Sasabe-Nogales Border Experience Touches Hearts
“Hola amigas. Tenemos agua. Tenemos comida.” “Hello friends. We have water. We have food.” Molly Kammien and Mary Jean Friel shout through ridiculous 100-foot gaps in the 30-foot high $15 billion border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Bob Kee, with the Tucson Samaritans, taught them how the slats in the wall create a megaphone. After 10 minutes of calling, a shadow appears atop a hill, motionless, checking us out, then tentatively meeting us at the gap. He is impossibly young and tells us there are three others in the bushes; they don’t come out. We ply him with water, food and “bendición.” Samaritans encountered three migrant groups that day. Later, at customs, we witnessed a busload of migrants being sent back after their unsuccessful try at the American dream.
The previous day, Dr. Michael Hess, Pima County’s chief medical examiner, presented in graphic detail what could happen to that young man we encountered if he ran out of water in the desert. His office is in charge of undocumented border crosser remains. Dr. Hess’s office and Humane Borders are both committed to raising awareness about migrant deaths. Can you imagine placing the call to a suffering family seeking hope and receiving only solace that their loved one has been identified? So far in 2023, 906 human beings have either died or are unaccounted for in the Sonora Desert.
Why does the Latin America/ Caribbean Committee (LACC) consider border trips one of our missions when it is so hard? Officially we say it is because the trips are “a transformative immersion experience that seeks justice and peace at the border through direct encounters with migrants and justice workers. Participants express LACC values of witness, hope and friendship through volunteering with humanitarian service providers and hearing migrants’ stories to bring back to their home communities.”
This is all true. What is also true is that we do this because our LACC bond with one another has grown so strong and dear to each of us, and most humbly, because of our partners at the border, like Bob Kee. He was a substitute Samaritan guide on one of our trips and now is our guide to compassion and kindness. Bob befriends everyone and though he navigates the desert like Lawrence of Arabia, he admits, “I really don’t know how to drive in the city.”
In 1980 our partner Dora Rodriguez survived her own desert journey. Today, she serves as director of Humane Borders and directs Salvavision, a nonprofit that assists migrants and those who have been deported. Dora and the strong women in the tiny town of Sasabe, Ariz., founded Casa de Esperanza, a community center that helps migrants passing through. It’s also a source of economic empowerment through the sale of their handiwork. Previously the Loretto Community funded a covered patio that will soon boast a cement floor. This day, we were able to present the women with another Loretto check. Dora told us we would have fun on the trip, and we did! The women shared stories and prepared a feast for all at the center — thoughtfully no hot peppers!
Another partner we visited, Sr. Lika Macias, runs Casa de Misericordia in Nogales, Ariz., with artistry and vision. When it rains, Sr. Lika paints! Her stunning murals grace every space. Her family shelter has a K-12 school, gardens, libraries, activities, projects and an outdoor brick oven where homemade bread is baked and served every Saturday, and we visited on a Saturday! LACC presented her with donations and she in turn, gave us a lesson in what all families and children deserve: love, safety, respect and care while they await an uncertain future.
On the last evening of our border trip, Dora gathered us for a vigil at El Tiradito Shrine in Tucson. We honored 40 migrant men who died in the fire at a migrant detention jail in Juarez, bringing into our hearts the dear men who died, as well as all the emotions of our weekend. Bacilio Sutuj Saravia, Byron López Xol, Cristian Vidal Alexander Ventura Sacalxot … presente.
Thank you to the Loretto Community who supports LACC’s work on the border. We are grateful to Eileen Harrington for a wonderful breakfast and to Jean East, from Link’s Fronteras Unidas, for a lunchtime collaboration session and for hosting a delicious dinner. Gracias a todas.