Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Douglas and Agua Prietta

My last week in Arizona I traveled with Francisco, another No More Deaths volunteer to the border town of Douglas. We were sent to help staff a migrant resource center set up by one of the local churches in Agua Prietta, the town just across the border. The church was kind enough to hook us up with a trailer to stay in and a couple of bikes to get around. The purpose of this shelter is to minister to migrants who have been dumped off by Border Patrol at the port of entry. Most migrants are not from this area and being dropped off in a foreign city with no contacts or money can be quite scary so the resource center provides a place for migrants to rest, get their bearings, grab something to eat and get oriented towards the shelters and other public resources in Agua Prietta. After a few moments of rest and coffee most people are eager to get moving and reconnect with their groups to attempt another crossing.
During our shifts Francisco and I saw a decent number of people come through the resource center but never in a steady stream. Border Patrol has no rhyme or reason to when they deport people. It could be day or night, in groups of one or to or an entire bus load. For that reason we tried to keep the resource center open 24/7 but staffing wouldn’t allow that often times.
On rare occasions we were able to sit with the migrants and hear about their journeys. It struck me that even though all the people we encountered had just been dealt a major setback. Most were still very driven and ready to attempt the journey again. Border Patrol was not seen as an impossible barrier but simply an obstacle that with enough time and patience would be overcome.
The most significant moment of my time in Douglas came on Friday evening. Each week some of the local volunteers have a memorial event remembering those who have died in the dessert just outside of Douglas. Each of us took an armload of white wooden crosses. On the front were the names and death dates of people who had been found. We then started walking along the road, calling out the names of the people on our crosses and placing them along the curb. Hundreds of crosses were layed down and by the time we reached our last one we were near the port of entry. Right there in front of the passing traffic we gathered around and remembered four names in particular pastor ----- reminded us that the names we saw were lives once, they were maybe mothers, maybe fathers, maybe brothers or sisters to someone who loved and missed them. They were also image bearers of God and loved by him.
As we walked back we gatherd the crosses in a shopping cart. Each week a few more are added to the pile.