On the Trail with No More Deaths
The July sun beat down, and by mid-morning, there was no avoiding the heat. By 10 am, the anticipation rose with the heat as nearly 40 humanitarian volunteers gathered in a parking lot just outside the small desert town of Arivaca. Our goal was simple, with 110-degree heat predicted for the coming weekend, we came to put jugs of water out for migrants. The trails we hoped to cover were on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge starts at the border and extends north 30 miles in one of the most active migrant corridors in Arizona.
We arrived at the first water drop after a short drive west. Our caravan stretched up and down both sides of the road, and our first three volunteers, with gallon jugs in hand, started up the trail amidst applause by onlookers. Soon afterwards, U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents arrived and followed them up the trail. Several minutes went by before our volunteers returned, followed by the agents carrying out the jugs. One by one the water droppers were called over and cited for littering. The group included a nurse, a retired professor of social work, and a Presbyterian minister.
We drove on to our next stop with law enforcement vehicles now in the caravan. Reverend Fife, a resident of Cascabel, and a Hamilton College student took their jugs and placed them on another migrant trail. Fish and Wildlife agents immediately confiscated the water and again issued citations for littering.
We continued west to the third location, which was quite a distance off Arivaca Road and required some hiking. Upon our arrival we found that our expert in mapping and GPS, and the former Dean of Geo Sciences at the University of Arizona, was also ticketed for littering, but in his case for giving us guidance to the trailheads. The contrast between the two options for water that day were striking: a gallon of clean, pure drinking water on one hand, and a muddy pool of day old rain water in the other. Four more volunteers, including a preschool teacher and a librarian, placed water along a trail as onlookers pleaded with the agents to leave the water: "Please don't take that water; there are women and children dying out here." Then solemn chanting began as the agents moved to their trucks, emphasizing each word: "No-more-deaths! No-more-deaths!" The message fell on deaf ears as agents for a third time immediately removed all water and wrote four more citations.
As the summer sun continued to bear down on us, we arrived at our final planned stop. A Franciscan priest and retired clinical psychologist proceeded to the last drop, but certainly not least! With abundant enthusiasm they ducked under the barbed wire to place desperately needed water jugs on known migrant routes — only to be met and cited, as had all the others.
After nearly four hours we gathered again, this time on the side of the road, to celebrate the courageous resistance of people of conscience and the communities that stand with them. As the caravan departed in mid-afternoon, we left hopeful and still committed, yet at the same time saddened, as dozens of life-giving jugs of water sat confiscated as 'evidence of a crime' in the back of a truck instead of on the migrant trail where it is so desperately needed. We also left burdened by the knowledge that, as weekend desert temperatures reached 112 degrees, we would soon hear the news of the next unnecessary deaths that will undoubtedly come. Indeed, as our migrant brothers and sisters continue on this journey, forced to cross in more dangerous areas, we must keep the resolve to continue this work by their side.