Four Crosses: Visiting the Borderlands

By Alice Forsythe, First Congregational UCC, Portland, Oregon

A Samaritan leaving fresh clean water in the Sonoran desert

A Samaritan leaving fresh clean water in the Sonoran desert

I had the privilege of visiting the US/Mexico Borderlands with a small group from our church, First Congregational UCC in Portland.  We were there to experience for ourselves this troubled region and carry the knowledge we gleaned back to our wider church community.

A local humanitarian group that meets at Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, AZ, the Green Valley Samaritans, helped shape our itinerary. They generously host visiting groups such as ours, sharing their duties and hard-earned knowledge, but also asking that we go back home and pass the word about what many of them freely describe as a ‘militarized’ border.

The mission of Green Valley Samaritans is to prevent needless deaths in the Southern Arizona desert, and they go to great lengths to meet this goal.  Many of them travel miles of bumpy, dusty back roads to make water drops in the desert, and check on existing water drops.  The group tries to maintain a good rapport with the Border Patrol, some of whom attend Good Shepherd.

Our first morning we went on a three-mile desert memorial walk, which introduced us to the harshness of the Sonoran Desert.  As we hiked the uneven and graveled path, we were often surrounded by thorny vegetation of all shapes and descriptions—a misstep could prove painful at the very least. We came to four stark gravesites, each marked by a crude, white iron cross and the word ‘descondido’, Spanish for unknown.  It can also be a noun meaning ‘stranger.’  At four different times in 2009, the scattered bones of these four people had been found. The last gravesite bore one additional word, ‘adolescente’, meaning that a teenager, probably no older than fourteen, lie buried there.  The surviving families, will never know their fate, or even where they lie.  This is also likely true for many of the 2700 others that The Samaritans estimate have perished in this desert land over at least the past 15 years.

We made a couple of forays across the actual border into Nogales.  The first occurred the second morning at a Jesuit shelter located within a hundred yards or less of the border crossing.  It’s called El Comedor (Spanish for dining room—type the word into google, and it will present images of handsome dining room furniture.) Jesuit nuns, priests and social workers join with volunteers to provide not just food and basic medical care, but much needed listening and morale boosting, both for those who had been deported and for those still wanting to cross into the U.S.  They attempt to warn the latter of the dangers that they face in the form of the vastly increased Border Patrol and the dangers of this desert land, but many have family in the U.S. and will not be dissuaded.

We were asked to carry our stories back to Portland.  It’s a complicated issue, one that is not well served by the human habit of generalities.   We individually study and research, often sharing with others of our group a link or reference.  At different intervals we plan events for our wider church membership.  We talk with each other about what we saw and felt.

Perhaps it starts with those four solitary crosses surrounded by cactus in one lonely patch of the Sonoran desert, but it can’t end there.

More information: Green Valley Samaritan website


By Salome Chimuku, Ainsworth UCC, Portland, OR

profiling endGrowing up in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in Portland, there were some things that were normal and expected. Such as that you’re inside before dark, say please and thank you or even being questioned by the police. In my 23 years of living I can say that I have been stopped over 25 times in my life. None of these have led to me being arrested, but it has left me with a strong impression of being publicly incarcerated.

I say publicly incarcerated because there is a pattern to all the stops. I was somewhere they thought I shouldn’t be. “What are you doing?”, “Where are you going?”, “Where is home?” All of these questions come under the guise of keeping me safe, but in actuality it makes me feel like a soft version of incarceration and segregation. Over the years it has conditioned me into knowing where I can walk somewhat free of questioning. Even when I worked for the Oregon State Legislature, if I left work late, I would be stopped. It got to the point where I stopped traveling to those places all together. 

Immigrant Justice and Measure 88

by Sally Godard, Just Journey…a ministry of justice and advocacy, Yamhill County

saferoads 88In 2008, in an attempt to comply with the federal Real ID Act[1], the Oregon Legislature passed a law that has created a daily nightmare for many Oregon workers, their families, and their employers.

Although vigorously opposed by immigrant advocates, this Oregon law restricts driver’s licenses to those who can provide documents of their legal status in the state. No longer primarily a document to demonstrate one’s knowledge of the “rules of the road” and ability to pass the written and behind-the-wheel driver’s tests, the 2008 law now excluded immigrants without legal documents from obtaining or renewing a license.

The disastrous effect was immediate. Each year thousands of immigrants[2], many who had been here for a decade or more, were thrown into turmoil. Bread-winners who required transportation lost their jobs and employers lost experienced workers who could no longer buy insurance. Families lived in fear each day as they drove their kids to school, attended church, or kept a doctor’s appointment. If they were stopped by law enforcement and had no license, the risk of deportation was high. Yet especially in rural Oregon where there is very little public transportation, day-to-day life depended on being able to drive.