Pro-migrant caravan leaves Calexico for cross country trip
Participants carry crosses and sing as they walk toward the burial site for unidentified migrants during the interfaith service in memory of the migrants at Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville on Tuesday. (JOSELITO VILLERO PHOTO / May 1, 2013)
Yet it isn’t exclusively an American or Mexican problem.
“To see it that way is to mask the truth,” said Father Alejandro Solalinde, a Mexican priest and winner of the country’s 2012 Human Rights Award.
At the core of the problem is a global economic system that creates ever-growing social and economic disparities and further desensitizes society toward the circumstances of the world’s most vulnerable populations, he told a small crowd gathered at Terrace Park Cemetery here.
“We live in an absurd world where we have replaced God with money,” Solalinde said in Spanish.
As federal lawmakers attempt to overhaul the nation’s contentious immigration laws, Solalinde embarks on a cross country trek to raise awareness of the plight of Central American and Mexican immigrants. The caravan left Calexico on Tuesday and will eventually reach Washington, D.C., where organizers plan to meet with government officials.
The caravan kicked off its first leg with a gathering and a religious service at the border. Supporters then traveled to the Holtville cemetery for another interfaith service and placed crosses on the unmarked graves that represent the final resting place for many unidentified immigrants.
Those gathered, including members of the Baptist and Jewish communities, also sang songs and prayed together.
The caravan, which was organized by the International Humanitarian Coalition Pro-migrant, is public testimony from those who seek a more humane world, Solalinde said.
Such growing sentiments will lead to an era of enlightenment where humanity will recognize their common heritage and reject the idea of international borders.
“It won’t happen in my lifetime,” Solalinde said. “But it will happen.”
The ability to view undocumented immigrants as one’s brothers and sisters often depends on intimate contact and the building of a relationship, said the Rev. Bill Barman, with the Diocese of Orange County.
The reason behind the current backlash against immigrants, Barman said, can be summed up in a word: Fear.
“It’s up to us who work with migrants to amplify their stories,” he said, “to show the fullness of who they are.”
Barman attended Tuesday’s events and was accompanying the caravan back to Orange County, where Solalinde was scheduled to preside over Mass at Santiago de Compostela Catholic Church.
The pair originally met in Mexico in 2003 and together hatched a plan to build a shelter for migrants. Barman said he was able to raise $40,000 stateside toward that effort.
Mary Gilbert, of Redmond, Wash., also met Solalinde about six years ago in Mexico.
A group of volunteers from her parish visited Solalinde’s Catholic Pastoral Care Centre for Migrants in Ixtepec, Guerrero, Mexico.
While there, she met and spoke with many migrants passing through Mexico on their way stateside.
The encounters had a profound effect on her.
“You don’t know what’s next for them,” Gilbert said.
Along the Southwest border, 463 migrant deaths were reported in fiscal year 2012 by the U.S. Border Patrol, according to data found on its website. That figure had risen considerably compared to the 263 deaths reported in 1998.
As she stood among all the unmarked graves of unidentified migrants, San Diego resident Rebekah Loveless said something needs to be done about the nation’s current immigration laws.
An interest in repatriation protocol for deceased migrants led Loveless to the Border Angels, a San Diego-based immigrant advocacy group, and subsequently to Terrace Park Cemetery on Tuesday.
The San Diego State University forensic anthropology student also said migrant deaths have prompted the archeological and forensic anthropology community to enhance the methodology and resources available to help identify migrants’ remains.
As someone who volunteers with the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office, Loveless has also seen firsthand and up close a sobering side of immigration.
“Working with human remains, you see people for people,” Loveless said.
Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at firstname.lastname@example.org