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Participants in the "Migrant Trail: We Walk for Life." Tim Hoover

Participants in the "Migrant Trail: We Walk for Life." Tim Hoover

The migrant trail

Cathryn Clinton
August 5, 2008

TUCSON, Ariz. – Since the early 1990s, thousands of migrants have traveled across the desert from Sasabe, Sonora, Mexico, to Tucson, Arizona. This stretch of desert, like other such areas in California and Texas, is called a migrant trail because so many use it to cross the border. An estimated 4,000 migrants have lost their lives crossing since 1994, the year of implementation of increased border security.

From May 28 through June 3, 11 members of a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) delegation participated in “Migrant Trail: We Walk for Life,” a 75-mile walk from Sasabe to Tucson. This annual event, now in its fifth year, is sponsored by Migrant Trail Walk Committee and other organizations, including West Coast MCC. It aims to call attention to the human rights crisis on the border.

Shalom Mennonite Fellowship of Tucson, Ariz., provided lodging for a three-day orientation for participants given by West Coast MCC and Central States MCC. Then the MCC delegation joined a group of 65 walkers total from a variety of religious groups and humans rights organizations.

"We were told that there could be around 2,000 people in the desert at any given time, but they were only whispers to us; we only came across a handful. Several came (to the Migrant Trail group) when they had no strength left, and received water and food," said Esther Harder of Mountain Lake, Minn. Harder just finished a four-year term as an MCC peace service worker in Uganda.

Migrant men who approached the group spoke of leaving behind two women who were too frail to keep going. Members of the We Walk for Life group searched for them, but did not see them. No one knows what happened to them.

The participants carried white crosses with the names of people who had died trying to make the crossing. Some people didn't need white crosses; they carry the memories.

For the participants this was an effort to stand in solidarity with migrants and to bear witness to their sufferings.

The identification with migrants began when participants submitted their passports to a lock box in order to walk "undocumented." Many Border Patrol vehicles passed them.

As early as 5 a.m., the participants began their daily walk. The temperature often climbed into the 90s, so walkers would stop around noon. They sat in the shade of tents or tarps that came from the support vehicles following them and providing them with food, water and backpacks. This "privilege" was not lost on the participants.

Under a blue tarp on the first day, Valerie Ong, staff member with MCC’s Washington Office, searched for relief from the heat. She said, "After walking about 13 miles, I felt hot, dirty and tired. I began to wonder if I would survive the next five days as a participant."

Sometimes during these breaks, the participants reflected on the difference between their walk and the walk of migrants. This group could rest, walk during the day instead of night, and not rely on untrustworthy “coyotes” (smugglers) to lead them across the unremitting desert.

Often deeper conversations occurred in the evenings when people caught their breath, cooled off and rested. Sometimes the talk reflected on failed border tactics or the need for change in immigration policy and economic realities.

As they continued walking, the participants prayed for the migrants, themselves and all who are involved in the difficult and complex journey toward immigration justice.

Saulo Padilla, director of the Office on Immigration for MCC US, says that addressing "the migrant trail history, the purpose for the walk, the tough situations immigrants face in the desert (and) responses by participants” in the walk is an invitation for others to get involved in immigration work.

The event ended in a celebration, a brief press conference and a foot-washing ceremony. Participants were encouraged to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and to keep praying.

For information on immigration issues or concerns in your region, please contact your MCC regional office or the MCC US office. Find contact information at mcc.org.

West Coast MCC offers specific ideas for blessing immigrants in your community. Contact them at mcc.org/westcoast. Visit the MCC Washington Office Web site, mcc.org/us/Washington, for details about current immigration bills.

The MCC Delegation consisted of Valerie Ong, MCC Washington Office; Gabriel Schlabach, MCC Washington Office; Esther Harder, former MCC Uganda service worker; Jodi Read, West Coast MCC; Dina Gonzalez Pina, West Coast MCC Board of Directors; Nancy Rivera, MCC Central States; Pedro Gonzalez, MCC Central States; and Tim Hoover, MCC Communications; Joshua Morgan Crawford; Josue Diaz; Esther Rosales.