July 29th, 2008
photo: Andrew O’Brien
By Alexis Ball Witness for Peace International Team – Mexico
I fought back tears as we walked in silence along Rt. 286. The sun was blazing down and radiating back up at us from the hard, black pavement below our feet. We were on day four of the Migrant Trail Walk—a seven-day, 75-mile solidarity walk through the most heavily trafficked corridor for undocumented migrant border crossings. With each step I felt a sharp pang in my right side where my sciatic nerve had begun to act up.
I opened my water bottle and gulped down a bit more of the now hot water that I had with me, still clutching tightly in one hand the crude crosses I had been carrying all week. Painted on the crosses were the names, Julia del Carmen Osorio Jacome and Margarito Prieto Tepo.
Julia del Carmen, 38 and Margarito, 36 died last year trying to cross the Arizona-Sonora desert. I tried to imagine what their walk through this area must have been like.
I imagined them starting their journeys with so much hope and energy, making it this far only to be separated from their group and lost somewhere in this vast, harsh and unfamiliar desert. I imagined that they both carried pictures of their families with them to keep them going when they felt they couldn’t take one more step. I imagined that their loved ones back home were much like the families I had met in Oaxaca the previous week.
Perhaps they were the same family members who shared with us how the influx of cheap corn from the U.S. has destroyed traditional livelihoods and has caused most of their neighbors to migrate. Or maybe they were the ones we saw taking care of their relatives’ empty, unfinished, multi-story cinder block houses, supposedly waiting to be inhabited, though the caretakers seemed to know they would likely never be. In any case, Julia del Carmen and Margarito represented just two of the over 4,000 people since the mid-90s whose attempt to walk through this desert was not successful and was certainly more difficult than my own.
The tears I felt could have been because of physical exhaustion, the extreme heat bearing down on me, the intense pain I felt in my right side or even the realization of my own physical limitations…but they weren’t.
I wept with feelings of shame, anger and horror at a set of U.S. policies that drives people like Julia del Carmen and Margarito from their homes to cross the desert in search of a way to care for their families. When we asked people why they would choose to leave behind everything they know and care about they often responded, “I would rather die trying [to cross the desert] than stay and watch my family starve.” Forcing people to choose to risk their lives crossing a desert against all odds, in a brutal, survival-of-the-fittest sort of way and then calling them criminals or collateral damage when they do or don’t survive the test was simply too absurd to realize and hold in. I could only weep.
The Migrant Trail Walk was the second component of a WFP delegation called “From the Roots: Globalization and the Migrant Journey,” beginning in southern Mexico and traveling to the northern border region to more deeply understand and connect the pieces of the migration puzzle. We explored root causes in sending communities, heard stories from migrants at various stages in transit—both in Oaxaca and in Altar, Sonora—, learned firsthand about the impacts of border militarization on the smuggling industry, and witnessed the work of an invaluable network of migrant aid shelters. We observed and discussed how U.S. economic and military policy—namely NAFTA and the SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership)—had directly caused many pieces of this migration phenomenon turned human rights disaster taking place before our eyes. We joined together with others to participate in the Migrant Trail Walk—a seven-day, 75-mile solidarity walk through the most heavily trafficked corridor for undocumented migrant border crossings.
This delegation brought us closer to a more comprehensive understanding of the realities of the migrant experience. It was a powerful lesson in reflection, solidarity and action and spoke more eloquently than ever to the point that the current debate around immigration in the U.S. desperately needs to be broadened.