BORDERLANDS: Humane Borders


November 2012
BORDERLANDS: Humane Borders

John Heid, CPT Reservist

  CPT file photo

They shall not hunger or thirst, 
nor the scorching wind or the sun strike them; 
for one who has compassion for them 
leads and guides them 
beside springs of water.          -Isaiah 49:10

On the weekend before Advent I joined volunteers from Humane Borders, a
Tucson-based humanitarian group, on their annual service trip to the
U.S.-Mexico border. Humane Borders places water stations in the Sonoran Desert borderlands to aid people crossing the hazardous,
remote terrain. Brilliant blue flags hoisted above these water drops
prominently mark each site.

annual Thanksgiving weekend project focuses on an area where 14 Mexican workers
died of dehydration in May 2001, as chronicled by Luis Alberto Urrea in “The
Devil’s Highway.” The landscape is austere. No fences. No power lines. No
buildings. There is no evidence of human habitation beyond scattered artifacts
of the ancient Hohokum civilization, spent shells from the nearby Barry Goldwater Bombing Range, a petroglyph site, and a couple flyovers by Border
Patrol helicopters.

sky was seamless blue as we waded for miles through seas of waist high Creosote
Bushes and cholla cacti. Occasionally a jackrabbit darted by us. Lizards
outnumbered birds. Temperatures this time of year range from 40’s at night to
90’s in midday. Surrounding mountains create a soup bowl effect to
the terrain. In the hours we walked, the distant peaks seemed to keep moving
further away from us.

the course of three days, five of us replaced the tattered, sun-bleached blue
flags of seven water tanks and checked the structural status of each site.
Humane Borders volunteers have been walking this route for a decade and despite
their efforts, the number of deaths in the desert has only risen. One hundred
seventy nine bodies were recovered from the Tucson sector of the border this past year; many in the area
we walked. In Washington there is talk of status change for people without
documentation currently in the U.S., along with escalated border enforcement. The net
result of more militarization can only be more death along this so-called
Devil’s Highway.

we unpacked our gear back in Tucson late Sunday evening I glanced up at the Humane
Borders garage wall and noticed Isaiah 49:10 in bold black print – a stark
counterpoint to the public policy of these times, and a fitting meditation for

Between 2004 and 2007, CPT’s Borderlands project periodically partnered with
local groups along the US-Mexico border in order to reduce the number of migrant
deaths in the border region, advocate for just and comprehensive U.S. immigration
reform, and call for compassionate treatment of the immigrant “stranger”. While CPT has been unable to staff a full presence, John Heid and other CPT reservists continue
to support the work of local groups.

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