Humanitarian aid on one’s doorstep

I had unexpected guests for breakfast in late April on our rural homestead west of Tucson, Arizona. Two Mexican men banged on the back door and held up their empty water bottles. I asked them in Spanish what they needed. “Agua (water),” they replied.

I motioned them around to the patio and brought out juice jugs of filtered water. “Would you like some pan tostado y café (toast and coffee)?” They nodded. I cleaned the outdoor table and bustled around the kitchen with a sense of excitement because we have so few visitors.

When we ride our horses on nearby trails, we see discarded backpacks, clothing, and black water jugs from travelers passing through. This was the first time anyone knocked on our door.

In a few minutes, I served the men plates of eggs, toast, tortillas, and orange slices and set out hot sauce and hot black coffee. They dug in with gusto and I pulled up a chair.

Marco was a native of Oaxaca, a southern state on the Mexican mainland with a large indigenous population. He was bound for a farm in Oregon where he worked every season. His companion, Gregorio, came from Cabo San Lucas, on the tip of Baja California. A house painter by trade, he was trying to get to a job in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Aren’t there a lot of Americans living in Cabo and lots of tourists?” I asked. “Why can’t you find work there?”

“Too much competition,” Gregorio answered. So he left his wife and three daughters at home and trekked to the border.

I noted that they came from distant parts of Mexico. “How did you meet?” I asked.

“At a farm in Sinaloa,” they said. That state, just south of our bordering state of Sonora, produces winter vegetables for the US market.

I thought for a minute about the span of the geography, how two men from far-flung parts of their country teamed up and crossed the border at Sasabe. From there, they walked north for several days to arrive in our neighborhood. Neither wore a backpack.

They both thanked me and then headed down a wash on the last leg of their desert journey with full stomachs and water sloshing in their bottles. I said a prayer for a safe trip.

The Border Patrol nabbed Marco alongside a highway. After an overnight stay at the Tucson station, he was bused to the central California desert and deported to Mexicali.

When we ride our horses on nearby trails, we see discarded backpacks, clothing, and black water jugs from travelers passing through. This was the first time anyone knocked on our door. I feel like I live in a crossroad of the world, where migrating workers from distant points south of the border converge and trek northward to jobs far from the border.

Eighteen days later, our dog barked loudly from the patio and I found two hot thirsty men standing outside. I didn’t recognize the first man, but the other was Marco. “What happened?” I asked.

The Border Patrol nabbed him alongside a highway, but Gregorio ran into the desert and escaped, Marco said. After an overnight stay at the Tucson station, Marco was bused to the central California desert and deported to Mexicali. I recognized the maneuver. Border Patrol touts its Alien Transfer Exit Program as a way to break the connection between migrants and their guides by dumping them off many miles from their original crossing point. Only Marco didn’t use a coyote.

A migrant shelter helped him, Marco said, and he took a bus east until he reached Sasabe and crossed with a new companion, Andrés.

“How do you do this?” I asked. How do you walk five days through the desert with little food and water and no blanket for sleeping?

I brought out water and iced tea and served lunch on the patio. Andrés came from Puebla, where he cooked in restaurants. He was heading for a job in Phoenix, to earn far more money, he said. Four years ago, he got stopped for a traffic violation in Phoenix and was deported. This was his first attempt to cross again.

By coincidence, we all had daughters. I told Marco my daughter lived in Oregon, where he was going. He admired our two mares. He rode horses in Oaxaca and his seven-year-old daughter liked to ride, he said.

“How do you do this?” I asked. How do you walk five days through the desert with little food and water and no blanket for sleeping?

“With our strength,” Andrés answered, and motioned upward. “And with the help of God.

Marco took out his new cell phone and asked for my phone number. Then they headed up the wash in the midday sun. Just after midnight, my phone lit up with a text message from Marco. “Good evening, Señora Denise. I am well, thanks to God.

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