Isabel Garcia's open-border gang marches in Tucson

Sunday, November 3, 2002

A walk of remembrance


More than 150 people from across Arizona carried crosses, banners and flags while trekking through Tucson's South and Southwest sides Saturday morning to remember the migrants who died crossing the desert this summer.

The eight-mile pilgrimage began at about 9 a.m. at St. John's Catholic Church, South 12th Avenue and West Ajo Way, and continued on down side streets to the sidewalks and dirt paths along West Valencia Road to South Mission Road. Marchers arrived at San Xavier Mission at about 1 p.m.

About 300 white wooden crosses were handed out by Derechos Humanos members to remember the 163 migrants known to have died in the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson sector during fiscal 2002.

Kat Rodriguez, who organized the third annual march with Derechos Humanos, a local human and border rights advocacy group, said its focus was the same as in previous years but the response was larger Saturday because of this summer's death toll.

"This year - like the last two - was meant to remember the forgotten. This summer was just awful, though. You'd have one, two die every day. That had a huge impact," Rodriguez said.

The Tucson Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol is the only segment along the U.S.-Mexican border where migrant deaths increased significantly. By June 6, the death toll was already comparable to those of recent years.

Carmen Amaya said she and her family left Phoenix at 6 a.m. Saturday to attend the event and show respect for those who died. She attributed the skyrocketing number of deaths to more Mexicans becoming desparate to make ends meet.

"They don't come over here to be criminals. They come over here for jobs, for money. We need to see that," Amaya said as tears welled up in her eyes. "We are all humans. We are the same species, and our Creator doesn't believe in borders."

Amaya brought her 17-year-old son, Tomás, to teach him about border issues.

"My two daughters already know. He's going to know too now. This is something you can't just forget," she said.

Less than a mile from the San Xavier Mission, a group of Mexican Pascua Yaqui tribal members met the walkers, blessing and then leading them on the final leg of their journey. They danced as they led the walkers around a circle in front of the church, where O'odham and Catholic prayers were given, and the names of dead migrants were read.

As the bell towers of the more than 205-year-old church peeked over a hill, Erwin Ramon, another of the walkers, compared Saturday's journey with that of a migrant.

"I think of how they had to walk, and they were thirsty, they were hungry. I see the church and I think about seeing a home - seeing a home in the desert and they know they're safe."