Day of the Dead: Remembering lives lost in the desert
By Deborah Eide
Remains of 177 people were found in the Arizona desert last year. These belong to families who may never know where their loved one died. So now, on top of the tragedies of death, countless families will not be able to mourn their family members because they are uncertain where they are.
This time of year, many Mexican families celebrate their deceased loved ones during the Day of the Dead. This is a particularly hard time for families whose loved ones have died on the border. Instead of being able to take time to remember the lives of their deceased loved ones by gathering in cemeteries, spending days cleaning around the graves of loved ones and preparing the loved one’s favorite foods to invite their spirit to be with them once more, the families of those who died on the border are left wondering and unsure.
Each person found in the desert had his or her own story and dreams about the U.S. Some were on their maiden voyage and wanted a better life for their families. Their death in the desert came after surviving hardships, persevering and nearly reaching their destination. Other people found in the desert were returning home after being inhumanely deported. Often, the U.S. was the only place they really knew and was where their whole families lived.
No More Deaths (NMD) is one organization on the border that is trying to bring closure to families whose loved ones have died while trying to cross the border. NMD increases safety and resources for travelers in the desert, and conducts search and rescue missions in the desert when immigrants alert volunteers of a sick or injured traveler.
When an immigrant gives an NMD volunteer an approximate location of the person, NMD volunteers begin search and rescue efforts. These volunteers go hiking day after day to search for that person because they know that the person has a family who will never rest until the person is found.
Arizona’s policies do not require Border Patrol agents to cooperate with humanitarian aid organizations in order to repatriate remains to families, give information about where people who are deported are sent, or to send out their BORSTAR search and rescue squad given information on people in dire situations in the desert. These policies and practices of border patrol increase death and suffering, both on and off of the border.
Despite less traffic on the border recently, deaths are on the rise and the Border Patrol is not doing much to help.
They have vandalized life-saving water placed in the desert by NMD volunteers and interfered with medical professionals who provide aid to patients as in the case of José Miguel:
José Miguel, 54, was from Sinaloa, Mexico. He lived for 35 years in Los Angeles, working at the downtown swap meet. He had a wife and five U.S. citizen children. Jose returned to Sinaloa to see his sick mother. On his way back, he was apprehended by a Border Patrol agent in the desert. The agent put him in the patrol truck and drove recklessly, causing the vehicle to flip over into a ditch. Two women riding with José were injured and one was bleeding from the head. José suffered a serious back injury and fainted after the accident. He was taken to the hospital in Douglas where he spent two nights. José refused to sign deportation papers. Agents yelled threats at him and held him for 24 hours without food or water. They told him if he signed the papers, he could see a doctor again and get pain medication. In the end, he signed the papers. José was deported Oct. 29, 2010 with a back brace and a week’s worth of Oxycodone. Follow-up to initial interview: On Nov. 5, José ran out of Oxycodone. He was in a lot of pain, still wearing the brace, and had trouble walking. He died a short time later in Nogales.
Any and every death causes sorrow and often anger, but none more so than immigrant people who are not allowed the dignity to be sought after in the desert or buried properly amongst their family. This is really the horrible result of federal failure. While Governor Brewer is mourning the deaths of 4 Border Patrol agents who have died on duty in the past two years, 360 men and women have died in Arizona alone trying to reunite with their families. The border is a war-zone. Federal policies push Border Patrol agents and immigrants into desperately dismal situations.
1,403 immigrants died from the fall of 2004 to the fall of 2011 in Arizona’s section of the Sonora desert alone, according to the official tally that counts based on remains found. An additional 1,100 people are estimated to have died trying to cross into the U.S. border-wide. These were people who sacrificed for their families and who will be remembered on the Day of the Dead and forever as individuals who walked with a passion for hope for their families. May all of their families find peace by remembering those lost in the desert.
For more information on No More Deaths, visit http://www.nomoredeaths.org.