Migrant Trail: We Walk for Life
We Walk for Life
May 27- June 2, 2013
The precarious reality of our borderlands calls us to walk. We are a spiritually diverse, multi-cultural group who walk together on a journey of peace to remember people, friends and family who have died, others who have crossed, and people who continue to come. We bear witness to the tragedy of death and of the inhumanity in our midst. Lastly, we walk as a community, in defiance of the borders that attempt to divide us, committed to working together for the human dignity of all peoples.
Join us for the seventh annual 75-mile journey from Sásabe, Sonora to Tucson, Arizona in solidarity with our migrant sisters and brothers who have walked this trail and lost their lives. We bear witness to the lives that are lost, the families who mourn, and the communities that suffer the divisions that borders wreak on all of us.
Join us for the welcoming celebration as participants complete the 75-mile journey, bearing witness to the gauntlet of death that has claimed more than 5,000 men, women and children on the U.S.-México border.
For those interested in walking with us the final day, please join us as the BLM campsite at the corner of Ajo Way and San Joaquin Road at 7:45am. Please remember to wear good walking shoes and bring water and sunscreen!
Participants must walk single-file on the side of the road for much of the walk, so please keep this in mind when considering bringing children along. If children are unable to keep up or walk safely, they will be required to ride in support vehicles.
Testimonies from Previous Walkers:
I participated in my first Migrant Trail in 2006. It was hot; my feet hurt constantly and team dynamics on the trail were messy. But I survived the 75-mile journey and have learned a few things over the last seven years of walking.
For one, on the Trail I feel my body ache, something this aspiring academic doesn’t recognize regularly. Secondly, I pray for those who have died in crossing, fellow human beings whose names are written on small, wooden cross that we carry with us. They become familiar, fellow journeyers. I also pray for changes in U.S. government policy. Lastly, I reflect deeply on the borderlands situation and build relationships that strengthen me.
In my life, the Migrant Trail makes it real. In walking, I connect with the reality of death, physical and emotional pain and disastrous government policies. I will walk the Migrant Trail until borderland deaths are no more.
–Jodi Read, 8th year walker
For the past ten years, The Migrant Trail has provided an active medium to honor brothers and sisters who have lost their lives in the Sonoran Desert. Migrant Trail participants walk to help us become more aware of the devastating impacts of militarization along the borderlands, the division of sister communities, and the damage to Creation and animal habitats. The continuous deaths along the U.S.–Mexico border call for witnesses to the injustices that migrants face.
The Migrant Trail invites us every year to stand in solidarity, to lift our voices and stomp our feet, to denounce our inhumane immigration policies. This is why, for the third time, I will join the 10th-Annual Migrant Trail.
–Saulo Padilla, 3rd year walker
Director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries
I join the Migrant Trail Walk each year to touch back to the beautiful, awful place in the desert where many have crossed and so many have died in the crossing. I return to the Altar Valley in solidarity with migrants, with all workers, and with those friends who continue to struggle in the movement to attain justice and respect for all. I come with the blood of my immigrant grandparents in my body, and the blood of more recent immigrants on my hands — as all of us do who live in economic and social privilege at the expense of those who are exploited and abused and killed in the name of unjust laws, racism and greed. I return to honor the courage, love of family and endurance of those who risk their lives to come north to work in our fields and cities, to feed their children, and to live here as essential members of our community. And I come away from the Trail each year with renewed energy to work toward reforming our nation’s immigration policies and restoring the dream of a just and welcoming community. Somos UN Pueblo — We are ONE people.
- Tom Kowal, 9th year walker
I am walking the Migrant Trail again this year because I need to remember that with which step I take – with each name I say – with each Presente – it is my participation in the system that allows this violence to continue and on the Migrant Trail I will recommit myself to the struggle to bring about an end to the injustice and work towards the day when no one will die in the desert.
