God's Politics

It is late afternoon in southern Arizona and the branches of the ocotillo cacti shine like golden rods pointing to the heavens. The monsoon rains of summer have turned desolation into life, and all that was brown is green in the Sonoran Desert. The ocotillo glow in this ‘golden hour’ before sunset because the green leaves that sprouted from the thorny branches are now changing to shades of yellow.

“It’s autumn in the desert,” we joke, while following a lonely path scattered with belongings of migrants who have journeyed before; belongings such as water bottles, backpacks, and personal items like Biblios Santos and hand-sewn handkerchiefs. Volunteers come from around the world to join us in our humanitarian efforts on the borderlands and, to many, it seems as though we have no real seasons; no turn in the year from the warmth and sun for which we are known. But for those of us who live in these borderlands, we acutely recognize when the harsh passes and the pleasant months of our fall come. In other words, when temperatures have cooled to just about 100 degrees in the day and drop so drastically at night that we layer our sleeping bags, we know the worst and deadliest summer months has come to an end. So this late September day is bittersweet.

It is not a normal afternoon for patrolling, let alone rejoicing. Single file now, we quiet ourselves, and our feet make sinking footsteps in the arroyo, or dry streambed. Cyril, a volunteer from Tucson, recounts with seriousness and deep emotion how his patrol followed the fresh footsteps of a group of migrants in this very trail just days earlier and how they came upon something horrific. Instead of continuing in their route, the footsteps slowed to a stop and then bunched around a place in the sand that was padded down, perhaps with a whole body…or a back. The nightmare was confirmed with a used condom hanging from a branch above.

While still an assumption, the footsteps reveal something ugly, something we all know is the violent reality for many women who attempt this journey. Horrified, and deeply saddened, we listen to him recount his experience and then return to this spot, in order to redeem the space where such a violent act has most likely taken place. We build a simple altar, lighting a candle and incense, and then reflect together and pray for healing.

Such are the realities of a war zone. Militarization of the border, combined with economic disparity, has incited a zone rampant with human rights abuses. This rape, like thousands of similar cases, will not be investigated. The origins of violence on our border are very deep. Families searching for livelihood and traveling north are now commodities of free trade and the shrapnel of a war zone, vulnerable and easily exploited. With the voices and efforts of individuals and groups of faith and conscience across the entire border, we pray that dignity replaces impunity, and we stand with the spirits of those who continue to struggle. May our brothers and mothers not suffer but instead literally find a home built with justice and filled with peace. We beg for the redemption of our border, that life might prevail … and we find that the golden crown of thorns is all around us.

Maryada Vallet is an evangelical Christian who works with No More Deaths on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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