Cal State East Bay Catholic club spends week walking in migrants’ footsteps
Elfrida, Arizona — One by one, Cal State East Bay students and alumni from the university’s Catholic Club walked along a dusty road. In their hands they carried white crosses, many bearing the name of an immigrant who died attempting to cross the nearby border with Mexico. Others simply read “Desconocido” or “unknown.”
The group was part of an immersion trip, a weeklong experience designed to raise awareness about the ongoing migrant crisis at the US-Mexico border. But for the Cal State East Bay participants, it was far more.
“As the daughter of an undocumented parent, I felt called to help aid migrants who, like my father, migrated through the desert in miserable conditions,” said senior Anahi Mejia.
Alumna Aurora Ramos expressed a similar sentiment saying she also felt the trip was a unique way to bear witness to the crisis.
“It’s one thing to read, hear and study about the migrant experience, but another thing entirely to experience the desert,” she said.
While on the trip, the Catholic Club members worked with several local organizations, religious leaders and volunteer organizations, including Los Samaritans and Casa Alitas. One day was spent at a vigil in Douglas, Arizona in honor of the 300 migrants who were found dead in Cochise County since 2002. Another day, they drove through the desert with the Tucson Samaritans for the group’s annual “Flood the Desert” event leaving water, food and medical supplies along the route. After crossing the border into Agua Prieta, Sonora, they worked at a migrant shelter called Centro de Asistencia a los Migrantes en Exodo and stopped in at a woman-run co-op known as DouglasPrieta Works and a coffee shop called Cafe Justo, both of which have been affected by NAFTA.
Over the course of the week, the young women learned firsthand of the desperation that brings individuals to the border.
“Most are fleeing their towns because of organized crime and because it is too dangerous to remain in the places where they are from,” Mejia said. “The desert is nothing compared to the horrendous conditions that await them back home. Because of this, they all take a leap of faith and cross the border.”
For Ramos, the trip was also a reminder that the ongoing crisis is, as she describes it, “man-made.” She described finding water bottles left by volunteers in the desert slashed and empty in an attempt to turn back migrants and the “sterile courtroom” where individuals are given just two minutes before a judge to plead their case.
“I was surprised by the amount of apathy and dehumanization immigrants face as they risk their lives to reunite with families or find a safer future,” she said. “It’s man-made policies like enforcement through deterrence that makes the journey so dangerous. It’s the desert being used as a weapon that has claimed thousands upon thousands of lives.”
But they also came back from the trip inspired by the stories of hope and humanity that were shared.
“This trip made me look at my own life through a different lens,” Mejia said. “I experienced the heat, the thirst, but most importantly I caught a glimpse of the hope that my father, my uncles and my grandparents had when crossing the border. Knowing that my father put his body and mind through so much trauma and stress crossing the border just to make it back to his family blows my mind. I can appreciate the life that I have lived thanks to my parents.”