This conference was educational, inspirational, and troubling. Sheriff Tony Estrada reported that Nogales has a very low crime rate, mostly domestic abuse. He was opposed to the border wall and said most drugs were entering the US through legal ports of entry, hidden in produce trucks. The wall does nothing to prevent the smuggling of drugs. The US has 5 percent of the world population, but we are responsible for 50 percent of drug usage. “We have created the demand.”
Nogales, partly in Mexico and partly in the US, is divided by the wall. Over 100 tunnels going from the Mexican to the US side have been discovered. Ray Maldonado, an attorney who has a history of representing the Hispanic community, and Pedro Conejo, a Honduran who crossed the border ten years ago, told compelling stories of their struggles on the borderland. Pedro, lucky enough to be found along Interstate 19 by the Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans, was given food and water before the Border Patrol took him into custody.
Borderland Security’s militarization of the region has also severely impacted Native Americans. A young Native American woman tripped a sensor on the reservation while walking her dog and was quickly surrounded by drones and Homeland Security. Her people live on both sides of the border, and travel between family groups has become very difficult. Every time she leaves the reservation, she is interrogated when with her Native American mother, but not when with her Caucasian father.
Through this conference, we became involved with the Green Valley-Sauharita Samaritans (see page 7 in the Sept/Oct 2019 NSFA). One Border Patrol agent had found a 14-year-old girl in the desert who had been raped and left to die; she had found the water the Samaritans left and survived. The agent wept as he carried her out of the desert. Another time, two agents came over to the marked Samaritan van at a checkpoint to thank them for what they were doing. The men and women who make up the Border Patrol are a varied group, doing jobs they need to support their own families.
We joined the Samaritans who cross to the Mexico side, serving and helping prepare meals for migrants at El Comador. These people leave their homes with little in the way of material items, spend nights outside in the cold desert, and yet are patient and grateful. They must have been driven from their homeland by serious economic and safety concerns.
La Roca, built into the side of a hill, is a primitive building filled with 300 bunk beds. Families wait here up to three months, to be processed to cross the border. A Guatemalan couple with a 3-month-old baby hoped to connect with friends in Utah. A teenage boy accompanied his mom and little sister from Guatemala, where his father had been killed. His eyes welled with tears as we hugged good-bye.
As I descended the narrow steep stairs holding tightly on the railing, an older woman sweeping a landing reached out to steady me. I was touched by her concern for my safety. This is the true face of the migrants attempting to cross the border.