April 5, 2021

Blast from the past: The latest 'new' migrant crossing point in Arizona: A bird's eye view (April 24, 2006)

[Cross-posted from ImmigrationProf Blog]

By Kevin R. Johnson

It appears that matters along the U.S./Mexico border have not changed that much.  In a blog post in April 2006, I wrote about a visit to the border in southern Arizona:

"Several members of the group visited one of the dormitories that temporarily housed migrants and had a haunting experience. . . . .

I saw a young girl, maybe four years old with her mother. Let's call her Elena because she kind of looked like my 10-year-old daughter Elena, with a dark complexion and dark, straight hair. As it turns out, young Elena was headed to the United States through the desert the next day with her mother. The trip would begin with a drive for about 1.5 hours over unpaved -- and very bumpy -- roads to the last stop. Migrants then would be taken by a smuggler for a short van ride and then left in the Sonoran desert. With a guide, they would walk 3-4 miles to the border and then for as many as 20-40 miles through the desert, where hopefully a ride would meet them there and pick them up to take them to the interior of the United States. Elena seemed very young and quite small. I could not help but wonder with sadness, would she make it? Would she suffer? Later, after our guide told the group that we probably had met some people who would die on the journey, I thought about Elena.

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The desert, filled with mesquite, is dry as the proverbial bone. The high temperature averages 105 degrees in the summer. It was a `cool' 80-90 degrees during our visit. We walked some of the migrant trials on the U.S. side, setting off some sensors and bringing a bevy of Border Patrol all-terrain vehicles down on us. The trails are rugged, with dry creek beds filled with temporary shelters, empty water bottles, clothes, backpacks, shoes, and wrappers from snacks. Every so often you would run across a piece of clothing or a child's shoe. It was eerie and one could only wonder what the journey would be like at night or in the throes of confusion due to dehydration on a deadly hot day. Getting lost would be easy for the terrain and mesquite all look alike.

Hundreds of migrants die in this very desert every year, with thousands having died in the deserts along the U.S./Mexico border since the United States ramped up border enforcement in 1994. People in the Tucson area know of the hundreds of deaths that occur each year in the unforgiving desert. Groups like the Samaritans and Humanos Derechos try to provide assistance but migrants still die. Congressman Raul Grijalva who represents southern Arizona and voted against the Sensenbrenner bill, has a good sense of the issues. Grijalva addressed the journalists at the University of Arizona last week. When asked about why Congress generally seemed unconcerned with the thousands of border deaths and in fact seems eager -- indeed, dead set -- to add to the enforcement budget, he said that many members of Congress simply viewed migrants as `collateral damage' of the border enforcement efforts.

As I returned home, I kept wondering whether young Elena had successfully entered the United States, or whether she had ended up as `collateral damage' in the war on `illegal aliens.'"

It appears that there are more unaccompanied minors making the journey North than in 2006.  Otherwise, many aspects of the journey remain the same.