- Paula Miller, 2nd year walker
After 4 years working on and around the border between Arizona and Sonora, this will be my first year on the Migrant Trail Walk. I have walked and worked in this desert before, but I have never taken the time to be formed by it and to commune with the spirits that pass through it and rest there. Although I know many individuals that have passed through this desert, now I have the option to experience but a small part of what they are impelled to do without back-up or amenity. I also look forward to making new acquaintances and forming new friendships at a level of depth perhaps inaccessible by any other means. Finally, I expect to be opened, challenged, and shaped in ways that I cannot yet imagine, but that I know will be foundational for all that is yet to come.
Jim Perdue, 1st year walker
National Coordinator for Immigration and Border Concerns
I will walk again this year, the 10th anniversary of the Migrant Trail, to remember and grieve with families who have been left behind. For every person sadly discovered in the Sonoran desert, a family in Mexico or Central America has lost a loved one, a child, a grandchild, an aunt or an uncle. As a grandfather and father, the pain experienced by those whose family members have perished in the Arizona borderlands moves me deeply.
I pray for a day when the grandchildren of my migrant brothers and sisters will be able to sit on their papas’ laps, surround their beloved with love and kisses, and cherish their time together.
But first we walk. We walk to say, “Tear the wall down, bring justice to our world, and let our families live!”
Dan Abbott, 9th year walker
I choose to walk the Migrant Trail to remind myself of the ongoing injustices that occur every day in my backyard. Even living in Tucson it is easy to go about your day unaware of the suffering of our brothers and sisters–people leaving their homes, others attempting to cross, those waiting for family members to arrive, or for people to arrive back home. The walk is one small way that I say: I am aware. I am humbled. I remember and respect those that have passed under inhumane circumstances.
With watery eyes I speak and hear the names of people who have died as they pursued a dream. It’s easy to feel that we are powerless to make changes, but walking reminds me that we each have voice. I also encounter amazing people from across the country with information, stories, and hope for a different future. Walking is one small thing I can do to contribute to this vision.
Jennifer Metzler, 4th year walker
The first year of the Migrant Trail, our group had inadvertently selected the hottest week of the summer, and were exposed to temperatures over 110 degrees. I remember walking that year and being completely shocked by how incredibly uncomfortable I was, and I marveled that so many of my friends had made the journey with a small fraction of the support that our privileged group had. Every year, I try to make a conscious decision to embrace the discomfort, to be grateful for the reminder of the agony so many people go through.
The first year I walked, I remember mentioning the Migrant Trail to one of my spiritual elders, telling him about the sacrifice we all made to make the journey. He stopped me, smiled, and said, “That is not a sacrifice. It is an offering.” It was a gentle reprimand, but a firm reminder of my space in the immigrant rights movement as a person of privilege. Each year, as I walk, I try to hold onto that kind rebuke, and never forget that the offering we make of discomfort and blisters and fatigue is a means by which we can truly stand in solidarity with our migrant sisters and brothers, and use the privilege we have been blessed with to demand justice on the border.
Kat Rodriguez, 10th year walker
On the 6th day of the Migrant Trail Walk in 2011, my left leg cramped up while I was walking. When it did, I thought I could walk through the pain. However, the group was moving at a good clip, and the faster I moved on my cramped calf, the more excruciating the pain. I fell way to the back of the line, and couldn’t keep up.
When I got into the support vehicle my first thought was that if I had been a migrant, I might’ve fallen way behind. In that heat, which was an almost unbearable 102 degrees, and without too much water or food, I might’ve been as good as dead.
However it was my second thought, a few seconds later as I stared out the truck window back at the Arizona desert where we had been, that nailed the reason for why I walk. Why I walked in 2011, in 2006, and 2004. And why I will walk in 2013. A simple leg cramp, generally shrugged off with a little rest, should never result in death. Yet many such injuries have, for people who need our mourning. And many more will–fully predictable (yet, easily changeable) because of U.S. border enforcement policy-for people who need our solidarity.
Todd Miller, 4th year walker
The Migrant Trail is no cakewalk. Seven days of hard walking in the desert means blisters, cholla cactus spines, and exhaustion from the dry heat. In my past journeys on the Trail, I have learned of the small gifts of food, water, a loving touch, even the ceremony of foot washing-all of them simple acts of caring that move me to tears when my body is at its worst. And it is precisely this sort of basic compassion for others that compels me to walk the Migrant Trail year after year.
