Home / Focus / Community Giving & Volunteers Aug. 2006 / Volunteers aid illegal immigrants in distress

Volunteers aid illegal immigrants in distress

Each day, the U.S. Border Patrol deposits hundred of immigrants across the border in Nogales after catching them as they try to enter the United States illegally.
Despite what may seem like the end of the road on this dusty patch just beyond the Mariposa Port of Entry, few give up their quest after the U.S. government ejects them so close to the promised land and so far from home.
“I’ll stay here until I make enough money to cross again,” says Yesenia Moscoso, a 26-year-old hairdresser from Tapachula, Chiapas, as she sits under the shade of a sagging tarp.
As Ms. Moscoso talks, a blond woman with her hair in pigtails kneels and gently scrapes at Ms. Moscoso’s knee with a sterilized tool to coax out a cactus spine.
It’s at least a three-day bus ride from Sonora to Chiapas, on Mexico’s southern tip. For Central Americans, it can take months to get to the U.S. border, so most will try to cross again within days.
“We know that people are ending up in really bad condition,” said Maryada Vallet, 23, looking up from Ms. Moscoso’s knee.
Ms. Vallet is a volunteer with the Tucson group No More Deaths, which has run a 24-hour makeshift triage center since early July to aid those coming off the Border Patrol buses.
“If we can bandage their blisters,” Ms. Vallet said, “give them clean socks, a place to rest and time to think about what they want to do, hopefully they’re not going to cross in the desert in such bad shape that they end up dying.”
No More Deaths was formed in 2004 because of the high number of immigrants dying in Arizona. At least 130 people have died since the start of the federal fiscal year, Oct. 1.
Ms. Vallet, a Phoenix native, came down last summer to work with the No More Deaths camp near Arivaca, where volunteers scour the desert with food and water on the lookout for immigrants in distress. She came for four weeks, but ended up staying as a full-time volunteer. Last semester, she took a full load at Pima Community College at night to become a certified emergency medical technician to better aid those she encountered.
The project has attracted more than 350 volunteers from across the United States, including Massachusetts, Colorado and Kansas.
It has also attracted many from Nogales, Son., where the project has helped change attitudes among residents, said Jose Antonio Rivera Cortez, a former Mexican consul in Tucson, Douglas and Nogales and director of the Sonora State Commission of Migrant Aid. The office co-sponsors the aid station and has converted its offices into a dormitory for volunteers who are living in Nogales for the summer.
Some Nogales residents are suspicious of immigrants and consider them a burden on the city, Mr. Rivera said.
“Whenever they see a stranger, they think they are criminals,” he said. “But this has opened their eyes.”
High school student Ana Perez, 16, conceded that she hadn’t thought about immigrants much before she heard about the project on the radio.
“I knew they were here,” the Nogales, Son., teen said, “but I didn’t know how many, or how bad the problem was. I’ve seen people with raw feet, people that didn’t have shoes, 3-year-old children who haven’t eaten. It makes me so sad. I’m glad I can help.”
Ms. Perez said she has volunteered each day for the past two weeks. She helps pass out nearly 1,000 burritos a day, made and donated by a local family.
“These people are angels from heaven,” said Luis Gallardo Ramirez, a 35-year-old from Chiapas, as he took a bite from a burrito. “We were so hungry.”
Other volunteers milled about newly arrived groups of men, women and children, collecting testimonies about the treatment they received from U.S. officials for a study they plan to release later this year.
At a reception table, immigrants can get information about shelters and jobs in Sonora.
Behind the table, 65-year-old Shura Wallin of Green Valley filled a basin with sudsy water and placed it in front of Bonifacia Melquiades, a 41-year-old mother of four from Guerrero who walked through the desert for four days.
“I thought it would be easy,’’ Ms. Melquiades said in a lilting Spanish, common among Mexico’s indigenous people. “But it’s not. The heat. The cold. The rain. The mountains and spines. How many Mexicans cross and lose their lives?”
“It’s OK,” Ms. Wallin said in English, reaching out to hold Ms. Melquiades’ shoulder for a moment. Then Ms. Wallin went back to washing the migrant’s feet.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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