Filed under: Business + Politics, Energy + Climate, Local Events + Action, Society + Media | Tags: arizona, arrivaca, border, border patrol, crossing, desert, el norte, illegal immigrant, luis alberto urrea, migrant, no mas muertes, no more deaths, prevention through deterrence, sonora, the devil's highway, undocumented migrant
I was in a place where no human should be, and yet evidence of human suffering surrounded me. In front of me, the Sonoran desert extended as far as I could see—rolling mountains and ravines covered with low brush and waving ocotillos—deceptively beautiful. Yet beside me, under my feet, all around me were remnants of human desperation. There were dirty, crumpled blankets; wrappers and cans; water bottles and flasks. There were discarded jeans, soiled maxi pads. There were open bottles of glue—sniffed to keep pain and hunger away. There were bras dangling from tree branches—on display as rape trophies.
I was standing where, only a night or two before, a large group of undocumented migrants making the crossing from Mexico to the United States had rested. We had stumbled upon the cave cut into the edge of Jalisco Ridge, a place so remote it could be the end of the world. We had stumbled upon a beautiful, terrible hell.
It was a visceral example of how current policy forces people into into opposition with an extreme environment. No one would intentionally destroy a place this beautiful, except if desperate. And anyone in this desert is desperate. They are desperate for work, desperate for a better life, desperate to rejoin friends and family in the still mystical El Norte. They are so desperate at the hands of economics and politics that they will attempt to cross this no-mans land.
The desert is cruel. In twenty-four hours, temperatures reach both extremes— hypothermia or hyperthermia can kill you. So can a rattlesnake or a scorpion. The desert gives no water—and it is physically impossible for a person to carry enough water to make it across. Since the early nineties, US Border Patrol has focused on closing all routes into the country save access through the desert. The strategy “prevention through deterrence” was instituted during the Clinton administration. The hope was that the desert would deter migrants. It doesn’t—it kills them. More than 47% of the Mexican undocumented migrants currently in the United States have arrived since the year 2000. But a migrant is 3 times more likely to die during their crossing than they were in the early nineties. This year, volunteers have discovered 183 bodies. Many more will remain unfound. Many more will die.
There is an old Indian legend that the desert caves are inhabited by witches. I could feel her presence in that cave. She was angry. She was angry that someone had entered her sacred space. She was taking bloodthirsty retribution.
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