BORDERLANDS: Humane Borders

28 November 2012
BORDERLANDS: Humane Borders

by 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Over 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.

As 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 Advent.

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.