I have come to see the walk as a spiritual calling, as a pilgrimage that reminds me of my duties to care for the stranger in our midst, to speak up for those who cannot or could not, to fight to save human lives. As I walk through this desert, I hear God’s clarion call as bright and as clear as the Sonoran Desert’s sun to advocate with my feet and my prayers for fellow travelers who walk in their great struggle to better care for loved ones.
Christi Brookes, 7th year walker
REGISTRATION WILL BEGIN ON MARCH 15, 2013
Migrant Trail Cosponsors
Coalición de Derechos Humanos
Tucson No More Deaths
St. John’s Episcopal Church of Mount Pleasant
Frontera de Cristo
Southside Presbyterian Church
Mennonite Central Committee
Shalom Mennonite Church
365 Day Fast in Solidarity with DREAMers
Earlham College Border Studies Program
Coloradans For Immigrant Rights
American Friends Service Committee Colorado
Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans
Church of the Good Shepherd
Tucson Buddhist Meditation Center
Newman Center at UA
Most Holy Trinity Church
Grace St. Paul Episcopal Church
8th Day Center for Justice
Mountain View Friends Meeting Peace and Justice Committee
Narrative History of the Migrant Trail
In May 2004, the first group of walkers initiated The Migrant Trail: We Walk for Life. The idea of the walk had been discussed for a few years before the critical mass came together, coinciding with the formation of the No Más Muertes/No More Deaths movement. Principal supporting organizations in the first years were Derechos Humanos and BorderLinks. People from all over the U.S., Europe and Latin America have participated in the walk over the years. The youngest person to complete the entire walk was 13, the oldest –72.
The diverse array of nationalities, ages, and sponsoring groups that have come together time and again demonstrates the continuing, grave concern over current U.S. border and immigration policies. The importance of the walk, furthermore, has been validated from the first year when migrants who had previously crossed the desert themselves approached walk participants at the final ceremony and expressed their thanks for what we had done. For these reasons, we continue to walk every year to express our solidarity with the migrants and to advocate for positive change in the borderlands.
Year 1: 2004
The first group to walk the Trail included a contingent of students from Colorado College, many of whom remained to volunteer the entire summer with No More Deaths. One of those students, Daniel Strauss, would be arrested the following summer and charged with transporting migrants while taking them to seek medical attention. After a protracted legal battle, charges were later dropped against Strauss and fellow volunteer, Shanti Sellz.
Also that first year, Roberto, a Guatemalan immigrant, participated in the walk. He had crossed the same desert ten years before and was granted political asylum. One of the most emotional memories of the walk was when he spoke of the tremendous suffering he had experienced in the desert. Traveling north, he mistakenly grabbed a snake thinking it was just a stick while his group ran out of water. In contrast, Migrant Trail walkers have unlimited food and water, yet still encounter difficulties. During the first walk, several walkers had to leave the walk at various times due to medical reasons. Blisters proved to be a daily nuisance. A good medical team and medical screening of walkers was therefore important from the beginning.
Year 2: 2005
For the second walk in 2005, a delegation from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) joined in the organizing. CPT has been involved in the Arizona border region ever since with their tradition of direct action and spiritual reflection. The spiritual component of the walk has always been a valuable part of the experience, as it is for the migrants themselves who face an often nightmarish journey of life and death. A ceremony has been held on the final day each year based on Native American tradition. Xavier Teso and Maria Padilla have been among the spiritual leaders of these ceremonies. Also Fr. Bob Carney has presided over a foot washing ceremony at the walk’s closing.
Year 3: 2006
The 2006 walk had the largest group of walkers ever, with about 75 completing the entire walk. This led to logistical challenges, at times straining the capacity of the organizing team.
However, that same year, the Mennonite Central Committee became an integral part of organizing the walk and brought along their first delegation. The Franciscans also began a tradition of participating in the walk. Finally, Coloradans for Immigrant Rights began to bring consistent and critical assistance and logistical support. These groups have continued to provide consistent support ever since.
