Border Trip -Desconocido


On display in the sanctuary at Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Sahuarita, AZ, site of the Border Fair/Common Ground on the Border Fair today and tomorrow, were a series of quilts bearing witness to the thousands of migrant deaths in the Arizona desert each year.  The quilts for each two year time span are different design, but each have memorabilia depicting the victims (or from the victims), and the names of those who died.  That is, the names of each victim are included if the name is known.  Many of the migrant dead are never identified.  In some years, like the quilt in the center photo, each “unknown” victim is listed.  In some, they are listed by the Spanish term “desconocido,” unknown.

Our presenter in the second set of workshops this afternoon, Shura Wallin, posed a question to us: what can we do?  Shura, who is one of the founders and key life forces behind the Samaritans group that provides humanitarian aid to migrants in the desert, also got us thinking by posing the rhetorical question “How many people do you know who really want to leave their country?”  So what can be done to change things?  Migrants are forced to leave home to find a better life, a safer life, and they fall prey to another sort of persecution — indifference.  So what if they die, they were crossing illegally.  It is their own fault; stay where you are and you will not die in the desert attempting to cross.

Is this who we really are, that we will allow this to continue?  We have another session with Shura tomorrow afternoon, and maybe, just maybe, we will come up with some answers, some action items.  This cannot be what we want.


Border Trip – The Wall

Yesterday we crossed into Nogales, Mexico through the Mariposa Port, simply walking in, no questions, no passports looked at.  The view from right inside the Mexica side of the entry way looking west, looks like this:

border wall nogales

The rust colored line running west as far as the eye can see?  The border wall.  Yes, it is there, in long stretches, keeping people apart, stopping animals from migrating as well.

After a visit to El Comedor (a mission for deportees, providing food, and medical and legal help among other aid; more on El Comedor another day), and a visit to a local cemetery (quite colorful!), we made our way to the area of Nogales near the other entry port, the DeConcini port.  There, from a pedestrian plaza where most of the shops were either pharmacies or dental offices, offering cheap drugs and vastly cheaper dental care to all who come, including folks from the US, who look for savings from the expensive medical care back home.  As you face north in this plaza, you see the following:

nogales drug plaza

The wall separates Nogales Mexico from Nogales Arizona.  What is this all saying?  Its ok for us to come over to Mexico to get cheap prescriptions and dental care, but we don’t want you to come over to our country?  We can use you, but we are off limits to you?

After we got some lunch, we went over to the area near the DeConcini port where there have a holding room for some of the folks seeking legal entry into the US through asylum.  It is a small, cramped L-shaped room, maybe 15×10 at the widest spot, and there were about 15 or so folks living there, some for eight days so far, sleeping on mats on the floor, and there were two infants among the group.  I did not take photos there, wanting to protect their privacy.  What did we see — people who were hopeful.  Even though they were waiting and waiting to see if they could reach the US, this safe haven they had been dreaming of for some time, they knew they were closer, and they were finally relatively protected for violence and exploitation.  They were still in limbo, but safety and a new life were within sight, and they still had hope.  Our hearts reached out to them.

There is more to come. For today (Friday), we gather for the Common Ground on the Border Fair, and workshops on various issues.


Border Trip – Travel, Flora, and Mole


Today was travel day, which went relatively well, with the exception of some upset stomachs over a little turbulence between Madison and Denver, our connection point. We arrived here in Sahuarita/Green Valley, Arizona, and I say it this way cognizant of our privilege — our arrival involved some plane flights and a drive from Tucson in comfortable rental vehicles.  For those from other countries attempting to escape desperate poverty and violence, arriving here involves treacherous/life-threatening (even life taking) travel, often at the hands of exploitative persons asking for money well beyond people’s means, across difficult desert terrain with wild temperature swings from day to night, usually poorly equipped, long stays in wretched conditions in detention centers if caught or if trying to legally obtain asylum,…  Arrival here for these people is a dangerous, complicated trek, and then they are treated as criminals, as less than people.  And they are treated as criminals, as less than human, by people who claim to be followers of Jesus.  The shame is not on those trying to cross the border, but those who erect a border in their hearts to “protect themselves” against other children of God.

End of sermon, for now… After arriving in Tucson, our group decided to see the Desert Museum, which is mostly an outdoor feast of flora and fauna of the region.  After half a day of stale airplane and airport air, the breeze across the desert refreshed us.  The photos are from the museum, poor substitutes for the real thing.

We were then blessed to meet up with Leila Pine, a friend of ours from James Reeb Unitarian in Madison, and her husband Craig.  Leila is a snowbird who spends her winters in Tucson, doing much humanitarian aid for migrants and refugees.  She shared some stories of life here in Tucson: the dreadful condition of migrants trying to cross the desert, the work of local churches and aid organizations to help those granted entry into the US seeking asylum, but who are given no help by our government to help find their sponsor families.  She had so much to share about what folks are doing her, that we were late finishing dinner and getting to our hosts for the trip.  But we are now all cozily ensconced, and needing sleep for a busy day ahead.

Tomorrow: crossing the border


Border Trip: Prologue

Tomorrow eight of us from Plymouth UCC, Madison WI will travel to southern Arizona as part of our congregation’s mission work for immigration justice.  In part we will be attending the “Common Ground on the Border Fair” (see or for more info).  This is an event put on by our hosts, Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, AZ, a congregation whose mission work focuses on humanitarian aid and advocacy for migrants.  While there we will cross the border and travel to Nogales, Mexico on Thursday, experience the desert that migrants attempt to cross, see the border wall (yes, the wall does exist already in sections), some will witness Operation Streamline (if sessions happening on Friday), and we will also experience some of the local culture.

Mostly what we will do on this short 5-day trip is to observe, listen, and learn.  What is the truth about what is happening on the border?  How do people living there feel about US immigration policy, especially as it has been practiced over the last few years?  What is the experience of migrants?  What causes them to migrate?  What are their hopes and dreams?  How are the church and other non-GMOs responding?  And how should we (way up in the great el norte) respond?

We will explore these and other questions on this trip, and will try to share as much as we can (given a full agenda and not knowing beforehand what sort of online connections we will have) in this space during the trip and afterward.  More photos and quick reflections will also be posted on our Facebook page and on Twitter (@plymouthmadison).

Tomorrow: Why this trip? That is, what does this trip have to do with being a Christian? Spoiler alert – a lot!