Notes from a desert water drop

Photo © Michelle Gabel.

There’s value in taking notes as events unfold in front of you; even more value in hanging onto frayed, tattered notebooks from key moments in your life.

A particular notebook has been among piles on my desk all winter. It’s a yellow, 5 inch-by-3 inch spiral bound that fits neatly into most any pocket — as it did during a September “water drop” in the desert with Border Angels, a San Diego-based immigrant advocacy organization.

I looked through the notebook the other day, and profound words came back at me. Not my words. The words of the young woman who led our group on an all-day, 7-mile trek into the California desert on a day that reached a relatively comfortable 95 degrees.

Sixty volunteers met before 6 a.m., then split up into more than a dozen vehicles and rode east from San Diego. We then divided into a half-dozen small groups, each assigned to a designated route well-known to Border Angels. Angeles de la Frontera for many years has been dropping water, food and life-saving supplies for migrant desert crossers.

Even so, migrant deaths in the desert number more than 10,000, and that estimate may be low. There’s not much shade out there, and it’s hard to carry enough water (a gallon weighs 8.34 pounds) to avoid dehydration and death.

Enough of my words. Here are the words of our group leader, in italics, as best as I can glean from my scribbles under such challenging conditions. Please keep them in mind as the racist Trump administration continues its assault on immigrants and humanity.

What you are doing today is crucial. I don’t want to find a child’s skeleton in the desert. If we’re not out there putting out food and water, children are going to die.

The desert equals death. It is inhospitable.

Migrants are searching for a chance for life. Desperate people do what it takes to survive. What we have now are people who are fleeing, not migrating. More and more women and children.

A child’s skeleton was discovered in a cave in a national park near the border a year ago.

The discovery was reported to Border Patrol. A year later, it’s still there. If a child’s skeleton were found in any other national park, under other circumstances, do you think it would still be there?

It can take up to two weeks to cross the desert to safety. And it is not just the brutal conditions and terrain that are sources of danger.

Women often take birth control pills before attempting to cross, in case they are raped.

Some desert crossers are asylum-seekers who give up their lawful pursuit of asylum because of cruel policies ramped up by Donald Trump, in particular Remain in Mexico.

Forty-two thousand people have been ‘disappeared’ by the Remain In Mexico policy (estimates are now 60,000). They are dumped out onto the streets with no resources, no recourse. Their court dates are eight, nine months out. Prevention Through Deterrence (the official US immigration policy instituted at the southern border in 1994) kills people. It’s meant to keep people at the fringes suffering.

Photo © Michelle Gabel.

Then there is “the wall.” Activists and advocates scoff at it, make fun of it. They take video of themselves walking around sections of wall, from the U.S. into Mexico and back.

Walls like this one don’t keep anybody out. Nine out of 10 people make it across on their second try.

The wall is easy. They put up sections in high visibility areas. It promotes the ideology and narrative of danger.

It perpetuates the exploitation of black and brown labor — cheap, undocumented, imprisoned labor … It keeps prices down and CEO salaries up.

There’s no difference in the potential (of migrants) to rise up, except all the facilities are in place to keep them down.

The land where the wall has gone up, of course, originally belonged to Mexico. As did parts of what are now Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Texas, Colorado and Wyoming.

How dare we build a wall on stolen land? How dare we dictate migration on stolen land? How is it that we have $150 billion to militarize the border but no money for education, infrastructure or job creation?

What has $150 billion gotten us? It’s a facade. A fascist parade.

Photo © Michelle Gabel.

Semi-retired, thoroughly disgusted progressive grandfather.

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