Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Icy in Arizona

Ice covered the front and back windshields when I walked out to my car at 7:15 am.

I hadn't planned for time to scrape off ice, so I threw my backpack into the front seat and backed out of my parking place with no rear visibility and a blurry front view.  I had to be at the Safeway on Duvall Mine Rd. by 7:30 or hold up the group.

28 degrees outside was another fact I had not planned for.  Migrants, can't we agree not to try to cross the Sonoran Desert on days like this?

Soon, however, I was being whisked to our first stop: checking the bushes in a dry wash under Hwy. 19 and looking at basura under the north and south freeway overpasses to see if migrants had spent the night there.

"Somos Americanos... Somos Samaritanos," yelled Mike Casey as he led the three of us up the wash.

There were fresh footprints and a backpack, along with empty black water bottles sold in Mexico, but no one but us seemed to be there.  We scrambled up the rocks out of the wash, and Mike explained that it was only 21 degrees down there because cold air sinks into the washes and pockets under the freeway overpasses.

We drove south, leaving Hwy. 19 to drive to Amado and then Arivaca, one of the oldest towns in Arizona.  Soon we were in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and then entered Coronado National Forest, driving up rocky hills and through icy canyons, all northern hillsides spectacular with a few inches of snow.

Smugglers and illegal immigrants may be encountered in this area, a sign said.

On today's drive we did not find any migrants, as Mike explained is often the case.  But for five hours I listened to harrowing stories of other days when desperate people were found: a young woman suffering from hypothermia, wearing a t-shirt in freezing rain; a man who had fallen and was still determined to cross the rocky terrain, a mother asking, "All I want to do is work for my child.  Why is it so hard?"

In most cases the migrants have no idea where they are or how far they have still to go.  The goal of the Samaritans is to save lives: give them clean dry clothes and jackets, let them sit in the car and warm up, and convince them to give themselves up to the Border Patrol rather than continue and die.

"The hardest part for me is when they haven't got a clue, are in bad shape, and go on anyway," Mike said.

To draw a map for a migrant is illegal.  To put them in your car is also illegal--it will send you to jail for 15 years.

The good Samaritan in the Bible loaded the wounded man on his donkey and took him to an inn, but today in the US he'd be thrown in jail for that.

We saw many Border Patrol trucks and trucks full of hunters (it's javelina season--wild boar).  Two BP officers parked their truck and set off down a trail carrying Bushmasters.  

"It was easier for the migrants before 9/11," he explained.  "Fifteen years ago it was just a matter of walking in with a guide, but now drug cartels own the coyotes and tell them 'Work for us or die.'  The polleros round up the groups but are not in business for themselves and care less for the migrants."

For a while our dirt road paralleled the border, just one mile away.  But there was no way that border could be fenced: square miles of steep rocky ridges at an altitude of about 5,000 ft.

The day warmed up to almost 60 degrees.  We returned to Hwy. 19, drove north to Tubac, and bought sandwiches and a slice of quiche in a deli there.

A beautiful day, all in all--unless you were a migrant stumbling up the rocky hillsides and hiding in the icy canyons.

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