What do you think the border wall looks like? How tall does it have to be to keep people from crossing over? Friday I joined another Samaritan volunteer to drive southwest of Tucson to Sasabe, to see one of the border crossing. The countryside is stark, short cacti, blowing winds and isolated.
The border wall stretches for miles - I am not sure how tall it is - I stand about 5'3" and the tower dwarfs me - the border patrol cars drive along the wall looking for migrants crossing assisted by motion sensors and tall towers with video cameras so I waved at the tower - yes, it is me.
Before we reached the border, we had stopped along a road where another Samaritan volunteer had seen a cross marking the spot where a migrant's body was found. We got out of the 4 X 4 and walked along a wash. Suddenly we spotted a pair of camouflage pants - they looked almost new. We walked further along and found discarded black pants and a pair of the "slippers" that migrants wear to hide their tracks. Lots of water bottles - we were close to a road and my companion, Gayle said, "This must be a van pick up point as the migrants are told to get rid of all evidence that they have crossed the desert."
We stopped another road west of Arivaca to drop off 5 gallon water jugs and food packets. We walked up the wash about 30 minutes and came across water bottles and a big bag of blanket but no bucket of food packets. It was hard to know where the food went. We did not leave any water jugs as there were enough for migrants to refill their containers. It was a beautiful day - sunny and warm in the arroyo but rocky. It was hard to imagine walking this wash in the dark without any illumination. I shivered despite the sun as I thought of the Guatemalan women I met earlier in the week.
I am volunteering at two shelters for women and children who have been released from ICE to travel to their families or friend's homes in the United States. The house had a large number of women and children as the east coast roads were closed with freezing conditions. All of the women were from Guatemala and were very young with children ranging from one to three years of age. One small-bone, slight young woman told us about crossing the desert at night. "I was afraid as there were animals screeching all night long." She carried her baby on her back the entire distance. Her baby was a year old - sweet smile, big brown eyes, and a smile to melt your heart. As she and her mother sat down on the couch, she unwrapped the serape/big scarf and I saw that her baby had no socks or shoes. "Oh my God," I thought - she was out in the desert with this child with only a jacket, jeans and shirt for herself and a big serape around her baby with a shirt on top. I rushed over the children's shelves looking for a sleeper with feet to put on the child. I found a pink one for her. Her mother put it on and the child just smiled. After some lunch, she got up and started walking or staggering around the room. She looks like a pink bunny, I told another volunteer.
All of the women are heading to an unknown life. I wondered - What will happen to these women? Will their children be able to attend preschool or kindergarten? What kind of work will women with three to six years of education and no English find? In a conversation with a Guatemalan who fled in the 1980's to the United States I shared my concern for these women. "Pat," he said,"From my own experience, they will face depression and a tremendous sense of loss and uncertainty." As an indigenous man, he described his experience of crossing three cultural boundaries - his indigenous life and language, then, the plunge into speaking Spanish in order to communicate with other immigrants in Southern California and then, learning English and American ways. "They will need help, Pat. In our indigenous culture, we have our own ways of helping people with depression,"
I think of Adelante Mujeres in Forest Grove, Oregon that uses the ESPERE program from Colombia to help immigrant women deal with depression and cultural change. My new Guatemalan friend suggests that it would be wonderful if churches or Non-profits could find a way to support newly arrived immigrant women and children, and men as well to offer a mental health education program that incorporates these three cultures.
At the other house there was a new young woman from Guatemala who had lived in a shelter for unaccompanied minors until she turned 18 this past weekend. She and the other woman from Honduras wanted to go shopping. Not my favorite thing to do, I admit but off we went to the nearest St. Vincent de Paul that offers a voucher where each of the women can go to the voucher section and pick out five items weekly. The 18 year old is looking for pants. Clothing for these women is challenging - they are shorter and slimmer than the average American woman. I would guess size two to six and petite size pants. I found a few pairs of pants that I thought were the right length. "Mire, Sara" What do you think of these?" She looked at them and said - "No, they are too big in the waist." She picked out a short skirt and some shorts - I laughed to myself, she is only 18 years old and she wants to look good and stylish.
Destinations: Georgia, Kentucky, Florida, California, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina and yes, even Oregon are just some of the places where these women are heading. I hope and pray that they will find a welcoming community and a place in this new society IF they are allowed to stay. Humanitarian release to these women and their chlldren is not a guarantee that they will be allowed to stay. A lot of it depends on access to a lawyer and the conditions under which they fled as to whether they can qualify for asylum. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers. Think about what it took to cross the border and walk for miles in the night with your child wondering if you would survive the journey.
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?