Desert Crosses

8 Nov

2014 in Tucson: Crosses hikers would soon bear through the desert to the spots where immigrants died. Some are marked “Unknown.”

Today is Election Day, drawing to a close a particularly vile season of hate and anger – featuring, among other appalling things, some grotesque and malicious stereotyping of immigrants.

The issues of immigration are, of course, complex, entailing some difficult balancing acts of conflicting concerns. But the people I met two years ago in Tucson, Arizona – a city far more affected by immigration than most – shows that it’s possible, even in a church congregation ranging from liberal Democrats to Tea Partiers, to maintain a profound respect and compassion for people who, in the face of poverty and violence, and in many cases simply seeking to rejoin their families up north, risk their lives to cross the desert into the United States.

Especially those who don’t make it.

In 2014 on my service road trip, I worshiped at Southside Presbyterian on the weekend it was serving as a starting point for a 75-mile memorial hike to the border. Participants – many older than I, but in much better shape – were willing to hike in the early June desert heat to leave crosses in honor of immigrants who died during their attempted crossing. Meanwhile, I also interviewed Amanda Rutherford, an outdoorsy young woman whose life was changed by her first hike with No More Deaths, a group that is devoted to keeping people from dying during the crossing – even if that means calling Border Patrol to med-evac them to a hospital before sending them south of the border.poster-no-more-deaths-2-jpg

Two years later, when Lynn Simmons approached me about being what I call the Nonartist in Residence for the Kaboom! art show at Assumption College, I combined my photo of all those white crosses for deceased immigrants with the story of how another man avoided becoming one of them, thanks to the swift actions of Rutherford and a friend. (You can read more about my time there in a blog I posted from the road in June, 2014.)

Regardless of where each of us might set the balance when it comes to immigration, there are opportunities every day to cast a vote for compassion – and for respect of those who have faced greater challenges than I’ll ever know.

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