On June 3rd, we participated in the final day of the Migrant Trail walk. Over the course of 7 days, 50 individuals made the 75-mile journey from Sásabe, Mexico to Tucson, Arizona, representing the long trek thousands of migrants make entering the United States each year. This year marked the nine-year anniversary of the Migrant, with participants now hailing from ten different states. Their aim is simple: to end the deaths of migrants by calling attention to the human rights crisis occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border. They walk to denounce the divisive borders in favor of human dignity for all.
Joining them on the last day of the walk gave the members of our DukeEngage group the opportunity to (literally) walk 6.5 miles in migrant shoes. Yet on our walk there were water and food stations every 1.5 miles, there to hydrate and refuel us. And on our walk there were trained medical personnel, there to ameliorate our dehydration or bandage our blisters. And on our walk there were cars traveling behind us, there to shuttle us if we grew too tired. We were afforded all the luxuries on our journey that migrants are not: water when we were thirsty, medical care when we were injured, rest when we were tired. But after that 6.5 mile journey (only a fraction of that which migrants travel) in the blazing Arizona heat, I was still exhausted.
It was along the walk that I grew to appreciate the sheer amount of desperation and love for one’s family that it must take for many of the migrants to be willing to cross the treacherous desert. They walk under the cover of night, with little food and water to help them along the way. For those who survive, they arrive in the United States with gruesome blisters, symptoms of dehydration, and severe sunburns. They are the lucky ones. For those who do not, they leave behind families in the United States and in Mexico who will continue to pine for their return.
On the Migrant Trail, the walkers carried white crosses bearing the names of migrants who had perished. Some were names of friends and family, others were simply “desconocido”, meaning “unknown”, representing the thousands whose bodies have never been recovered. Since 1994, over 6,000 migrant bodies have been found. 6,000 fathers, sons, brothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters. 6,000 too many.
To me, the pursuit of better economic opportunities is a right, not a privilege afforded only to certain citizens or groups. People should not have to risk their lives just to reach a land where they can hopefully find a way to finally provide for their families. I am deeply saddened that American policies have pushed people to this dangerous path. Our border walls have been created and militarized to keep American privilege and wealth inside the country, while attempting to keep poverty outside our walls. They have become walls of privilege, excluding those without citizenship from the opportunity to seek a better life. In a country that was founded as a land of opportunity for immigrants, it seems hypocritical to now deny others the right for economic advancement within our borders merely based on where they were born.
After the walk, we visited a place called Casa Mariposa (meaning “Butterfly House”), a spiritual living community in Tucson that houses immigrants recently released from the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention center in Florence, Arizona. ICE chooses to drop off newly released immigrants at the Greyhound bus station at 9PM, despite the fact that buses stop running at midnight. Unless the individual was carrying sufficient money when ICE brought them to the detention center, it is very difficult for them to get home to their families upon their release. Casa Mariposa recognized this problem and began making trips to the Greyhound Station each night, waiting for undocumented immigrants to be dropped off. They offer these individuals a place to stay for as long as they need, providing them with food, phone calls to their family, and support. For some, they need only to stay the night. For others, their stay is much longer. Last year, a total of 170 immigrants stayed at Casa Mariposa. One undocumented immigrant who lives there currently was held in detention centers for 7 years.
The work at Casa Mariposa is admirable: they show hospitality to people whom have only ever been confronted with hostility. They give dignity back to a population that the government has dehumanized by labeling them as “illegal.” Our government’s policies force immigrants to walk for days in blazing heat, fall victim to racial profiling, and live in constant fear of deportation. We have made undocumented immigrants feel as though they have no rights due to their unauthorized status. Yet as a country we believe that allhumans we all have certain “inalienable rights”, as stated in our Declaration of Independence. It is prudent for us to remember that at the heart of this issue, undocumented workers are human, just like us. To treat them as anything less is a violation of our founding principles. The Casa Mariposa model reminds us that we can do better, that we can be better. We can welcome immigrants who come with honest intentions, regardless of their documentation status. We can be more compassionate, more humane, and more tolerant. This is our duty as Americans and as global citizens.