“A daughter, perhaps a sister, perhaps a spouse, perhaps a mother, beloved by God. Antonia Rodriguez!” “Presente!” These are the words spoken as we laid down one of the final crosses in our prayer vigil. Antonia was 29 years old when she was found. She was a migrant whose body was found in the desert. Imagine your own child, sibling, spouse, or parent leaving to try and find a better life. Perhaps you are going hungry, and they want to help you. They leave, risking their life with the hopes of improving yours but you never hear from them again. Can you imagine losing one of the people you hold closest to your heart? Each of these migrants had someone who loved them like that. It is so easy to detach ourselves from these stories and these people. However, in Douglas Arizona, they remember these individuals on a weekly basis. Names of migrants that lost their lives trying to cross into the United States are written on white crosses. A group will gather for the prayer vigil and the walk to the wall begins and this week we got to join. Each name is shouted out with the group responding “Presente”. The cross was then held up by the road so anyone driving by could read the names. Once the line had passed, the cross would be laid down on the side of the road and the cycle would continue. Name after name was read of until we reached the end, a long line of crosses trailed behind us. With three crosses left, Mark led us in recognizing each of them. Jose Hernandez (59 years old), Antonia Rodriguez (29 years old) and No Identificado. Each of their names were read off, following with the reminder that they had been a child, perhaps a sibling, perhaps a spouse, and perhaps a parent, an individual who was beloved by God. Each of them were humanized. Its was heartbreaking to realize how comfortable I personally had become with distancing myself from these people, hearing only the names but protecting myself from allowing it to resonate more. With the last three individuals, I was forced to recognize each of them as someone who had been dearly loved. Their stories hold so much hope and so much pain.
The next day, I sat down for dinner a C.A.M.E., a migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, Mexico. At my table sat Jorge. He had lived without papers in the United States for 23 years. After a few years in the U.S., he had been pulled over when driving. He paid his ticket on the spot in order to avoid any trouble which may unveil that he was undocumented. Fifteen years later he was pulled over again. When the police saw him, they told him to get out of his car and they arrested him, saying that there was a warrant for his arrest. Apparently, they had made a mistake because 15 years earlier they had forgotten to record that he had paid his ticket. Jorge was taken to jail and eventually he went to court. He was able to prove that he had paid his ticket, but unfortunately, being in court led to the discovery that he was undocumented. Jorge was deported, separating him from his wife, 19 year old daughter, 17 year old son, 14 year old son and 8 year old daughter. He hasn’t seen them since, it’s been five years. Jorge told us “what breaks my heart the most was that I was our only source of income. I loved my job. I was a chef. I made Korean, Japanese and Chinese food.” When Jorge arrived back in his home stat in Mexico, he was horrified by the substantial increase in violence. “People would just start shooting each other in the streets. They would throw acid on each other. They would burn people alive. Sometimes a person would be stabbed with a poster pierced into their body. Their body would be left in the streets to send a message.” The posters would say “This is what will happen to you if you tell about what is going on here.” Jorge explained that these threats are why this was never seen on the news. Jorge also told us of how trucks had now been seen driving around, picking up people that were on the street. These people would never be seen or heard from again, “they just disappear.” Jorge proceeded to tell us the challenges that some face when migrating. Sometimes even between states, cartel’s charge a fee before an individual can cross. The fee would generally be between $300-$500 American. To cross the border into the United States, the fee is $5000-$8000 American, or the migrant has to risk carrying a backpack of drugs. If any of these charges are not met, they will be shot. If the migrant takes the backpack of drugs, their guide will abandon them if border patrol catches them. This gives them a criminal record. Many people are injured when they try to cross, returning to Mexico with broken bones. Many also go thirsty. According to Jorge, water can be found in the desert by squeezing out the inside of a cactus. However, not everyone is able to do this. About four months ago, Jorge had tried to cross with his brother. They were caught and sent back. The United States intentionally sent them to different places so they would have difficulty reconnecting. This is something that is very common. Spouses have been separated. Sent back to entirely different cities with no idea of how to contact and find each other. Someone at our table asked him if he was always afraid of being caught when he lived in the United States. Jorge nodded his head. He said that migration would hang around 7/11’s, selecting people who they would ask for documentation. He also said that he had noticed racism towards Latino’s. They would frequently be pulled over when driving since they are often suspected to be undocumented. Once Jorge had finished talking to us, he asked us to tell his story. He hopes that when people hear it, they will have a better understanding of migrants.
Earlier that morning, our group went on a border tour along the wall. We drove around, stopping alongside the wall and hearing some of the stories that it held. The gravel road alongside the wall is worth billions. It is specially designed so that drivers can move at highway speed in order to catch anyone who crosses who does not cross through a legal port of entry. The border patrol also smoothes over the dust so that any new footprints are easily distinguishable, and the people who walked there can be tracked. They use cameras with 360 degree coverage that have both thermal and night vision capabilities. At our first stop on the tour, we heard about Carlos. He was an American citizen in his senior year of high school. In the town there was a tradition of running drugs to the border. The kids are told that since they are only minors, the worst thing that can happen to them is a slap on the wrist. Carlos was driving when the police and border patrol chased him. They T-boned his car so he got out, ran to the fence and began climbing. Mexican citizens on the other side saw the aggression towards the young man and began throwing rocks at his pursuers in hopes of stopping them. The border patrol then pulled out their weapons and shot Carlos three times in the back. Carlos fell to the ground, lifeless. Both the American and Mexican sides made shrines in rememberence of Carlos. Today, only the Mexican one remains because the American border had Carlos’ family remove it when they replaced the wall with one that would be bigger and better. The next story we heard was that of Jose Antonio. He had been on the Mexican side of the border, throwing rocks at the American border control. The border control shot and killed him claiming that he was a threat. The joke that follows this tragic story is that Jose must have been an MLB player in order to have the accuracy and strength to throw a rock heavy enough both through the fence and far enough to come close to even touching the border patrol.
I hope that hearing these stories resonate in you and echo through your thoughts as they do with me. Each individual has their own unique story that cannot be erased. Each migrant that didn’t make it has their name permanently on a cross, and people who grieve their loss. Jorge has a wife and four children who were relying on him for income, haven’t seen him in five years and miss him dearly. Carlos is remembered by a shrine, cemented into the ground on the Mexican side and by a green ribbon tied around the fence. The fence where Jose breathed his last is marked with bullet holes. It is hard to accept that there will be no simple solution. For now, all I can to is sit with these stories. I will let them ring in my mind, as my heart goes out to these people. Sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers and friends. Each of them a person, beloved by God.
– Jana Klassen