coyotes

Enslaved at the Border

MARTA AND LUISA had always fantasized about leaving their small town in northern Mexico to become dancers in a big city.

As the teenage sisters sat in the bed of a rusted pickup truck speeding toward the U.S. border, they thought their dreams would soon become reality. After sunset, the truck screeched to an abrupt stop. A middle-aged man with a skeleton tattoo on his arm hopped out of the driver’s seat, gritted his yellow teeth, and mumbled, “Vamos.” The time had come to complete the journey by foot.

Marta and Luisa walked closely behind the man and his two associates for hours along the desert paths they believed led to a brighter future. When they crossed the border into Arizona at about midnight, the tattooed man forcefully grabbed 16-year-old Marta and separated her from her older sister.

He explained that although he previously offered to help the girls cross the border for a small fee, the transportation cost had risen. Now Marta would have to work to pay off her debt. Alone.

Cecilia Hilton Gomez, director of Hispanic outreach programs for Free for Life International, describes the way that many human traffickers prey on vulnerable girls hoping to emigrate to the United States from Mexico and other parts of Central America. Since girls like Marta often have little education, lack formal paperwork, and have no knowledge of English, they become prime targets for traffickers looking to profit by selling women to brothel owners in the U.S.

“This is an epidemic, and it’s increasing,” Gomez states. “A lot of people think slavery has been gone for years, but it’s one of the largest criminal enterprises that exists now, and it’s right here in America.”

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Jesus Resurrected and 'The Undocumented'

Screenshot from 'The Undocumented,' airing April 29 on PBS.
Screenshot from 'The Undocumented,' airing April 29 on PBS.

At the Full Frame Film Festival in Durham last week, I saw Marco Williams’ new documentary, The Undocumented, which tracks migrants as they hike into the United States across the border between Mexico and Arizona, trying to escape the detection of border patrol agents, and trying to survive the deadly heat of the Sonoran desert.

The documentary follows a young man, Marcos Hernandez, as he tries to find his father, Francisco,  who was last seen in the desert walking for days in the 120-degree summer heat. Francisco left their home in Mexico with a coyote — man he paid $2,000 to lead him across the border — to make enough money to pay for his son’s expensive dialysis treatments. But he never called; he never returned. The coyote reported that he left Francisco in the desert because he was sick and couldn’t keep up with the other migrants in the group. Marcos fears the worst — that his father died of dehydration, of heat exhaustion. But to confirm the death he has to find the body.

The filmmaker focuses on the morgue in Tucson, Ariz., where the medical examiner investigates human remains, looking for clues that would help identify the dead in order to return whatever is left to family members and friends, to provide some kind of closure, to honor the dead with a burial.

In the film, Marcos won’t believe his dad is dead until he can see his dead body, or whatever is left of his body — a skull, teeth, his rib cage. He will not believe unless he can see.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). That’s what Thomas says to the other disciples about the resurrected Jesus; and what Thomas says about needing to see the body reminds me of the story of Marcos, about the need to see in order to believe.

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