Heartbreak Trail:
Crossing the Mexican Border

Revolutionary Worker #1124, October 28, 2001, posted at

The RW received the following correspondence from a comrade who was part of a team that traveled to the Southwest to take out the RCP's new Draft Programme.

I remember when my dad would tell me stories of how he crossed the border. How he had to run and hide between shrubs and trees at night. Or he would show me the scar he has on his chin from the time the Texas Rangers stopped him and beat the shit out of him and kept him locked up for three months without any communication. He told me how, one time, after he was able to cross over and make it to San Diego, he got a job at an egg ranch. And one day it was raided by la migra and a helicopter chased him and the rest of the workers for miles until the helicopter came down so low the wind made him fall over and he was captured.

As I was growing up in Amerikkka I remember I would hear a knock in the middle of the night. My parents would go to the door and hand someone over an envelope of money. Then we would walk to the car and I would have a new uncle, aunt, or friend.

One memory I will never forget is going to a picnic in Escondido. My uncle took care of an orange grove. There were acres and acres of orange trees. And because la migra would raid the houses--if you can call it housing, it was more of a storage room for cheap labor where immigrants would be allowed to sleep while they worked on the ranch--they would instead sleep under the orange trees so they could avoid deportations.

We were across the road having a picnic with friends and relatives. All of a sudden the border patrol invaded the other side of the road with their dogs. People were running desperately from under the trees chased by dogs. I remember running across the street, but my dad ran after me and grabbed me before I made it to the other side of the road. I just hugged my dad, crying as I watched people being caught by dogs and thrown in the back of a white truck.

Later when we were riding back to L.A. my dad explained how it was coming to the end of the season, and instead of paying people for their hard labor it was common practice to call la migra and pick everyone up. That way the owners would save themselves some money.

These are the memories that shaped my life, that made me an angry teenager, that fueled the flames in my struggle to fight national oppression, and that led to me becoming a revolutionary communist.

When the RCP's Draft Programme came out, I read through it as fast as I could. But there was a paragraph that stood out to me and became my favorite paragraph. The one under the part about communism that reads:

"Human imagination will take flight in a way inconceivable in class society. There will be no ridiculous notions of one group of people being superior to another. Humanity will celebrate its diversity and for the first time in history people will see themselves and act as part of a world community of freely associating human beings. This will be a time where a view of the planet from outer space will be a reflection of the actual organization of human society---where there are no borders."

This paragraph kept flashing in my brain when I took a tour of the border as part of a team taking the Draft Programme out in the Southwest.

A Border Drenched in Blood

I write all the above to explain the heaviness that I experienced when I saw first-hand what people have to go through when they cross the U.S.-Mexico border. I can't even write this correspondence without my chest swelling up with anger. It's like as soon as I start thinking about it a ball of anger builds inside of me and it wants to jump out of my chest and grab this system by the neck and strangle it until it can no longer breathe.

When we got to XX we heard about how 14 people had died in the desert because of dehydration. It was not like it was the first time I had heard of people dying. But sitting in the hot sun of this southwestern city, I could feel somewhat the conditions people would have to go through. At the same time the border patrol had a public relations campaign. It was on the front cover of the local newspapers. The border patrol was being referred to as the "Angels of Mercy" that supposedly save immigrants from "coyotes" and the harsh weather conditions that people face at the militarized border.

I realized later that week that I had no clue of the conditions people had to go through when they make this journey to El Norte.

We started our tour in a ditch outside the city of XX, a border town. We had to walk for about 10 minutes up a hill. From the dirt road all you could see was the beautiful scenery of the town. But behind the bushes was a ditch. And as you walked through all the thorny shrubs and down to the bottom of the ditch you start seeing signs that people had been there--a T-shirt stuck between some rocks, an empty bottle of water, and a pair of shoes.

We learned that it is very common to find shoes and clothing. Most the time people find nice dress shoes. From the outside they look nice but if you pick up the shoes and look inside you notice that they are all destroyed. Since people would have traveled for several days in the water, the inside of their shoes were rotten and wet with the soles deteriorated. So people have to go through the rest of their journey with no shoes. Finding clothing is also common. Sometimes people wear many layers of clothing and lose them as they travel across the desert. This way when they make it to a city or town they do not stand out, with dirty clothes. We also found out that sometimes you find women's underwear. When this happens you know that a woman has been hurt, either by a coyote, a man in their group, a vigilante or the border patrol.

In some parts we found a trail of water bottles. They were along a trail that leads to a spot where people wait for a coyote to pick them up. As you stand there you look around and as an observer you think how beautiful nature is, all this shrubbery that is mostly made up of cactuses and mesquite and how the sun is so bright. Then you have to wonder what it's like to run through this shrubbery in the middle of the night when you cannot see. Our tour guide told us stories of finding people all cut up in the face and in their arms after a night of travel. We also found out that on the average, people carry one gallon of water for seven days of travel in the desert. So this empty water bottle we found could be the last supply of water people had.

Our tour guide pointed toward some mountains and hills in the background. He told us that with binoculars, sometimes you can see these anti-immigrant vigilantes, wearing baseball hats that read "Alien Hunter" with rifles on their backs. They're just sitting on the hill waiting for people to come up from a ditch. Immigrants have to hide during the day. Sometimes they just lie as close as they can to the ground and don't move for hours.

As we were leaving the spot we started to hear gunshots. We were told there was a shooting range around the corner. Could you imagine what it would feel like to have traveled for days across the desert, running from the border patrol, hiding in a ditch and then having to listen to gunshots throughout the day?

