DOVER – Every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Belin Darrenz leaves her hometown for Arizona, where she supports migrants crossing the country’s southern border through the Sonoran Desert.
She works with an aid group whose members occupy different positions on the political spectrum.
“Some of them don’t think immigrants are eligible to cross our borders into our country,” Lentz said. “Some of them think we should stand at the border and welcome them with open arms. Whatever their opinion, they still work together. Their main goal is to save lives in the desert.”
As of November, 3,790 migrants had died trying to cross the Arizona/Sonoran desert, according to Humane Borders, Inc., a nonprofit that provides water and other life-saving resources to migrants on both sides of the border.
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Lentz, director of Christian education at St. John’s United Christ Church in Dover, shared her experience on the frontier at the Dover Public Library on Tuesday.
She spoke of people she met, including a man who made brightly coloured crosses he planted in the desert to commemorate the places where migrants died.
Lentz helped install a cross for a young woman named Rosalia, who passed by during the trip.
“She gave her daughters the last drop of water and she died,” Lentz said. “No one knows what happened to her daughters. That was 20 years ago.”
Lentz spoke about the medical examiner in Pima County, Arizona, whose office worked to identify the deceased and provide isolation for their families.
She talked about a man who went to an immigration judge and asked if he could be imprisoned in North Carolina because that’s where his children were. Another asked to be sent to the same prison as his brother, who appeared at the same mass immigration hearing.
She shows a photo of a makeshift kitchen that feeds 100 people every morning. At the feeding station, a nun tries to stop people from trying to cross.
There are multiple ways to die in the attempt. Lentz tells the story of a woman who climbed a border wall, but was trapped to her death after she was turned upside down. A man has died after falling and breaking his leg. On the side of the place where he died, someone was working in a copper mine. On the other side, is the house with the lights on.
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Lentz described the border wall as a place so deadly that not even butterflies could survive. She tells a story about how monarchs who made their annual migration didn’t know what to do on the wall. They hovered about eight feet above the ground, then fell to the ground and died.
She also described touching scenes on the border wall, where relatives on both sides would sneak out their hands to touch each other. The wall also becomes a canvas for artistic expression about the barrier itself.
But for those trying to travel, there are plenty of people to help, like the woman handing out a little compass.
Lentz recalled meeting a Honduran man in Tijuana, Mexico, who was trying to meet a brother who worked for him. But because he was robbed, he had no money to buy a bus ticket. Members of the aid team used their own funds to support his continued travel.
Migrants are most likely to travel at night, Lentz said. The desert is unbearably hot during the day and unbearably hot at night. People crossing the desert after dark run the risk of being attacked by animals, tripping over rocks, falling into holes and being punctured by cactus needles, which can pass through shoes and clothing.
Rescuers headed to the desert in the morning, looking for laggards who couldn’t keep up with the people smugglers who guided the migrants through the desolate and deadly landscape. In the morning, volunteers took water to the desert to escape the summer heat.
Aid workers are prohibited from transporting migrants, Lentz said. If they find themselves in trouble, they have three legal options: offer comfort, offer supplies or call U.S. Border Patrol.
With all the dangers of trying to cross borders, why do people keep doing it?
Some are fleeing cartels and gangs that threaten to kill and maim adults and children, Lentz said.
“They’re running away from people who chop off their fingers and kill their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers, sometimes in front of their children,” Lentz said. “They want their children to have a better life. They want to be safe. .”
She recalled hearing about a young boy who was ordered to move his father’s body after witnessing his murder.
“You and I, we are immigrants,” Lentz said. “My family is German and Welsh. My clans came to this country for a better life. Whatever you think about immigration and the southern border, these immigrants are people. They are gods too children.”