Bringing Water to the Desert

Enlace joins Border Angels in Solidarity with Migrants

By Ruth Campbell, Enlace Intern

On Friday July 12th, Enlace volunteers spent the day with the Border Angels in San Diego, a group that works to bring to light the deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border. We participated in a water drop, leaving jugs of water in the desert in the hopes they would be found by migrants braving harsh conditions along the border region.  With the creation of Operation Gatekeeper, border patrol has driven migrant traffic towards more dangerous climates, resulting in a rising death rate along the border even as rates of actual crossings fall in reaction to the economic realities of recession.  Throughout the day, the policies of severe surveillance and control of the border were painfully evident, their effect on the migrants who are sacrificed to this false logic of security heavy on our minds. Image

We began our day with a visit to a mass grave, found behind a cemetery and normally locked and hidden away to the general public.  Buried there were bodies found in the desert and never claimed, their graves marked only by a brick, often with the officially generic anglo name, “John Doe,” as if a false label might somehow mask for the viewer the staggering anonymity of those who lose their life in the desert or the fear of the unknown their loved ones must face each day.  We carried crosses, some plain and some decorated, to remember the dead and said a prayer.  When confronted with true victims of border militarization, the mission to leave water in the desert pales in comparison, a small defiance that at best could save a life or two even as hundreds more are targeted.

We then visited the physical manifestation of these policies: the U.S.-Mexico border wall.  A potent symbol of xenophobia and a culture of cultivated fear, it is easy to forget the simple truth: that never in history has a wall served as a successful barrier to the outside.  There are always ways to go under, over, around or through them; in the end, the physical wall itself exists more as an effort to demarcate Mexican and American spaces as separate and dangerous in defiance of the continuous presentation of the land, a warning to migrants of their unwelcome status and a warning to Americans of the supposed lawlessness on the other side.  As functional barriers, walls depend on surveillance for their enforcement, something border patrol was there to provide.  Having been notified of our arrival, a border patrol vehicle sat on a hilltop overlooking our conversation through the wall with a farmer on the other side, as his dogs crossed back and forth through the gaps in the fence over the infamous international boundary.

A helicopter approaches as volunteers look for likely places to leave water.

At last we drove to our water drop-spot, pulling over on the side of the road and spreading out to climb a hill and leave water in places we hoped it would be likely to be found.  Within minutes helicopters circled the hill as we completed our task, yet another reminder of the oppressive surveillance along the entire border region, even out of sight of the boundary.  On our way back, we were stopped at a border patrol checkpoint.  Zones 100 miles from the border have been declared 4th amendment free in order to legitimize this type of warrantless suspicion, stop, and possible search.  Essentially, anyone 100 miles from the border is legally a potential threat to homeland security.  This militarization of the border is part of increasing efforts to criminalize not only migrants but brown populations and directly feeds into the prison industrial complex.  A policy known as Operation Streamline attempts to ensure that all migrants caught along the border are criminally prosecuted and face jail time before deportation—in cases where migrants have crossed for a second time, sentences may be up to 10 or 20 years.  As border militarization intensifies, more migrants are caught and processed, representing profit for the private prison industry, even as still others die as they are forced into the harsher climate.

Leaving water in the desert in many ways is the smallest of accomplishments when faced with a larger system bent on criminalization and profit.  But it can save a life, and the act of doing so becomes a rebellion in the affirmation that life is inherently worth saving.

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