We were walking along US Mexico border wall just east of Douglas, AZ. We were headed up a small hill for a better vantage point, we could see a Border Patrol truck sitting at the top. As we neared the area where the row of 16 ft vertical steel poles ends and becomes a series of Normandy barriers, we heard some voices in the desert scrub brush on the other side, and then I saw three Latin-looking women and a small baby cross thru the opening to cross into the US. Illegal. Migrants. The two adult males did not appear. In all likelihood, coyotes. Human smugglers. Gone.
The three women ran right past me. One of them said, “Agua?” We had already heard earlier in the week about the risks of dehydration for those trying to cross thru the mountainous scrub Arizona desert, and we had seen maps of the numbers of documented deaths of migrants in that challenging terrain. We had done our own sample trek and understood well the risks that pertained. These women were not carrying packs of any kind. For sure they had no water.
We kept walking so as not to draw attention to them in case they were attempting to cross the road into the desert. They just stayed on the road, and were detected immediately; the border patrol truck drove slowly down the hill to stop beside the women. They did not try to run. The solo patrol agent had the women sit down on the ground and remove their shoes – no over the top handcuffs nor the shackles we had seen in the Tucson courtroom as worn by 14 young men convicted of illegal entry to be sentenced to short prison terms prior to deportation.
The next thing the Border Patrol Agent did was to offer them some water. I was pleased to see this, and document this with my long telephoto lens. We continued to watch. Each of the women was given a clear plastic bag to place their personal effects, and after a time, a second agent appear with a personnel carrier van. One of our group went to the women and the agent to give them a bag of food we had with us. The agents allowed the women to accept this. We learned that these women spoke neither English nor Spanish; in fact, seemed to be Roma. Verbal communication was a challenge.
The first two women climbed into the van, then one of the agents held the baby so its mother could put on her shoes and climb into the van. Another kind gesture.
What is the backstory for these four migrant travelers? Don’t know. And what are the next chapters in their story? Don’t know that either but we conjecture that these women will plead asylum, ie, try to make the case that they feared for their lives in the place from which they had come. We had already visited a large detention centre north of Tucson – a highly secure facility for undocumented male entrants. These places are not called jails because the occupants have not been convicted of anything, and were awaiting resolution of their status. Would asylum or other entry be granted? Or would they be summarily deported? (The Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency has its own 737 aircraft to make deportation flights to Central America).
Borders are complex places. Border walls divide communities, towns, families, countries. They do not deal with root causes.
In Agua Prieta, I had dinner with a friendly middle aged chap who had a Mexican passport and who had worked in Canada for about 10 years under a temporary agricultural program. We spoke in Spanish for quite some time until he surprised us by switching into English (and a bit of French). He also said that he had been crossing (illegally) into the US for many years – maybe 20 or more times; that he had been caught 7 times, and spent 22 months in total in US prisons. He gave me his email address, and said he was planning to cross over again in a few days. I wonder where he is now.
(Oct 28 to Nov 04, 2015 I joined a Borderlands Learning Tour sponsored by MCC USA)