In preparation for Justice GA in Phoenix, Ariz., (June 20-24, 2012) the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) have jointly organized three Service Learning trips to the U.S.-Mexico border with our partner organization, BorderLinks. The first trip began on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and continued until Jan. 27. The delegation was led by UUA President, the Rev. Peter Morales, who encourages UUs throughout the country to participate in one of the Service Learning trips planned for April and May with BorderLinks. Below, Rev. Morales shares his reflections on walking in the same desert where thousands of migrants traverse, often at the cost of their own lives, in the hopes of crossing the border each year.
Picking grapefruit and oranges. Walking in the desert where migrants die by the thousands. Dinner with a small intentional community that devotes itself to helping migrants who are released and have nowhere to go. Not a typical day at the office. This was the second day of our BorderLinks delegation learning trip to Tucson and the U.S.-Mexico border.
The morning began with picking two pickup truck loads full of grapefruit and oranges that will be donated to a refugee group. They will sell much of it. I know I will feel the effects of actual physical labor tomorrow, yet it felt good and satisfying to see the bins fill.
The afternoon was much tougher. It was a trip to a site where No More Deaths leaves water for migrants. The terrain is amazingly rugged. As enforcement gets tougher, migrants try more and more remote and arduous routes. Hundreds die in this southern Arizona desert every year. We see a rough memorial at a place where migrants were found dead. Far off in the distance are other mountains they would have to cross before getting this far. This land is hard to walk in broad daylight; migrants walk it at night with no lights to guide them. When I was young and fit I might have had a chance. Perhaps. Today it would be certain death for me as it is for the young, the old, and those who simply get disoriented.
In the evening we met a young woman from the Dominican Republic who had just been released from detention after something like six months. Her family had paid $10,000 for her to attempt to get to New York via Guatemala, Mexico, and the Arizona dessert. She was caught in the desert. She is 22. Her reports of mistreatment in the for-profit detention center are disgusting. The detention center is run by a corporation that supports laws like the infamous SB 1070.
This bright and charming young woman is staying at Casa Mariposa (Butterfly House), run by dedicated young people. They go to the bus station at midnight to offer a place to stay to anyone who arrives from a detention center. We learn that these centers often hold people for several years. There is no time limit. The law, such as it is, works very slowly. The profits pile up.
Yet we leave inspired. There are so many people doing such good work—BorderLinks, No More Deaths, Casa Mariposa, and so many more. They do the work of compassion day after day, year after year. If the arc of the universe does bend toward justice, it is because of the stubborn, loving resolve of people like this. And, I trust, people like us.
Cross-posted from President Morales’s blog, Beyond Belief.