I have just arrived home from a 5-day trip to Tucson, where I studied immigration issues with 20 other Unitarian Universalist ministers through a program offered by BorderLinks and the UU College of Social Justice. BorderLinks is a nonprofit educational organization in Tucson that offers experiential learning in the borderlands between Mexico, the United States, and beyond. The UU College of Social Justice uses experiential learning to help Unitarian Universalists deepen and sustain justice work in our congregations and communities.
Our days were long and emotionally intense. Our first morning together, we drove an hour into the desert and then walked a ways to a shrine for the hundreds of migrant deaths that occur each year in the desert outside Tucson, people attempting to walk from Mexico into the United States. Smugglers called “coyotes” offer to guide desperate people into the desert for a fee.
Migrants are told the walk will take two days, when the reality is the journey will take seven. There is no way to carry enough water for seven days in the desert, not when travelling by foot. When it’s not debilitatingly hot during the day, it is prohibitively cold at night. The terrain is rough and mountainous.
Even before this trip, I had heard of the humanitarian organization No More Deaths. Founded 10 years ago, their mission is to end death and suffering in the Mexico-U.S. borderlands. The group leaves bottles of water throughout the desert and staffs a camp in the desert to provide medical care to migrants.
What I didn’t know—and was proud to discover—is that No More Deaths is a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson.
During my time in Tucson, we did much more than visit the desert. We witnessed the federal judicial process called Operation Streamline that treats thousands of migrants like so much garbage to be tossed out (yes, I have some strong opinions about what I witnessed, and I am grateful Operation Streamline is not used here in California). We spoke with migrants who had just been deported back to Mexico. We spoke with Mexicans whose lives have been negatively impacted by businesses moving to Mexico after NAFTA passed. We spoke with families that have been threatened with separation. We heard from a migrant who has sought and received sanctuary at a church, where she will remain to avoid deportation.
Day after day, we witnessed people’s suffering and anger. We also witnessed their hope and determination.
It will take me quite a while to process all I experienced. I have much to read and much learning ahead. I hope that some of you will be interested in learning more about immigration as well.
Bright blessings, Sharon