The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Students’ spring break addresses hardships of border-crossing

This spring break, 13 students from Guilford chose to spend their spring break in the desert of Arizona. The trip was part of an alternative spring break program sponsored by an organization called No More Deaths (NMD) that aids immigrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border.

According to senior Raji Ward, one of the trip’s coordinators, No More Deaths is a non-governmental organization that operates out of Tucson, Arizona.

“Overall the trip was very good,” said sophomore Daryn Lane. “It was emotionally very intense.”

Lane and a team of three others came across two different groups of immigrants making their way through the desert.

“We gave each of them food, water, dry socks and blankets. We were told not to ask too many questions but they understood what we were doing,” said Lane. “It was comforting to see that they were all surviving. On the other hand, it was difficult to fathom how much farther they had to go and what might lie ahead.”

NMD’s Web site reports that 2,000 men, women, and children have died trying to cross the border since 1998. This drove them to organize and set up camp in the summer of 2004.

The mission statement of NMD is clear: “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.”

The most immediate goal of NMD is to provide water, food, and medical assistance to migrants trekking through the Arizona desert. There exists still a larger goal of NMD: to monitor and check U.S. border operations and to bring the plight of the migrant to public consciousness.

The efforts of NMD, including the administering of basic humanitarian aid, have been met with much opposition. Certain events occurring in the solitude of the desert have underscored the tension between humanitarian aid and the law of the land.

For example, in July 2009, 13 NMD volunteers were given littering tickets for leaving water jugs in the same general area. Temperatures at this location in July can reach up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. On the student trip, Ward and other students also heard direct accounts of the Border Patrol slashing water jugs.

According to a report conducted by the Border Network for Human Rights, immigrants have been forced into these rugged parts of the desert because of current border enforcement strategies.

In 1994, the U.S. government situated walls and border patrol agents in urban areas as a part of Operation Gatekeeper and Operation Hold the Line. In an interview with the Phoenix New Times, the Border Patrol referred to this strategy as “prevention through deterrence.” Volunteers with NMD have called it “deterrence through death.”

Although this study was conducted in 1996, the deaths of immigrants have steadily continued. According to NMD’s Web site, 85 immigrants have lost their lives crossing the Arizona /Mexico border since Oct. 1, 2009.

“It truly is a war zone out there,” said junior Margot Andress, a NMD volunteer.

She made a distinction between politics and humanitarianism and said, “The belief in whether or not immigrants should be allowed into the U.S. is a political decision. Giving water and aid to those in need is an act of humanitarianism; it transcends political agendas.”

Yet a substantial group of American citizens would argue that it is still important to keep a strict policy on illegal immigration.

Volunteering is not limited to those who wish to save the lives of migrants; U.S. Immigration lists anti-immigration groups around the country, including “The Minutemen,” who recruit volunteers to patrol the U.S./Mexico border, searching for trespassers.

Lane reported that while walking in a Mexican town days later, she actually recognized one of the migrant’s faces. The migrant told Lane and her friends, “Yes, I recognize you too. A rancher called border patrol shortly after we crossed paths. Our group was split apart and we were all deported.”

Multiple NMD volunteers told the Guilfordian that these deportations often split families apart and land its members in different parts of the country. Lane concluded that “It’s very distressing to think about. I’m still trying to sort out in my head what happened.”

Students said they appreciated the opportunity to leave Guilford’s bubble to see one of the nation’s most pressing issues up close and personal.

According to Andress, “It’s important to step out of our boundaries and come into contact with real issues that are hidden behind the veil of our daily lives.”

Andress is a transfer student from New Mexico, a state where the issue of immigration is always in the air.

“I came to Guilford looking for more opportunities like this,” said Andress. “My previous school didn’t really advocate social work.”

Despite tension, students expressed hope for better relations between NMD and the Border Patrol.

“It’s going to be summer soon and there needs to be more cooperation between volunteers and Border Patrol,” said junior Maia Buess, NMD volunteer. “This might be only a temporary solution, but it’s necessary in order to save as many lives as possible in the coming months.

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