For the summer I have relocated to Tucson, Arizona and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to volunteer with No More Deaths (www.nomoredeaths.org). Approximately 500+ people a year are dying crossing the border into the U.S., predominantly in the deserts of Arizona.
Saturday 16th June
4.30am: Turns out my alarm didnt work, and now I'm 4 hours late in getting on the road to Tucson (about 500 miles from L.A.) I've rented a Subaru Forester (possibly the nicest car I've driven) to get to Tucson, and at 110mph I make it in time for the No More Deaths training, held once a week in Tucson. I moved out of my apartment before going to Europe in May (followed by my housemates also moving out a month later), so the small amount of belongings I own are now either in my backpack, or in my office at school.
Its been weird being back in L.A. for the few days that I was without a house and with minimal belongings stacked in my office. I always feel strange returning to L.A. after being elsewhere, particularly back home in Australia. But then I feel strange being in Australia too. Neither L.A. or Melbourne are home, but both are home. I'm enjoying the slightly nomadic approach, and coming to realize that owning less is definately better (but that I still possess too much). Anyways back to Tucson...
Driving along the Interstate 10 that literally gets me from door to door (L.A.-Tucson) the weather begins to heat up. Almost immediately after crossing the border into Arizona it starts to get hot quick. By the time I arrive in Tucson its 105 degrees (40 celcius) and I've seen at least one car on fire on the side of the road. Also, as soon as you cross into Arizona, the giant three-prong cacti you see in westerns start to appear.
Some friends in Tucson involved with No More Deaths, the No Borders Camp, and Dry River (the anarchist collective in Tucson) have been kind enough to put me up for the small amount of time I am in Tucson when not volunteering with No More Deaths.
I attended the training for No More Deaths in a local church hall. We were trained briefly for the different aspects of volunteering over the summer. There are two main aspects to the work that NMD does. The first are the desert patrols, where groups hike the trails that migrants use to cross into the U.S., searching for anybody who is in trouble (ie: from dehydration, heat stress, lost, broken ankles, blisters etc), and to place large barrels of water in the desert. This work is in an attempt to reduce the exceptional amounts of deaths of those crossing. The second aspect to the work of NMD are the migrant resource centers, located in Nogales and in Agua Prieta, both just inside the border of Mexico. These are situated at the ports of entry, where migrants are deported too after being caught in the desert by the U.S. Border Patrol, placed on a bus (run by the private company Wackenhut), driven back to the border, processed, and marched across the border into Mexico. Most are not from the towns they are deported too, and are often without money after paying the approximately $2000-$3000 to cross using a 'coyote' (basically a smuggler for lack of a better, less loaded, term). At the centers, volunteers provide water, coffee, food, and medical care, along with information on shelters to sleep at or ways to get back home (often in Southern Mexico).
For the first two weeks, I have been placed at the Agua Prieta Migrant Resource Center, and am staying in Douglas, Arizona, a small town directly opposite Agua Prieta on the U.S. side.