Schar School of Policy and Government Associate Professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera is undertaking a remarkable journey this month: She, along with journalist Sergio Chapa of the Houston Chronicle, is driving the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s the second time they’ve made the journey—the first time was in 2013—“but much has changed since then,” she said. “We thought we should repeat the experience given the enormous changes that the region has undergone in recent years.”
Her observations will enrich her research and teaching of migration, human trafficking, organized crime, border security, militarized drug cartels, and other issues that appear in headlines each day. Watch these pages in the coming days for updates on Correa-Cabrera’s journey as she shares her insights encountered on her 1,600-mile drive from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, Calif. —Buzz McClain
We left El Paso. The first stops were at Columbus, N.M., and Puerto Palomas de Villa, Chihuahua. The Mexican Revolutionary Francisco (Pancho) Villa was well-known in that region. Hence we joked that visiting the regions was like “following in the footsteps of Pancho Villa.” On the Mexican side you can see people from the Sierra Tarahumara—some call them “Tarahumaran Indians.” They are very poor and most of them ask for money in several parts of the city.
We went to the Pink Store, a curious souvenir shop visited by many coming from New Mexico. Last time we were there, we were the only customers due to the bad reputation of the so-called cartels in that region. Today, the situation is still complicated but there were many tourists eating and buying crafts at this very famous store.
Then we continued our journey west in direction towards Antelope Wells, one of the least populated areas of the United States, and one of the most isolated and least used border crossings.” We were not able to cross to the Mexican side, but I know that earlier this year a lot of asylum seekers appeared at that exact point of entry, including many families with children. I was not able to see anything this time because the crossing was closed.
We went through five states in one day: Texas, New Mexico, Chihuahua, Arizona, and Sonora. It was a hard drive, but the landscape was so beautiful.
From El Paso, Texas, to Sierra Vista, Ariz. (that was our journey that day) we saw no humanitarian crisis at the border—no visible asylum seekers as in the Texas border with Mexico. However, on the Mexican side of the border we could still feel cartel presence. In some parts, the feeling was not easy, I did not feel safe. We crossed in the evening to Agua Prieta, in the state of Sonora, sister city of Douglas, Ariz. As soon as we crossed into Mexico we started to hear narco-corridos; these are very ugly songs that talk about Mexican cartels, death, revenge, drug trafficking, and all sorts of crimes. We had dinner there, but the activity was much slower than the last time we were there. I felt really unsafe and the narco-corridos playing everywhere made me feel even more uncomfortable. I learned later that the city had significant drug cartel presence. Human smuggling was supposedly an important activity performed in that city.
I crossed to the other side really frightened. I do not know why, but I felt that something was not right in that city.
We drove and spent the night in Sierra Vista, an Arizona border city I had never visited; it is quite developed and not like many other cities at the border.
We would drive the next day to Tucson to meet Rev. Robin Hoover, one of the pioneers of humanitarian aid to migrants along the border. He founded the organization Humane Borders and they started to place water bottles at the desert. He has a PhD and is a living legend at the Arizona-Sonora border. I was very excited about that opportunity.
On the road toward Tucson we saw a number of cars stopped by the Border Patrol. I had not seen anything like that before. Sergio was constantly referring to this increased presence of federal, state, and local law enforcement at the border as “a police state.” The National Guard was here as well. When we did the same trip in 2013, there was already substantial presence of federal, state, and local police, but now there was a lot more. The feeling was strange. I felt safer six years ago, even at the most violent years of the so-called drug war in Mexico.
We headed to Naco, Ariz., and Naco, Sonora. Neither city had changed a lot. You do not see a lot of new developments at the border—only more solar panels and windmills,—but in reality, development in general is not visible in border cities. That is too bad for the United States. You do see militarization and lots of concertina (razor wire) and other technologies to supposedly keep the border safe. I did not feel safe with such a police presence and listening to all those scary stories at detention centers along the border.
Rev. Robin Hoover is the founder and emeritus president of the humanitarian organization Humane Borders. He is now the president of another organization called Migrant Status Inc. Hoover is a pioneer providing humanitarian help to the migrants crossing the Arizona desert. They are the ones who started placing water bottles in the desert. In 2006, he received the National Human Rights Award by the Mexican government. He was the first foreigner to receive that award.
As I mentioned before, Hoover is a “living legend.” He shared with us his experience and his views on how to create humane borders and a migration ethic. We learned a lot about real humanitarian work at the border through a “social ethics analysis of the southwest border region”.
We listened to all his stories with the Minutemen, the Border Patrol, the Mexican government, and other human rights advocates. We listened to his music and understood well the very difficult journey of migrants along the desert. We would spend three magic days with Robin Hoover, an amazing experience to understand irregular migration and humanitarian work at a very deadly desert.
We spent the night in Hermosillo, the capital city of the state of Sonora, Mexico.
We continued our trip in Sonora with Rev. Robin Hoover. We started in Hermosillo, the capital city of the state. We were five people, all of us very different and with different ideologies.
All of my colleagues during that trip were very interesting. An energy reporter, Rev. Hoover, one volunteer for the human rights group Humane Borders, one freelance journalist, and myself. Robin explained to us the origins of the so-called “sanctuary movement.” According to Rev. Hoover, “the original sanctuary movement was a coalition of people motivated by religion, human rights, and ideology to provide help to persons fleeing U.S.-backed regimes that oppressed their peoples. Today, many of the same and/or like-minded people are providing goods and services to migrants. They are also resisting public policies that put the lives of migrants in peril and terror every day.”
The previous day we had visited the city of Benjamin Hill where Father Dagoberto Quiñones lived. Father Quiñones, according to Rev. Hoover, was one of the pioneers of the sanctuary movement on the Sonora-Arizona Border.
First thing in the morning, Rev. Hoover gave an interview to National Public Radio in the U.S. and we learned a lot of what was happening on the Sonora-Arizona border connected to immigration at that time. Then we had a meeting with authorities of the state of Sonora who were in charge of supporting migrants. We met with several people working with migrants, including the directors of two migrant facilities in Hermosillo. One of the directors, a Catholic priest, invited us to the soup kitchen he runs in the capital city of Sonora.
We were able to talk to migrants and homeless people who were there to have lunch. It was an interesting experience. Then we headed towards Magdalena de Kino (declared a “magic town” of Mexico by UNESCO) where we would spend the night. With Robin Hoover we learned a lot about migration and humanitarian work at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Next: Danger at the End of the Journey