I posted this a few days ago, but when I hit “publish” it disappeared into the ether. So, I had to start again from scratch and it’s taken me a couple of days to find time….

Anyway, on the same day I went out to the desert with the Samaritans, we stopped for lunch in the town of Arivaca, someplace south of Tucson in the middle of nowhere. Arivaca is a one-street town with the odd mix that you find in Arizona outside of the major metros. One or two bars, a touristy gift shop with southwestern crafts, indications that artists live here, but also a weird place with a huge flagpole flying the American and POW/MIA flag (possible symbol of anti-immigrant groups, if the flag is upside down. I don’t remember) next door to a taco stand run out of a small trailer. Ranchers in noisy pickups drive through, kicking up dust. The post office is by far the fanciest building in town, a stucco study in overkill. As if someone thought a new post office would bring this town back to life!

Virginia runs the taco stand, where we went for lunch. Behind it are four plastic tables inside one of those zip-up tent/gazebo things to keep the flies and bees out. Good burritos and soda in cans out of a cooler behind the trailer.

After lunch we drove out to the No More Deaths group’s camp – it’s called the Ark of the Covenant. NMD seems to be an offshoot of the Samaritans, although it’s supposed to be an umbrella organization for all the groups working on the border. The idea behind the “Ark,” according to a young woman named Xylem that I spoke with, is that by camping out in the desert, they can go out and look for migrants in need at any time, day or night.

It makes some sense – migrants are on the move a lot at night, and even leaving Tucson at 6 a.m. it took us a couple hours to get out to the west desert. Earlier this summer, they helped a man named Cesario during his weeks-long search for his daughter, Lucrecia, who died in the desert with her teenage son by her side. Her 7 year old daughter went on with the rest of the group.

Most of the people staying at the Ark are young – probably in their 20s except for one guy who eyed me suspiciously and looked a bit older. The Ark sits on some property owned by children’s book author Byrd Baylor, about 20 minutes outside Arivaca. If you came upon it by accident, you might mistake it for a sort of communal hippie camp – sleeping bags on cots out in the open, a tent where the cooking is done, a “bathroom” with no privacy, just a shovel and a symbolic log to indicate whether the door is shut or open. Twenty years ago, I would have loved to hang out here, sleep under the stars and fight the good fight.

They made a shrine of items picked up in the desert. Pieces of clothing, memorabilia, a photograph in a broken frame showing a handsome young man, identification, all gathered around a cross and a candle of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The saddest item was a small pair of little girl’s shoes – the fancy colored leather ones with the little cut-out shapes of flowers and raindrops, and a buckle on the side.

I wanted to take some photos but the older-looking guy was getting increasingly wary of me and I didn’t want to cause trouble for my Samaritan friends. (Here is a link to some cool photos on their site though). I did get to talk with Shanti Sellz, one of two NMD volunteers arrested in July for transporting migrants. The were recently indicted and Sellz said the trial is set for Dec. 20. she seemed to be doing ok. The point of dispute is not whether they transported the migrants or not, but whether the migrants were in need of medical attention. Border Patrol says the migrants were fine. The NMD volunteers and at least one of the migrants has said that they were in bad shape and that the two were taking them for medical help after following the group’s protocols.

Shanti’s mom grew up in the same Ohio blue-collar town I did. Small world. She gave me her mom’s number (she now lives in Iowa City) and said to give her a call.

The trial will be a big deal. Both sides have a lot at stake.

Meanwhile, I have already started planning a second trip, hoping to talk to some Minutemen (who began patrolling the border down in Cochise County) and also go down to Altar, in Mexico, which is a staging area for the migrants getting ready to cross.

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