Today I stood as an observer at the Border Patrol checkpoint on Arivaca Rd. I arrived at 7:30am, just before the bright yellow school buses rolled through. Cars, one after another, passed through the checkpoint stopped briefly to answer the BP's question about citizenship. About 9:30 I spotted a man walking far out in the field; was he a local man taking a short cut? No, this field doesn't belong to a ranch; it is broad and tree covered. The man carried a bag slung over his shoulder, he was short and walked slowly, deliberately. He walked toward us, the "observers". There were three of us. As he drew closer, we realized he was a migrant. If he stayed back a bit, in the trees he could walk right past the checkpoint and out to the road, He could continue, but he walked slowly, thoughtfully forward. He came to a stop about 20 feet from us. It was too far away for us to approach him without calling attention to him, but close enough to see his face; his tired demeanor, his worn clothing. Then a Border Patrol officer saw him. The officer climbed over the fence and slowly walked in his direction. He towered over the short, dark haired man. They spoke quietly for a few moments, then turned and walked toward the Border Patrol checkpoint. He was processed and put in the agent's car and driven away. His dream ended there on Arivaca Rd. His hopes and wishes were left in that field. His silence and sober look spoke volumes to us, who could only stand and watch.
Three volunteers and I arrived early this morning at Amado, AZ. The Border Patrol has had a check point here since 2007. They monitor the comings and goings of every vehicle along the road. Unfortunately for the residents of the town of Arivaca, 23 miles to the East, there is no way to leave the area without passing through either this check point or another one; many residents have grown tired of questions that seem beyond the scope of the Border Patrol. The ACLU has trained observers and provided a print out of the rights of citizens crossing through check points. The Border Patrol does not keep statistics on stops, or even immigration apprehensions created from these check points, so the citizens of the town decided that they would monitor the check point for several months as a way of protesting and pointing out to the government that the militarization of the border is seriously infringing on the lives of the residents of this Arizona community.
There is a designated area where volunteers may stand to monitor the Enforcement Zone.
It is a positive experience to participate in this, I am grateful to live in a country where citizens can monitor the military and police for abuse.
Next to the area where we were posted we placed this simple sign.
After months of preparation, of dreaming, planning, and conference calls with folks planning the Congress in California, I finally completed the largest exhibit in which I've ever been involved. Pamela Hoffmeister's wonderful portraits of migrants complimented and added to the overall effect. After all, I believe it was the artifacts, shoes, blankets, identity cards, temporary handcuffs and children's items that told the story. Meeting with the people who walked the Stations, meeting the children of undocumented parents who are working passionately for reform was profound.
I do not know what is next. I am back here in Tucson about to head out the door to facilitate at a talk by John Fife, one of the founders of the Sanctuary Movement, and Allison Harrington, the courageous minister of Southside Presbyterian Church, who are speaking tonight on Justice for a Lenten Evening at Trinity Presbyterian Church. To be with these two brave, strong activists is an honor and privilege. Tomorrow I am heading to act as a legal observer at a Border Patrol checkpoint at Amado, Arizona. The Border Patrol has a checkpoint on Arivaca Road where everyday members of the community must stop, be submitted to questions and go on their way. Several reports of abuse and harassment by the Border Patrol have been reported to the ACLU. The Arivaca community created a petition, signed by 85% of the community asking that the checkpoint be removed. The letter wasn't answered. So the community formed a team, trained by a lawyer, to observe the checkpoint for two days every week. I attended the training last week, before I zoomed off to California, and will be standing by the roadside tomorrow morning. I will be there, along with three others, when the school bus comes through. In the past the Border Patrol has entered the bus, we shall watch tomorrow. More to come on what takes place.
Another look at the display.
This spring I wanted to create a way for others to experience the power and sadness of the shoes found along the trails. I wanted it to be a meditative experience, a personal experience. I awoke one morning thinking I could create the entire labyrinth from the shoes themselves and mentioned this to my good friend, Norma. Being an enthusiastic supporter of my work, she mentioned it to Leo, at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Tucson. They have a beautiful labyrinth.
A phone call turned the creative idea into a reality. Most Holy Trinity donated a 900 sq' canvas to paint a 31'x31' labyrinth so it could be used by various organizations. The top picture is me just after I'd finished. Thanks for volunteers from Most Holy Trinity for helping with the final details.
In April the Catholic Reporter sponsored a conference, Eucharist Without Borders, in Rio Rico, Arizona where the labyrinth was displayed for the first time. The three images above are from that event. People were deeply moved by the shoes and by realizing that only a few miles beyond the walls of the hotel, people were walking the desert.
At the end of July, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet asked to have the labyrinth at their annual meeting. Again, many people expressed how deeply they were moved as they walked among the shoes. The strangest thing that occurred was a small fire! As two sisters walked along, they saw smoke rising from one corner. No one was near the burning corner. The Sisters immediately ran to the corner and poured water from the jugs onto the fire. There were no clues as to how the fire started. Fortunately, only a corner burned. Perhaps, it was a way for the Holy Spirit to emphasize the suffering and the heat that travelers experience in the Arizona desert.