We then headed to a different spot. On the way we noticed these towers along the road. They are sensor towers with cameras on top. On the ground they have heat sensors and on top they film immigrants crossing the border.

We also went by a car impound. We learned that if you are caught driving someone who is illegal you get your car taken away. The law is written in a way where they take your car first--then you have to spend months in court getting the car back. Most people lose their cars and then the cars are put up for auction. To top things off the company that owns the contract on the auctions is owned by the Barnett brothers. who are notorious anti-immigrant vigilantes.

People hide behind bushes and shrubs while others shop for food. Sometimes they put their money together, clean one person up who then walks into a store to get food and water for the rest. It is clearly a spot that everyone knows about. Why does the border patrol not come in and arrest people? The tour guide told us that the border patrol sees the migrants as prey. They park their trucks outside the encampments. They wait until people get thirsty, hungry and can no longer survive hiding. So they run out and the border patrol catches them. He told a story of a women who was traveling with her baby, and how they had to hide in a ditch for four days. After the second day her baby got diarrhea from dehydration because they ran out of water. But they could not leave the ditch because the border patrol was outside. On the fourth day the woman ran out with her child and the border patrol picked her up. They did not take the child to the hospital. Instead the woman and her child were both held in custody for two days and then sent back to Mexico.

Our guide also said that sometimes when things get very desperate for people they come out of hiding to ask for help. But if you help them by giving them a ride you get your car and house taken away until you can prove you were not consciously transporting an "illegal alien."

We came to another spot where privilege meets desperation. As you drive into a golf course you see the green trees and grass. But on the side of the golf course there are ditches, where people have to hide. All they have is cardboard boxes to cover them up from the weather. People have been found dehydrated in this area. They hide desperately in ditches without water as the golf course gets watered every day.

As we traveled down to the river we found out that people travel the river all the way to a main highway. This not a clean river, it is where the sewer of the nearby town empties out. It also carries the pesticides and chemicals of the maquiladoras (factories) on the other side. So people cannot drink the water and sometimes get sick from traveling through the river. Most people have to change clothes after traveling in the contaminated river. During the rainy season the river overflows and people drown.

The last spot we visited was somewhere people had recently been. On the floor you can see some of the food they carried on their journey. You see mostly cans of tuna, chips, tortillas, and water. Sometimes they have to move fast and leave things behind, like a traveling bag, a shirt, or food.

They have to travel for 7 to 12 days to get to the main highway where they get picked up by a coyote. We heard stories of the thousands of people who never make it to the hook-up place, who instead die in the desert or get caught by the border patrol. We also heard that the conditions are getting worse for people to cross--now they are forced to cross more to the east, where there are no shrubs, trees, or anywhere to hide from the burning sun.

Hanging Out With the Resisters

I read this book a year ago called Stones by the River. It was about a small town in Germany before, during and after the Nazi occupation. Hanging out with our host and the people of XX reminded me so much of this story. It was like going back to Nazi Germany and hanging out with the resisters.

We heard stories of what it is like living in XX. Our host told us how the authorities will not tell people how many border patrol are in the area, because the border is considered a "war zone." He said he just came back from a public border patrol meeting where they were told that if they notice any strange cars coming in and out of their neighbors' houses or if they notice a lot of people in their neighbors' house they should call the border patrol. The border patrol is trying to create an atmosphere where neighbors are snitching on one another, and the people who hate all this get isolated.

I have to be honest--before I met these resisters, I had a picture of XX being a place where all these white reactionary ranchers live and terrorize immigrants. Such ranchers do exist, but according to our host they are not the majority, they just control public opinion. He told us stories of ranchers who leave water out on their property or hide people. They do not say who they are and they probably sit in church next to some of these reactionary ranchers. But they hate the way people get treated and they do their part to help.

The resisters we hung out with go every Tuesday to pick up trash at the immigrant encampments. And they leave water and supplies for people. Picking up trash is not only a decoy, but they understand that some of the empty water bottles get eaten by the ranchers' livestock (which kills them), and they consciously want to prevent that so more ranchers will be won over to help the immigrants. They also encourage restaurants to leave out food in certain areas to make it more accessible to immigrants.

This picking up of trash is popularized through the church groups and people, especially youth, come from around the country to help with this activity. On the one hand it seems like such a simple thing to do, leaving out water. But in a time where you have these vigilantes and the border patrol invading the town, it is such a courageous stand they have taken.

It Does Not Have To Be Like This

The last day we were in XX we went to a cemetery, where after death, class divisions still exist under capitalism. As you enter, the grass is all green. But the back--where there is no grass, only dirt and rocks--is where the remains of some of the immigrants that die in the desert are put. Also, for many immigrants who have worked their whole lives, this is the only place their families can afford to bury them.

The one thing that kept enraging me throughout this part of the trip is that, as the Programme shows, "the world does not have to be like this." We could build something new and different from class society, where people do not have to die crossing the border looking for a job. Fuck, we can get rid of borders all together. I keep coming back to that paragraph in the Draft Programme that provides a vision of a world worth living and dying for:

"Human imagination will take flight in a way inconceivable in class society. There will be no ridiculous notions of one group of people being superior to another. Humanity will celebrate its diversity and for the first time in history people will see themselves and act as part of a world community of freely associating human beings. This will be a time where a view of the planet from outer space will be a reflection of the actual organization of human society---where there are no borders."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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