Year after year, hundreds of migrants are dying while trying to cross the deserts in the southwestern United States. The advocacy group Humane Borders and the Medical Examiner’s Office in Pima County, Arizona, have documented at least 222 migrant deaths along the US/Mexico border in 2021, including 43 deaths in June alone. Even though much federal legislation since 2000 has addressed immigration reform and border enforcement, most of those bills did not mention the issue of migrant deaths. Sadly, there are no legal directives for Customs and Border Protection officials to compile information on migrant deaths, like causes of death, locations and demographics.
Yet there are groups of people in Cochise County, Arizona, who acknowledge the migrants who have died and keep their memory. Every week in Douglas, Arizona, a vigil occurs on the street that leads into Mexico. Participants at the vigil hold up white crosses and proclaim aloud the name on each cross. The response is “Presente!”, bringing into the community the memory of people who have died. Also, a religious group places crosses in the desert as close as possible to where a person died. Before bodies were routinely sent to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, the city of Douglas buried unidentified migrants in the city cemetery.
Please pray this prayer used at the graves of unidentified migrants at the cemetery:
O God, we pray for all the migrants who have died in the desert. Bless them with eternal life and comfort their families who mourn. Turn our hearts away from violence and the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners, so that reconciliation and peace may reign on the border.