Migrant encounters are not at all uncommon on the Trail. In 2006, while the large group was in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, a lost migrant approached the group on several occasions. The lone and demoralized man wandered through the tall grass of the refuge seeking relief and shelter. After providing him water and food, Migrant Trail organizers called the Border Patrol—at his request—because the migrant wished to return to Mexico.
Year 4: 2007
The following year had a smaller group of walkers. A Buddhist monk participated in the walk and provided delicious Thai food on several occasions. Also, an Arizona state legislator participated in the entire walk, committing to fighting the flood of anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona. Despite strong anti-immigrant sentiment in the state and its laws, the Migrant Trail Walk has always encountered an overwhelmingly positive reception with people stopping to donate water and provide other hospitality. All meals are donated by individuals and groups who drive to the walk and serve the walkers. A group of community women, Las Promotoras de Derechos Humanos, provide a huge meal for walkers and community members who attend the final gathering in Kennedy Park.
Year 5: 2008
2008’s walk including 65 walkers total, with two delegations from peace organizations including Witness for Peace and Mennonite Central Committee. The walkers’ camaraderie was evident in the Friday night talent show, a favorite hallmark of each year’s walk. As there are many Migrant Trailers who return every year to walk Altar Valley, the bonds of friendship have grown deeper and stronger over the years. Important connections are forged between diverse groups in Arizona and nationwide who are working together on migrant and human rights issues.
Year 6: 2009
The following year saw another group come together in solidarity with the migrants. A group of Canadian students and their professor traveled to Arizona to participate. That year was marked by much contact with migrants as the group moved through the desert. Lost, hungry, and thirsty, our migrant companions reached out for much needed help. Seeing this need and desperation up close only drives home the need for changes in policy in our deserts.
Year 7: 2010
The Migrant Trail 2010 took place in the midst of a frenzy of attention on Arizona’s recent hardline border legislation, in particular S.B. 1070. As the furor over the legislation boiled over locally, nationally, and internationally, another group of committed individuals slowly walked through the desert to peacefully protest the racism, ignorance, and fear behind Arizona and U.S. immigration and border policies. This walk, perhaps more than any other year, was heavy with concern about the treatment of our neighbors from Mexico and Central America. Here again, the week served as a strong witness to the commitment and passion of all involved to work for change.
Year 8: 2011
In 2011, we shared another incredible year together walking with new Migrant Trailers from Michigan, Peru, Canada, and Germany. While we enjoyed each others’ company, those of us who have walked for many years already lamented the long years of bad border and immigration policies. The infamous hardline policies and laws in Arizona and Alabama continued to make national headlines, this even as the death tolls south of Tucson kept mounting. And yet the migrants still come in search of a better life for themselves and their families. As we left Sásabe, Sonora at the beginning of the Trail, a group of young migrants were waiting under some mesquite trees. They were also probably fellow travelers with us in the desert that week; we will never know if they all survived their trip across the line.
Year 9: 2012
While a smaller group journeyed together for the 2012 Migrant Trail, the impact of the walk was no less powerful with smaller numbers. The soaring temperatures and physical challenges proved no match for the diverse group of 47, all unified in hope for long-needed change in U.S. borderlands policies that impact our migrant brothers and sisters, our families, communities and neighborhoods in the United States, Mexico and Central America. On the Saturday before the walk ended, the group spontaneously gathered to discuss what the Trail meant for them. People of diverse backgrounds and faiths were all in agreement. No matter our differences, those of us who participate in the Migrant Trail are grateful for the community and solidarity that we experience over our 7 days together in the desert—something we wish that could be extended to all who are in our borderland.
Year 10: 2013
This is the tenth year of the walk . . . . Sadly, hundreds of migrants continue to die every year crossing the border so the need for doing the walk has not lessened. In fact, government policies punishing migrants have only worsened, this in spite of the recent overtures for immigration policy reform. Militarization of the border is still proceeding, and our migrant compañeras and compañeros are still dying in US deserts. Once again, it’s time to put one foot in front of the other and walk.
Originally prepared by Richard Boren
Updated by Jodi Read, Kat Rodriguez and Christi Brookes