In concert: in the house and behind the scenes of a cross-border musical event

If you want to check out the full article with more details, dialog and pictures, go here: Tucson Sentinel – Mexican musicians play to mend frayed cross-border ties

As spectators began to take seats, all sorts of uniformed personnel and law enforcement whizzed through the walkways between photographers and reporters. Lights dimmed down in the college auditorium, the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Honor Guard marched in solemnly across the stage. They presented the many flags hanging from staffs which they posted on both sides of Mexico’s Federal Police woodwind symphony, who sat in arched rows spread across the stage at the base of the auditorium, a performing arts theatre which now sat about one hundred uniformed personnel. Mexico, the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, CBP, and the state of Arizona all had representative colors which stood hanging for the entirety of the concert. This colorful array of flags seemed a reminder of the occasion, which brought real connective space and action between groups that often find themselves divided, misinformed or just a bit unfamiliar with one another.

Searching for Andy at PCOME: Database debut leads to Tucson travels

A publicly accessible website went online one week ago that provides maps and data based on the location where bodies presumed to be migrants have been recovered in southern Arizona. The Arizona OpenGIS for Deceased Migrants is “the result of ongoing partnership” between the humanitarian group Humane Borders, Inc. and the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner (PCOME). And so I ended up in a southbound car with New York Times reporter Fernanda Santos and freelance photographer Joshua Lott to learn about how the database works. In the years since the first time I visited PCOME, many things have changed. Dr. Bruce Parks, whom I interviewed for Unidentified dead common on the border, retired in the summer of 2011 and Dr. Gregory Hess is now the medical examiner.

Caravan for Peace tour explains impact of violence

On a cloudy day with cool-for-Phoenix temperatures in the low 90s, a small group clustered around the Arizona Department of Health Services entrance, reporters holding mics and cameras up to catch the words of local activists giving press conference follow-up comments amid the noise of street and air traffic. The faces and backgrounds were as diverse as the groups they represented which included churches, labor organizations and activists for peace. The real event that would bring them all together would take place that evening, when the Caravan for Peace tour arrived downtown, but they were here to explain why they brought the tour to Arizona. “We have members who have family members living in Mexico,” said Rev. Liona Rowe of Shadow Rock United Church of Christ. “I can’t say that there’s anyone particularly in the congregation who’s been directly impacted by that and yet all of us are impacted, the way our communities are so dysfunctional can certainly be traced back to what’s going on.”
And it’s communities like Shadow Rock that did the planning for the events and are also providing hospitality for the Caravan tour as it travels.

Hiking with Samaritans, part 3

This is the last of a three part series on hiking in southern Arizona with humanitarian volunteers: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & photo gallery

The sun is emerging more frequently as we start take the left branch and begin the last stretch before we reach the border. There is no question that this trail is in use. There are signs of passing people everywhere, some old like a cloth shirt deteriorating into the debris in the stream bed but others fresh like a brightly colored Mexican toilet paper wrapper resting in the grass. The feet that trod these trails both leave and return to family. Migrants seeking jobs may be hoping to pay for anything from food and shelter to housing and medical care.

Hiking with Samaritans, part 2

This is the second of a three part series on hiking in southern Arizona with humanitarian volunteers: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & photo gallery

There’s wildflowers everywhere. Tiny, low blue blossoms blanket the ground with taller, springier pink trumpets erupting at intervals in clumps. More infrequently there are also lacy white blooms and occasionally a burst of yellow or fiery flowers. But I’m still wearing all my layers. About 10 minutes in we come to a cache of water jugs.

Hiking with Samaritans, part 1

This is the first of a three part series on hiking in southern Arizona with humanitarian volunteers: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & photo gallery

A few days before I was scheduled to hike with Samaritans, I walked into the parking lot and winced – not just because the heat was hitting me at that moment but because I knew that hiking in this heat with only limited shade would be even worse. But the desert in Arizona is far from predictable. I woke up that Saturday shivering and piled on the layers before starting the drive south. The car shook in winds that swept the highway before we even left Phoenix and the digital bulletin boards warned of possible haboob conditions on the I10. I shuddered, remembering coverage of an accident caused by haboob conditions near Picaco Peak in September 2011.

Samaritan Training

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If you run into trouble or out of water in the desert, finding help may be essential to your survival. From local police and sheriff’s departments to elite Border Patrol units, law enforcement in southern Arizona regularly rescues migrants who’ve gotten injured or ill, as well as recreational hikers, hunters and off roaders. But many people, especially migrants, can’t call for help when they most need it. Cell phone reception is weak and patchy, and some pollers demand that migrants leave their cell phones behind before crossing the border, if they even had cell phones to begin with. Many are also afraid of any contact with law enforcement.