths volunteers hand out donated clothes at Food Bank

I was so overwhelmed with what I saw that the tears were welling up behind my sunglasses. One young girl came up for medical assistance. I sat next to her while she was being treated for a knee injury and talked to her in my broken Spanish.

Maria Guadalupe gets medical treatment by No More Deaths volunteer nurse

Twenty-two year old Maria Guadalupe was from Michoacan. Maria got picked up in a car headed for Phoenix after having walked for four days through the desert. She was about an hour away from her journey's end where her husband was waiting. To join her husband in Phoenix, Maria had to make a Sophie's Choice-like decision. So desperately poor and wanting a better life for her child, she was forced to leave her 7 month old baby with family to make minimum wage thousands of miles away from her home.

Maria Gudalupe

I could not sleep that night and I still see Maria Guadalupe's face.

Post looking for family member who more than likely perished in the desert trying to cross

The number of people who have passed through the No More Deaths aid station in Nogales is more than 300,000 since 2006. The NMD volunteers have documented 345 cases of abuse at the hands of the Border Patrol. 183 people have died in the desert so far this year trying to cross. The numbers are likely 9 or 10 times higher since many migrants are never found. The body decomposes quickly in the desert sun. Often times when a body is found in the desert, the migrant has taken off all his clothes and folded it neatly next to him/her. The intensity of the sun makes it unbearable for clothes to touch their burning skin. Or sometimes the body is buried under the sand or dirt in attempt to stay out of the heat. It is a horrible, painful, and terrifying death.
Border Patrol escorting migrants to detention center, please note the lack of water provided for them by Border Patrol, no one is carrying a water bottle

As mentioned in a previous post, until Mexico and the United States address the economic root of the problem, there will continue to be a massive migration. The unsightly wall that has been put up only delays a migrant's crossing by about 5 minutes. The wall must come down not only because it is useless, but the message it sends is not the message our government should support. Moreover, it is wreaking havoc on the desert animal migration and the ecosystem.

The Wall, near Sasabe, AZ

I met two men at the aid station. One from Honduras and one from Guatemala. They told me that they were going to attempt to cross again the next day. The man from Guatemala had lived in Phoenix for fourteen years. He was stopped on a traffic violation and did not have a chance to say good bye to his family comprised of a wife and four children.

Honduran man on left, Guatemalan man on right

There are three organizations helping migrants in Tucson. No More Deaths is the most hands on organization. Since this work is controversial, No More Deaths has difficulty finding funding. However, the work they do has saved countless lives. They set up camps in the desert and go out on daily patrols looking for migrants in distress. They drive the back roads and also get out and hike.

No More Deaths truck parked at the camp site waiting for the morning patrol

They recently set up a tent like what we saw on the show M.A.S.H. The tent is equipped with cots and medical supplies to treat migrants. Most suffer from heat-related illness and blisters on the feet from wearing improper shoes.

No More Deaths Medical Tent at camp site

The Samaritans are similar in their efforts, but they do not have camps set up out in the desert. They patrol the back roads and also hike.

A Samaritan volunteer ready for a desert patrol on the migrant trail

Humane Borders is the least controversial and thus gets the most funding. Pima County government gives them a $25,000 grant every year. They have 99 water stations set up across the desert outside Tucson and as far as Organ Pipe.

Humane Borders truck

If this post and photos have moved you in any way to action, please write a check and make it out to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson (memo line: No More Deaths-Mary Cuevas) and mail it to the address below. Financial donations are tax-deductible and April 15th is just around the corner.

Please mention that you heard about NMD through my blog. Thanks in advance. Your donation will surely save countless lives this summer where temperatures soar above 100 degrees for days on end.

No More Deaths
Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson
PO Box 40782
Tucson, AZ 85717

Migrants at Food Bank in Nogales

For more information please visit the website:
A No More Deaths volunteer nurse helps remove a cactus spine from a migrant's foot at the Nogales Food Bank


sas said...

hello dear lady - how are things with you? I came across an old commetn you left on my blog and I wanted to say hello and send you good wishes :)

Vicky E.DurĂ¡n said...

very interesting your blog, i am Vickie and i am from Sonora Mexico, actually living in Tijuana, B.c., in my early years i was live in The Sasabe during six years, in my blog, i writing my memories en Fronteras.
Nice to meet you

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