When Migrants Die in the Desert, Who Cares?

(The Comedor of the Kino Border Initiative, Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Frontera means the Border)

Forcing his luck by taking the dangerous trek through the Sonora desert, Jose and companions Pedro and Francisco* had been rounded and beaten up by gangs on their way back to the United States. They are illegal or unauthorized immigrants and have been deported at the Arizona-Mexican border. They tried their luck again because all their families live in the US. Jose’s mother and only sister are in Cupertino, San Francisco. They are all residents, on their way to become citizens. Citizenship though has been elusive.

I have met Jose at the Comedor, the eating area of the Kino Border Initiative, a Bi-National Mission of the Mexican and California Jesuits. Since he has to stay for two years in Nogales, Sonora before he can apply for a visa, he temporarily volunteers in the mission with the migrants. Pedro and Francisco also wash and dry the dishes and prepare the meals. We serve breakfast and dinner for the deportees.

While drying multi-colored plastic plates and bowls, Jose pours his life story to me. He tells me that he has been in the US for ten years, studied there, has a job and keeps a room for himself. He particularly feels comfortable with me because his closest friend is a Filipino.

Though the legal plan is to get a United States visa, he particularly knows the difficulty: he has a record and he doesn’t have the financial resources needed for the process. But he is desperate: who wouldn’t be if one’s family lives on the other side of the border? He says that he will take the risk again even if it will cost him his life.

He has almost died in one attempt. On his way back through the desert with a group of returnees, one of Jose’s friends has been buried in the ground except his head. A gang has tried to exhort information about drug dealers, by pointing a gun at his head. Jose and companions are not members of the drug cartels.

Many of the deportees have made that way too. But when they are caught, they return to us dehydrated with blistered feet, wounds and burnt skin. Most of all, they come with a beaten spirit. That is why, we have built a small clinic. It is open everyday except Fridays and Sundays. We hope to have it open all week. But as of the moment, Norma, the only nurse must have a day off. Good that other groups like No More Deaths (No Mas Muertes) and the Red Cross come to help. But many have died. From October 2010 to March 2011, the group, No More Deaths, recorded 40 casualties. In October 2010, they recovered human remains in the Sonora desert (click here).

The mission of the Kino Border Initiative is to give humanitarian aid to people like Jose, Pedro and Francisco. The KBI provides food, clothing, and medicines. For the vulnerable such as women and accompanied children, a shelter called the Casa Nazaret run by the Misioneras de la Eucharistia is available for them. Isabel, a temporary resident at the Casa, has lost her middle finger while negotiating the border wall.

When will migrants be treated humanely? I guess when border walls are broken down. I find it ironic that the country that holds democracy at its core has built the tall iron walls to separate them from Mexico; while Germany has broken down the Berlin wall.

I find it more ironic that much of the US now have been formerly Mexican territory. So one Mexican Jesuit says that there is a saying that Mexicans are migrating to the United States to claim their own land. The strategy is ancient: Remember the Trojan Horse?

*not their real names.

2 Comments

  1. […] On January 2011, I was one of the visitors who flocked to the Mission San Xavier del Bac, one of the few Spanish colonial missions in the US still serving the native peoples it was built for. I was on Tertianship, the last stage in Jesuit formation. Together with my fellow priests, I was coming from the exposure to the work at the Kino Border Initiative  at the border of Nogales, Mexico. (Check my experiences here, here, here, here, and here) […]

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