Several fires are ravaging their way across Arizona because of an unusually dry season. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and other fire officials warned in mid-March about the likelihood of severe 2021 wildfires, saying that this season was expected to be similar to last year's — one of Arizona's worst wildfire seasons in a decade due to an ongoing drought, lack of rain and vegetation overgrowth.
"It won’t take much to get ignition source going and get that fired up and spread across the landscape," Department of Forestry Fire Management Officer John Truett said in March.
What we know about Arizona wildfires: Latest evacuation news
Please pray for rain and for the people in Arizona.
There’s also been a fire burning near Big Sur in California. We are also experiencing drought conditions and a water crisis. Please pray for California too, thanks.
When I lived in Sahuarita, Green Valley, Arizona (near Tucson) in 2005, Nogales was open. And Border Patrol was constantly pulling people over (in cars) who fit the profile I guess. I never got pulled over. And there was a lot of activity of people trying to come into the United States. A dear friend of mine alerted me to the fact that too many desperate people ended up sick and dying due to dehydration. She organized a group who aided the people with water and shelter.
It’s a completely reasonable 99°F at 3:00 pm, but I’m still sweating. I am preoccupied. I am keeping company with three species of column cacti. The long drive across the Tohono O’odham Reservation from Tucson required extra caffeine, and I am not fully in the moment. Cactus wrens sing from the rocks. A Gila woodpecker lands on the saguaro nearest the car, unleashes a cacophony. It is beautiful.
I cannot stop thinking about the Wall.
…The Wall poses only a little more obstacle to northward passage than does the widely spaced row of saguaros. Almost as soon as the first sections of wall went up, videos made the rounds of young people climbing the bollards as if they were ladders. For those would-be migrants without the upper body strength to pull themselves over the wall, a few minutes’ work with a reciprocating saw turned out to allow the bottom end of a cut bollard to be pushed to one side, allowing passage. This would be followed by a hasty Border Patrol repair of the cut bollard, which would then necessitate cutting of a new, nearby bollard, and so forth. I understand that the coyotes are now prominently marking the bollards they have sawed through as a way of taunting the Border Patrol.
The real barrier is what lies north of the Wall. Depending on where a person crosses between here and the Colorado River, she faces between 40 and 70 miles of plodding through extremely hot desert before getting to Interstate 8, where — with luck — a contact will pick her up and speed into Phoenix, or Tucson, or Los Angeles. Not everyone gets that far. Today, it is a completely reasonable 99°F, and I have hiking boots and a way to carry several gallons of water in only moderate discomfort and I have hiked around 200 miles in similar heat so far this year, and I would hesitate before hiking the 5.78 miles over to the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and then back again, much less seven times that total distance to Sentinel or Gila Bend.
So far in 2021, as of this writing, seven bodies have been found just inside Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Across southern Arizona from the New Mexico line to Yuma, 64 bodies have been found. So far this year. The toll since records have been kept somewhat methodically is terrifying: 3,658 deaths listed by the Arizona OpenGIS Initiative for Deceased Migrants. No one knows how many deaths have gone unreported.
Each one of those red dots is a dead human being that has actually been found and formally recorded. The closest red dot to where I stand, admiring the senitas and organ pipes and saguaros, memorializes Olvin Galindo Romero, who died sometime in July 2018 not 100 feet from this spot. Five years earlier and a quarter mile south, someone found the remains of 27-year-old Albaro Valente Garcia in the wash.
Those of us who grew up fed horror stories about the privations of American pioneers, who sweated and froze and drowned and hauled unwilling livestock across rivers and canyons, who on occasion ate each other’s remains as a last resort, might wonder why we hear so little — why we think so seldom — of the people making this trip. Some Border Patrol estimates have it that only one in ten migrants making the attempt makes it through the desert. Those that aren’t apprehended, or rescued, or something in between end up as a red dot in some database-driven map. Or they end up as a whirlwind of unresolved grief and longing in the hearts of their families. If they have ever ended up in any school’s fourth grade curriculum, I have not heard of it.
Besides which, the only reason people are coming here to the Arizona-Sonora border is that the obvious points of entry — San Diego, Nogales, El Paso — were deliberately closed off in the 1990s. The fact that the only alternative not mired in bureaucracy was a perilous trek through the desert is not mere chance. The idea was that the crossing, especially during the first weeks of harvest season, when most migrants arrive, would be so damn dangerous that no one would do it. That policy has been spectacularly not working for thirty years now, even as we’ve doubled down on it more than twice.
And the migrants persist for what? For the promise of sub-minimum wage jobs picking crops, cleaning homes, mowing lawns. They trudge miles across this desert to clean up the sweat after Anglos put in a few air-conditioned miles on gym treadmills. Who deserves more to be here? Who has sacrificed more to join the community of people in our country? Those who risk becoming that eternal skeletal gape at wheeling desert stars in order to work among us, or others born here who whine at a jury duty summons?
…A pair of green and white Border Patrol SUVs were parked against the Wall, their lights flashing, their doors open. Two Border Patrol agents slouched, bored, against one of the vehicles. There were three people with them not in uniform. Two were women, maybe five feet tall with long, straight black hair, carrying garbage bags that looked full of sweaters and afghans and such. They might have been in their twenties, though they looked much younger. The third was a somewhat taller young man, wavy dark brown hair cropped a few inches long, with the beginnings of a mustache. He looked 15 or 16. I slowed a little so as not to choke them all with dust. The young man noticed me, made eye contact, grinned. The women moved their bags of belongings into one of the SUVs.
I felt a wash of embarrassment. So these were the threatening people the signs had me fretting about. The only threat any of them seemed to pose was the threat of making me want to feed them soup. In a better world I might have stopped, told the Border Patrol I’d make sure they got where they were headed safely, bought them shakes at Dateland. In the real world that would have gotten me arrested, cost me the car for aiding and abetting.
I drove on. Most of the way back to the pavement, I passed a Border Patrol van heading toward the group. At least they would have water to drink tonight.
Three thousand, six hundred fifty eight dead who have actually been found. Likely double that number as yet unfound, people who simply vanished, people who no one knows to they need to look for. We regard graveyards as sacred land. Sites of slaughter in battle are hallowed ground. This Sonoran Desert has been sanctified by too many sacrifices. At some point we will need to honor this landscape in appropriate fashion.
But first we need to open the borders to those who merely seek honest work, or to join their families. Let them walk through the gates in San Diego and El Paso. Let them go back home as they see fit. Let us become neighbors. Let the unnecessary desert deaths come to an end.
The group Border Angels is one of several doing concrete work to reduce the danger to migrants entering the United States from Mexico. Support them, or find a group closer to home.