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Hill: The human toll at the border
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

On a recent trip with Catholic Relief Services, I learned a bit more about the people who risk their lives to journey into undocumented status in the United States.

At a shelter in Nogales, Mexico, I talked to Cecilia, a recent deportee. Cecilia explained her attempts to immigrate. She talked of her two children living in a gang-infested town in southern Mexico. She fears for their safety and their futures and is unable to provide for either. Like many moms, she went in search of a better life for her children.

Cecilia described her journey across the Sonora Desert. Eight days of walking with a small group of fellow immigrants. Eight days of heat, fear and difficult terrain. On the eighth day, she fell in a ravine, injuring her knee. Her fellow travelers had little choice but to leave her behind or risk detection. Cecilia described a long night alone in the middle of the desert. A man she didn't know approached her, telling her to come with him. She refused. The next person she saw was the following morning, when border patrol arrived.

Cecilia is staying at the shelter in Nogales, unable at this point to pay for a bus ticket home to her children in the south, unable to journey to a better life across the border to the north. When she finished her story, we hugged. She clung to me, sobbing, speaking rapid Spanish. Though I couldn't understand her actual words, the sentiment was clear: "Help me, help my children. I don't know what to do."

Her story was underscored for me after I made a quick jaunt through the desert myself. My group drove to the migrant trails in air-conditioned comfort with a kind and concerned guide who made certain we had ample water in the 99-degree heat. The Sonoran Desert is remarkably beautiful, when you know you can leave at any time, have trained guides with GPS, and lots of water.

Our guide told us about the people he finds in the desert. People who ask how much further to Los Angeles, people dehydrated, disoriented and losing hope, people resting under mesquite trees, hoping to continue their journeys under the cover and coolness of the dark — a dark rife with the dangers of sharp cacti, steep ravines, hazardous wildlife. And many dead from the heat or injuries sustained on the trail.

By the end of our short trip, we were relieved to hop into our air-conditioned van. We'd walked less than two miles of the 12-mile journey a migrant must make each day in order to reach a place of safety. Our two miles felt like much more, and we were not constrained by the need to avoid border patrol agents.

Would I make such a journey, without the van, water, and safety, for the sake of my children? I think most of us would. Cecilia is a mom like any mom. She is desperate to find work and a safer place to raise her children, just as any parent would be. As a human being, my heart breaks for her. As a Catholic with a voice, I know I have to speak for her as an act of faith.

I urge others to join me in speaking for moms like Cecilia who are willing to walk for days in relentless terrain for a chance at a meaningful life. Please call your U.S. representative and ask him to protect the dignity of life for undocumented immigrants desperately seeking a way out of poverty and violence in their home countries.

Jean Hill is government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

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