Friday, December 9, 2016

Illegal immigrants: Hunt 'em, help 'em

Thick with cactus

Organ pipe cactus

The world of illegal immigration is here. In Gila Bend, AZ, where we’ve been for about a week now.
Just south of Gila Bend is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which shares a border with Mexico. 

 I’m inside the visitor’s center  and find signs encouraging me  to protect myself against undocumented people trying to escape poverty  (or maybe dealing drugs) by crossing the border illegally. Keep my bike locked up. Don’t engage. Report.

And that’s what two hikers now inside the visitor’s center are doing. They are reporting a “sighting,” a collection of evidence they believe “is unusual.” They behave very cloak-'n-dagger. They never blurt: "There is an illegal alien in our midst.”

Instead they mention, casually, almost covertly, stumbling upon a cave with disturbed underbrush inside. A stash of water bottles. The aroma of recently a recently cooked meal. With chilies.  A tumbling of rocks, as if something slid down the hill.

The park ranger makes serious note of the report and marks the cave location on a map. She thanks the visitors who leave.

No. 1 Mexican restaurant in Gila Bend, AZ
As I tour the park, I find the Valley of Their Sighting. I look up into the hills. I seek out the cave. And I wonder who hid there.  And I  understand why they sought a hiding place to rest. And needed water. And ate. Organ Pipe sprawls dangerously for about 517 square miles of dense cactus-covered, parched terrain butting up against rocky, unfriendly mountains.

If they made it this far through the desert alive, they must still contend with an attentive border patrol and, apparently, tourists.

It’s not easy. Or safe. To get a slice of my apple pie illegally.

And that’s what I’m thinking as I sit inside Sophia’s, a Mexican restaurant truckers rate No.1 in Gila Bend. At my table is a box, painted white, with black hand-lettering asking for money. Donations. To help people lost in the desert. To provide medical care. Rescue. 

Helping immigrants
It never says the immigrants to be helped are illegal.  But it’s obvious. If the guy who slid down the hill, or hid in the cave or ate the chilies for lunch is sick or injured when found, these people will help. With medical supplies, I’m told, but no visa.

So down here, close to the border, signs ask me to snitch. Signs ask me to help. Welcome to the world of illegal immigration.