During my retreat to the Border with my country cohort, we only crossed the Border on foot twice, once in each direction. On our way from Mexico into the United States, I watched my country coordinator walk ahead of me, show the Border Patrol Agent her passport, answer a question (maybe two?) and get waved through. At first, that felt like a positive sign, but then it’s my turn and I get asked a lot of questions. That honestly makes a lot of sense because I had a hard time hearing the Border Patrol Agent and security checkpoints always make me feel (and probably look) like a deer in headlights. I did my best to remain casual and answer as honestly and directly as I could.
“I’m a volunteer visiting the Frontera de Cristo organization.”
“We are here until Thursday.”
“I’m staying at a church in Agua Prieta.”
“I’m going to a prayer vigil.”
“I’m not sure exactly where it is, but it’s near a McDonald’s.”
The last thing she asked me was what I was bringing with me, which for some reason tripped me up. I wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to know… the entire contents of my backpack? Specifically, any illegal substances? There were too many questions and my brain stalled out. I just shrugged and motioned to the backpack strapped on my back, “uhh… this?” I got a look. At that point, I’m thinking that I’m pretty sure they’re not going to let me back into the United States. Instead, she specifically asks about drugs and alcohol and any fresh produce. I tell her I don’t have any of that and she waves me through. The rest of my group passes with relative ease. I was so antsy, I couldn’t watch to see if anyone else got as many questions as me. I wanted out of that building.
We walked towards the big yellow arches where we met with a group of people who had a big wagon of crosses, 311 crosses to be exact. All with identities (or lack thereof) of people who had died at the Border in Cochise county since they began this vigil in 2000. Every Tuesday, a group gets together to pray for those people and their loved ones; they hold up the crosses and read their names while lining the main road leading up to the Border port of entry. We joined them for that week’s vigil. Some crosses don’t have names, they simply say “no identificad(o/a).” The facilitator of the vigil described that subcategory of people as “those whose identity is known only to God.” The line of people moved forward and when it came time, I held up my first cross, read the name loudly, and the group responded, “Presentate.” We rotated turns and I read the identities on 4 or 5 more crosses before they ran out. We gathered at the end of the road and prayed over three remaining crosses. As they passed the three crosses around, I was handed a cross with no identity. I stood with it for what felt like forever, feeling its heaviness in my hand. The weight of a death that only God truly knows. I prayed, but admittedly passed it along with urgency. Death is heavy. By that point, I had already been crying and my sleeves were damp. I slid my bracelets up and down my wrist, pulling them on and off, touching each bead slowly and intentionally.
The bracelets were given to me by two men at the shelter. One of them is on his way back home to Honduras alone; he had his son and two friends die at the Border. Not in Cochise county though, so there are no crosses for them there. I thought about what had felt like a stressful entry though the Border Patrol building, and I wished it was that easy for everyone else who wanted to pass through. I thought about my interaction with the agent who spoke too quietly and confused me with her question, “what are you bringing with you?”
I am bringing two beaded bracelets. One that’s blue and red that I got to pick out special because I needed one small enough for my wrist. Another that’s red and white that I think I got because I was intently watching it be made. I am bringing the dream of a man that cannot be reconciled with our current policies. I am bringing the sadness of another who has faced unbearable losses. I am bringing a purple hat, a butterfly-printed scarf, and some tiny mittens in case it gets cold tonight and the memory of telling a migrant that we had no more cold-weather items left to give away at the shelter where I work. I am bringing my US Passport that is filled with six stamps and an immeasurable amount of privilege. I do not have any drugs, alcohol, or fruit on me. I do not have a request for seeking asylum. I do not have a solution for this. I have two bracelets, a heavy heart, and my backpack. I will be waved through the security checkpoint. Welcome to the United States.