Pilgrimage honors deaths in Arizona desert

TUCSON, Ariz. — Supporters of immigrant rights here conducted an eight-mile pilgrimage from Tucson to San Xavier Mission on the Tohono O’Odahm Indian Reservation to observe the Mexican traditional Día de los Muertos and to mourn and honor the known deaths of 282 migrants in the Tucson desert in 2005.

The Nov. 5 march was sponsored by Derechos Humanos, an immigrant rights group. Judith Le Blanc, a national co-chair of United for Peace and Justice and a member of the Caddo tribe of Oklahoma, joined scores of others in the action.

It is common knowledge that the death toll for migrants dying of dehydration, snake bites, falls, and homicides by marauding thieves numbers far greater, but the bones of the dead are soon scattered by animals. Many bodies are never found, and family members never learn fate of their loved ones whose harsh trek north in search of work ended in death.

No More Deaths, a Tucson-based humanitarian group, is running a vigorous campaign to fight charges brought against two volunteers, Shanti Sells and Daniel Strauss, who were detained by the U.S. Border Patrol last summer on their way to the hospital as they medically evacuated three migrants in distress. The three migrants were showing signs of severe dehydration — continuous vomiting, diarrhea, etc. — and had been lost in the desert without food or water for several days.

“Humanitarian Aid is Never Illegal” signs are proudly displayed in shops and yards all over Tucson and the community is sending thousands of signed postcards and flooding the U.S. attorney’s office with phone calls demanding the charges be dropped against the two volunteers. The two face court proceedings Dec. 20 and face a possible 15 years in jail and $250,000 in fines for doing what any of us would do: trying to save the lives of people dying in the desert. Who would ask for “papers” in this situation? What kind of society are we?

Supporters of the two have appealed for others to call or write U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton to demand that charges against Shanti Sells and Daniel Strauss be dropped immediately. The phone is (620) 514-7192; the address is U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, District of Arizona, Two Renaissance Square, 40 N. Central, Suite #1200, Phoenix AZ 85004-4408. Let him know the whole world is watching.