My husband, Gene, wrote this story about one of his experiences taking water out on trails in the Southern Arizona Desert.
Annie, Jeff, James and I were on the second day of a patrol. We were west of I-19 about 20 miles, and about 25 miles north of the Arizona border with Mexico. I had dropped off my three companions. The plan was for them to hike on a trail headed south looking for migrants as they went. I would return in two hours to pick them up. Meanwhile I would drive on to Gray's Well and wait. The well was prized for its drinking water in this desert terrain.
I drove around a corral and the well to a stand of cottonwood trees. Two men were l curled up in the shade, trying to hide out of sight,. I introduced myself and they told me their names, Alejandro and Pedro. We talked around and over my thin Spanish vocabulary. They were very pleasant young men, wanting to explain to me how their journey had brought them to this place. We managed to surmount the language barrier enough for me to understand a few things. They were from a small town in southern Mexico, they showed me pictures of the town and their wives and children. As we drank water from the well and food from my truck, they enjoyed telling me about some event in their town. I smiled and nodded but didn’t understand.
We were still relaxing when my three companions joined us. They had finished early and cut across country to find us at the well. Now, with Annie’s fluent Spanish, we could dig in deeper to check the Alejandro and Pedro health. Like everyone else who spent anytime in the sun in this country, they were dehydrated. We had plenty of water to solve that; there were no sprains, wounds or sicknesses to worry about, Except, their feet told a different story. I judged one man’s blisters as bad, but not unusually so. The second hombre had blisters that entirely covered one foot, and about half of his other foot.
Our No More Deaths policy is to leave the decision to the migrants after we spell out the possible consequences of their next steps: if you want, we will call the Border Patrol and they will pick you up and either drop you on the other side of the border, after they have processed you, or they will hold you for a couple of days in Tucson, then put you into a speeded-up legal process. We spell out that process. Or, you can choose to continue your journey hiking through rough country for about xx number of miles, with little water available. Tough choices.
Alejandro and Pedro insisted they would continue walking. We could imagine them going for a while, then collapsing in a place where no help was available. Annie and Jeff volunteered to accompany them for a couple of miles. Maybe by then they would realize the true cost of continuing to walk on feet in their condition. Annie and Jeff rejoined us after an hour or two. "They are struggling on. It's terrible to watch, but they won't give up!" We packed up and continued our patrolling on another trail until dark, then we camped for the night.
About two weeks later I was at Byrd Camp when a young man tracked me down. He was a No More Deaths volunteer who was working for us in Nogales. He had a message from the same two men--Alejandro and Pedro. They had made it down the trail until they came upon one of our water drops and another group of migrants. They were invited to join the group and continue hiking through the night. Not surprisingly, they could not keep up. They were lost in the desert for three days until the Border Patrol discovered them. They were deported to Nogales and were regaining their strength. They sent their thanks for our help, and they were returning the two rosaries I had given them. I was to give them to two other people who needed them.
What rosaries? It took me a few minutes to remember that I had given Alejandro and Pedro turquoise-colored necklaces with crosses attached when I found them by the well. Annie had been leaving them with water jugs we left on trails for the migrants. These were the first to be returned to us, but not the last.