Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No More Deaths! #2: Keeping Immigrants Alive

During the college spring break period, as during the summer, college students and other volunteers, mostly in their 20s, live in NMD’s rugged desert “camp,” for a week, or occasionally for 2 or even 3 weeks. They get up before dawn, and fan out across miles of known migrant trails for hours, leaving basic foods and gallon jugs of water at resting places. They use GPS maps updated regularly with information from our NMD volunteers and our sister organizations, Samaritans and Humane Borders.

Occasionally volunteers actually see a group of migrants led by a hired guide (“coyote”) hurrying along the trails. At other times they directly encounter a migrant, usually because s/he has been separated from the group, and needs medical assistance, or is just too sick or exhausted to continue. If the migrant fits that description, we ask if he or she wants us to call the Border Patrol for help, and more often than not, the answer is Yes. Hired coyotes rarely have a relationship with their clients, and generally insist on forging ahead, leaving the injured behind with nothing more than a bottle of water and an vague promise that help is not far away. In the desert, an injured ankle is often a death sentence, and a volunteer who comes upon an injured immigrant is literally fulfilling the mission of No More Deaths.

Other volunteers work in Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) or other border towns, helping deportees with needed supplies or to get in touch with their families. These deportees usually have been stripped of their money, identification, cell phones, prescriptions, and all other possessions before being deported. They are often in need of medical attention because of severe injuries suffered in the desert, or sometimes at the hands of the Border Patrol. Documenting abuse has become an important part of our work along the border.

Jean and I don’t do much of our work in the desert. Those who do that work are either young single volunteers who live in desert or other sites for a week or more, or volunteers who live in Tucson and drive 100+ miles roundtrip to the desert, once a week or more, then spend the rest of the day walking the trails. That is harder for us because of the circumstances of our lives.

5 years ago when we bought our house 20 miles north of downtown Tucson, we didn’t know much about No More Deaths. Now we know that we are 20 miles further from the desert than our fellow volunteers and we drive thousands of extra miles in our 6-8 months here. But the collapse of housing prices makes it difficult to move. So, we do support work.

Much of our work is logistical. Jean has taken on the lead responsibility for feeding the 150+ college students who come to Tucson every year during Spring break to learn about and to participate in NMD’s work. What Jean does, and I support, has given me a new respect for logistics units in the army. It reminds me of Napoleon’s aphorism: “An army marches on its belly!” (Translation: without sufficient good food, not only morale but also effectiveness plummets.)

But the biggest challenge in our schedule is that we are blessed with regular care for our 11-month-old grandson Pedro. Our daughter Barbara is a case manager with Catholic Community Services. We could claim that we have to provide for his care two days a week, but every grandparent knows that would be a lie. If we weren’t fortunate to have Pedro living with us, we would happily be driving across town or across the country for the opportunity to be with him! In future blogs you will inevitably get better acquainted with Pedro.

So we do other support work. We try to attend the Monday night strategy meetings every week, to track the effectiveness of NMD work with the migrants, and to strategize what to do in the highly polarized political environment -- primarily in Tucson and Arizona, but also nationally. We give talks about the situation in Tucson when we are home in Detroit.

And now with this blog, we hope to share with you our perceptions of the
situation here in Arizona – and hope you will share your views with us and oth

REMINDER: Jean and I will be showing part of a new film, “The 800 Mile Wall” and sharing our experiences with No More Deaths! In DETROIT

TOMORROW, Thursday Feb. 17 @ 5:00-6:30pm
University of Detroit Mercy, Livernois at McNichols (6 Mile Rd)
310 Briggs (classroom) Building

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