MIGRANT TRAIL: MARCH FOR LIFE.
“Let us pray for our brothers and sisters [who perished] from thirst, hunger and exhaustion trying to reach a better life.” Pope Francis—lamenting that “we have seen the images of the cruel desert”—asking for prayers for African migrants who were stranded in the Sahara desert and died of thirst. October 30, 2013
Pope Francis’ call for prayer applies to the Sonoran desert also. Since 2001, over 2,100 migrants trying, in the Pope’s words, to reach a better life have died from thirst, hunger and exhaustion crossing into Arizona. And that number is a conservative figure. Who knows how many have died whom we don’t know about.
Sadly, many of the dead migrants are unidentified, bringing to mind Woody Guthrie’s 1948 poem “Deportee” (which later became a song, popularized by Pete Seeger). Guthrie was lamenting that when 28 Mexican immigrants who were being deported died when the plane carrying them crashed, reports of the crash did not give the victims’ names, referring to them only as “deportees”:
“We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died ‘neath your trees and we died in your bushes…
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, ‘They are just deportees.’”
A spiritually diverse, multi-cultural group of committed and principled people, under the auspices of “The Migrant Trail,” are gearing up to pray for the deceased migrants—not only with their hearts, but also with their feet, with their bodies.
They will walk about 75 miles over 8 days in the Sonoran Desert heat to focus attention on U.S. immigration policies that channel migrants toward the deathbeds of the desert. Reflecting the breadth of concern regarding U.S. border policies and the ramifications of these policies, in addition to local immigration-rights activists, people from all over the U.S., Europe, and Latin America have participated in the Migrant Trail marches, which began in 2004. The youngest person to complete the entire walk was 13, the oldest, 72.
The march is from May 25 through June 1, 2014, and registration for it began on March 14, 2014. For more information about the march and how to sign up or support it, see the link below.
The Migrant Trail marches bear witness to the tragedy of death and to the inhumanity of U.S. government policies. The deployment of more border agents and stricter border policy enforcement in certain sectors of the border force migrants into the harshest, hottest parts of Arizona. That strategy’s totally flawed logic is that migrants, knowing they would have to cross the desert, would choose to stay home rather than risk going through the desert.
Obviously, the government’s strategy has failed miserably. A recent University of Arizona study noted that this funnel effect made Tucson “the single most traversed crossing corridor for migrants along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.”
The migrants are caught in the crushing, and too often fatal, pincer of inhumanity of two countries. The harsh criticism directed at U.S. immigration policies is valid and right on target. Criticism just as harsh, however could be directed at Mexico’s inhumane indifference to its workers. After all, if Mexico were seriously committed to its own workers, people would not have to risk their lives to support their families.
The organizers make it clear that the Migrant Trail Walk is not intended to simulate the experience migrants face as they cross what Migrant Trail refers to as “the gauntlet of death.” Unlike the migrants, Migrant Trail walkers have food, water, and medical attention available to them. Nor is the Migrant Trail Walk meant to be a traditional educational experience. There are no speakers, panels, and the like.
Rather, by keeping the issue of the desert deaths in the public’s consciousness through the walks, the walkers hope to stimulate changes in border policies that force people to risk their lives in order to provide for their families.
The Migrant Trail Walk may not set out to simulate the migrants’ experience, but marching in the heat of the desert nevertheless humanizes and puts into perspective what the migrants—decent, hard-working folk—are willing to risk in order to engage in the noblest of purposes, seeking work to feed their families.
It gives life to the adage that you don’t know what someone’s life is really about until you walk a mile (or 75!) in his or her shoes.
So, while the Migrant Trail walks may not duplicate in a literal sense the perilous trek of the migrants, I would think they strengthen the walkers’ commitment to the movement to change the policies that lead to the deaths in the desert. And no doubt the Migrant Trail walkers feel a deep sense of validation when migrants who themselves had previously crossed the desert have approached walk participants at the final ceremony and thanked them for what they are doing.
Indeed, the people who organize and participate in the Migrant Trail march are doing God’s work and deserve our respect and support.
If they can prevent even one more death, all the sweat, pain, blisters and discomfort of marching in the Arizona heat will have been worth it—and more.
For more information on how you can help or register for the walk, here’s the link to the Migrant Trail website: http://azmigranttrail.com/ c/s
Copyright 2014 by Sal Baldenegro. To contact Sal write: email@example.com
Migrant Trail photos provided by the 2014 Migrant Trail Organizing Committee. All other photos are either in the public domain, are copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions Inc. and used with permission, or used under the “Fair Use’ provision of the copyright law.