We went to the desert in Arizona to learn something about ourselves while other people were running for their lives across the Mexico-U.S. border. Running from what exactly in their home lands I don’t know, but I suspect it’s something extremely difficult I’ve never experienced.
Nowadays, many border crossers may be presenting themselves for asylum, as discussed in recent news reports, but our impression at the time of our visit five years ago was that the people crossing the mountains and canyons where we spent a week camping were seeking to elude capture. We saw the expected Border Patrol SUVs and vans, but also helicopters and a U.S. Air Force plane, the latter of which buzzed me one late afternoon as I sat reading by a campfire I had just built. I don’t recall what book I was reading, but I guess the personnel on the aircraft were close enough to see the title given I saw their faces in the cockpit.
We took the trip to celebrate my man’s 50th birthday with a deer hunt. Specifically, coues whitetail deer, also known as gray ghosts. This species and terrain in the Huachuca Mountains were completely new to us and we went with an outfitter who had donated the hunt to a Houston conservation group’s annual fundraiser. B. won the hunt in an exciting live auction. We had no idea what we were getting into.
On the way to our hunting camp deep in the Coronado National Memorial (named for the Coronado Expedition of 1540, a Spanish-led northward migration through the area), we dropped south of Tucson on a highway before getting on old roads. The further south we went, the more frequently we saw Border Patrol vehicles. We arrived a tiny outpost with a convenience store and a bar named Casino Rural. From there, we headed into the Coronado national park, which is a desert landscape with zillions of Saguaro and Ocotillo cacti.
The colors of the rocks, plants and sky come into view in stunning combinations, especially when you are ensconced on a mountaintop before dawn and watch the gradations of sunrise light up the landscape. From one such perch, it was a ways down to the valleys below and there was another mountain mirroring us. Atop that, we could see the Mexican border delineated with a barbed wire fence, which appeared meant to keep cattle in at ranches on the Mexico side.
In recalling this last night, B. told his parents how the hunting guides told him they previously had seen a sniper on the Mexico side of that particular mountain. His role was to control who got to go across the border into the U.S. The guides also related how they once found a skull and some clothing of a young girl. The authorities came to the scene and her identification was found in the clothing.
We saw indications of these foot travelers, such as abandoned coats and sleeping rolls, water bottle stations, empty water bottles marked for women and empty food cans. We saw these in box canyons and trails coming right through the border. (We walked up to the border on one hunt.) By contrast, we arrived in the desert via a pickup truck loaded with water, food, weather-wise clothing, snake boots, sunblock, toiletries and sundry gear. You must hydrate continually, so we overpacked water. Even with all this stuff, we considered ourselves to be roughing it. As for the other visitors, whoever dropped their coats must have regretted it as the extreme desert heat of the day quickly turns to very cold nights.
One night, in a huge tent with a wood-burning stove and chimney, I dreamt I heard men come into our camp. They were opening up the coolers and taking drinks. When we got up to go hunting, I told my guide about the dream and he said it was real life. He had been watching them from his camper. As long as they didn’t present danger, it was best to not confront them and let them go on their way.
We didn’t discuss politics or policy when sitting around the campfire, but agreed the status quo of illegal immigrants endangering their lives with coyotes (the smugglers, not the animals) and rugged, rough conditions is terrible.
As for “the wall,” it makes little sense to build a monolithic physical wall across the entire length of the border. There are environmental considerations, such as the movement of ocelots, deer and other creatures who should not be limited to one side or the other. Then there is the ginormous cost when other security measures can be used. Work eligibility should also be enforced. And, imagine if Congress ever managed to enact immigration reforms? (I thought George W. Bush was right when he was pushing for reforms after September 11.) Perhaps we need more seasonal work visas. We might even have a better idea of what is working, what won’t work and what is needed if Congress even deigned to hold some hearings on the subject.
I am not aiming to solve the immigration policy mess with this blog. I just wanted to begin to describe the incredibly brutal landscape some of these people are crossing to get in and, moreover, to recognize that they are people. People with struggles and people with ambitions. Reinforcing the border is a good idea, but a massive wall is overkill. We also need more immigration judges to decide whether to grant asylum and handle the other cases.
Most of all, right now, we need to recognize the dignity of people and not treat them inhumanely (if even they broke the law, separating young children from parents is cruel and unusual punishment imposed on little kids). Please remember, we have our dignity to maintain too.
The Sage Leopard