May 3, 2012
This isn’t your typical spring break trip to Cancun. This past March, eight Hamilton College students traveled to the Mexican-American border to work with the group “No More Deaths.” For a week, they volunteered hiking for miles a day on the border of Southern Arizona, carrying water and other supplies for migrants trying to cross into the United States. Last Thursday, in a room crowded with students and free Tex Mex, the participants got to tell their story.
No More Deaths is an organization whose mission goal is to “end death and suffering on the U.S./Mexico border through civil initiative: the conviction that people of conscience must work openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights.” Hundreds of migrants die each year trying to cross into the United States, and there are many reports of abuse at the hands of border patrol, not to mention the deportation process. Believing the border situation to be a violation of human rights and a social injustice, No More Deaths works solely with volunteers to bring aid to lost migrants in the blazing Arizona desert. A sign on their website homepage bares the chilling reminder that, since this past October, 71 people have died on the Arizona border.
While federal law prohibits the actions volunteers can take, the volunteers’ main mission is to provide immediate help when they find people who need it. They carry food, water and medical supplies, which they give to whoever they find on the trail, be it hiker or migrant. They are also able to give directions back to Mexico and to help migrants find medical aid.
Hamilton students Kate Harloe ’12, Clare Browne ’12, Leah Kramer ’14, Liz Costello ’13, Rebecca Gaines ’15, Grace Lee ’13, Heather Haj ’15 and Elsie Love ’12 participated in the trip, organized by Harloe, this past spring. Harloe, Costello, Lee and Browne had participated in the trip before. After a two day orientation in Tuscon, the Hamilton group traveled to Arivaca, Arizona, a town 12 miles from the Mexican border and the site of Byrd Camp, one of No More Death’s three camps. A typical day consisted of waking up at 6:30 a.m. and dividing into hiking groups based on EMT, hiking and Spanish-speaking skills. The groups hiked to find water drops, specific areas designated by No More Deaths to leave supplies.
“Learning the migrants’ stories and their experiences crossing the border was the most profound part of the trip. Some had left their homes in Mexico and Central America in hope of a better life. The most surprising part, however, was the overwhelming number of people we met who had been living in the US for years, had been deported, and were trying returning home to their families,” Gaines ’15 said.
At the meeting on Thursday, students got to share their own experiences encountering migrants on their hikes. They also discussed the difficulty of watching a deportation trial. Called Operation Streamline, these “cattle call” trials sentance up to 70 people at a time. Although they reported that the experience was emotionally straining to watch, it added to their understanding of the deportation process and border situation.
Gaines described the experience as “one of the most intense and eye-opening weeks of my life.” All the participants encouraged students to get involved with No More Deaths, going to volunteer either this summer or next spring. As Gaines said, “Although the week is long done, our work with No More Deaths is not.”