Posted on July 8, 2004

More Border Aid

Michael Marizco, Arizona Daily Star, July 8, 2004

A hot, dry wind moaned along the dirt border road, flapping the gray tent of the desert camp as Rafael Tenorio cautiously approached.

Tenorio, an illegal border crosser from Mexico City, caught the attention of the aid workers and slipped back through the barbed-wire fence that marks the U.S.-Mexican border.

He waited there as Scott Kerr, of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, approached. Tenorio’s eyes scanned the dusty road for the Border Patrol truck that randomly drives by.

“How many are you?” Kerr asked.

“Fifteen,” Tenorio said. “We need help.”

Kerr talked with him for a few minutes, then he and his partner LeAnne Clausen went back to the camp and returned with 14 gallons of water and a plastic bag filled with crackers, hot dogs and peanut butter for the illegal border crossers. Tenorio thanked them, then he and a companion walked back down the wash to the waiting group.

They would come back to the border from a different location, Tenorio said, to avoid being spotted by the authorities.

The exchange this weekend, about eight miles east of the Naco Port of Entry, was acceptable under the U.S. Border Patrol’s policy regarding volunteers who want to help illegal entrants and try to cut down on the number of border deaths.

Agents wave at the volunteers as they drive by, and the Border Patrol has agreements with humanitarian aid groups like Humane Borders, which places water tanks in the Arizona desert, that allow the groups to work along the border.

The Christian Peacemaker Teams, a recent addition to the private groups that work along the border, operate as self-proclaimed “biblical peace witnesses” in areas like Colombia and Iraq.

In Cochise County, peacemaker members plan to set up a station just east of Naco where illegal entrants can rest before continuing into the United States, Kerr said.

The group plans to park an RV north of the desert camp with tents, food and medicine, Kerr said. They hope to have permission from the property owners for the RV camp by this week.

Border Patrol officials said they’ll keep a close watch on the group’s activities.

While humanitarian aid groups are allowed to help illegal entrants, they walk a fine line between helping people and breaking the law, according to Border Patrol policy.

“We’re not going to specifically target the migrant aid camps. But in the performance of their duties, if agents encounter migrants in or around the camps, appropriate enforcement actions will be taken,” said Rob Griffin, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which includes Cochise County.

“So if they’re trying to conceal or harbor or shield from detection, they’re going to be in violation of law.”

Kerr, who recently returned from Colombia, where he worked as an observer of the government, says he hasn’t broken any laws and is comfortable deciding to help people he describes as being caught in a “war zone.”

“I’m not going to meet them by sitting at the house reading about them on the Internet,” Kerr said.

The group came to Naco at the request of the No More Deaths group, the coalition that set up migrant camps around Arivaca at the beginning of the summer to help illegal entrants with food and water.

The Border Patrol never made an agreement to let aid workers give people a place to rest, said Andy Adame, a Border Patrol spokesman.

“Why would you ever keep someone there if they’re sick?” he asked. People sick enough to need help are better off in a hospital, he said.

Bill Walker, an attorney for No More Deaths, said the RV station is a way to assist people who are ill but able to recuperate enough to continue crossing into the United States without going to a hospital.

He said the group follows the same protocols put in place three years ago when the Samaritan Patrol started helping people in the desert and took them to a church to recuperate.

“Is it a perfect system? No,” Walker said. “Is it better than not having it? Yes.”