Every day, the U.S. border patrol deports thousands of men, women and children who crossed into the U.S. illegally. Already this year, the U.S. has deported more than 400,000. The scope and scale of the illegal immigration problem has so transformed border communities that even the people who grew up there now find their hometowns unrecognizable.
The poor working-class Mexican neighborhood where I was born isn’t far from the 12-foot-high fence that separates Nogales, Ariz., from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Those dusty streets of Colonia Ingenieros seem narrow now, with dozens of homes still perched miraculously on a rocky hillside.
Ilegales — men and women from all parts of Mexico — would come through here when I was a child.
They’d knock on our door to ask for food and water on their trek before vanishing into the nearby hills and gullies that people now call “Cocaine Alley.”
Today, no one dares open their doors, let alone help these people. Fear trumps charity.
Fifty years or so ago, though, my friends and I would venture unafraid into the desert hills with wads of flour tortillas in our pockets that we could trade for a story or two about where theseilegales were headed: Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, Kansas City — places I knew nothing about, though I imagined them to be beautiful, fluorescent cities.
I’m sure people died trying to cross illegally back then. But the numbers today are unbelievable. Last July was especially gruesome — 59 bodies found in the desert ended up at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office in Tucson, Ariz. It was the second deadliest month on record for the area. Cause of death? Exposure to the heat — hyperthermia in most cases.
I’ve come back to my hometown for the first time in years to once again look into the faces of these men and women. On this day, though, my only encounter is with those who have been deported.