Tide in the Sonoran Desert

Exodus/Éxodo by Charles Bowden with Julián Cordona, photographer

Charles Bowden on the cross-border exodus of Mexicans into America:

We park in the darkness a few hundred yards from the line. There is no moon and the hot blackness seems to stalk us with menace. We are poised in the largest corridor at that moment for illegal immigration in North America, the Altar Valley sweeping up from Sonora to the west flank of Tucson sixty miles away. It is an empty stretch of the Sonoran Desert, an upland of grass and mesquite, which as it flows north gives way to saguaro, creosote, and burning desert ground.

In the darkness, we drink beer. It is around midnight with nothing out and about but people fleeing into the United States and agents paid to stop them.

The tape machine comes on and then, the first question: “Where are we right now?”

And I say, “We’re probably within two to three hundred yards of the fence. It’s invisible. It’s like when you look overhead. There aren’t any Mexican stars or American stars. It’s like a great biological unity with a meat cleaver of law cutting it in half. We’re in an odd circumstance. We’re in a national wildlife refuge, a sanctuary, and there’s a thousand Mexicans out here scared to death and trying to make it into the United States, and there’s a couple thousand pounds of drugs moving around us, and there’s men with AKs guarding the drugs, and there’s dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Border Patrol personnel with the hairs on the back of their necks standing up. If you look to the north-northeast you can see the glow of the lights of Tucson, and they’re gonna have to move constantly for three days to get there.

“They follow the person in front of them. And they fall a lot. And they’re afraid. They’re afraid of the desert at night anyway. It’s a different desert when you’re being hunted. They’ve spent their lives as human beings. They cross the wire and they become deer surrounded by lions. The only thing you can really hear out here are insects and fear. Hundreds of square miles just crackling with fear. These people are risking their lives tonight to cross this desert and when they get to their Chicago or their Los Angeles or their North Carolina they will send more money back to Mexico next year than Mexico will make from almost any other legal source. You take a man, you put him three hundred yards south of here, and he can’t find a job, he can barely feed himself. You move him across this desert, you get him to an American city, and Mexico no longer has to feed him. He becomes a money pump, like a private ATM that sustains their society. Oddly enough, moving human flesh in a few years is gonna be more lucrative than moving cocaine. Mexico has finally found a product that makes it money: expelling its own citizens into a foreign country.”

I stand in the darkness, in that pitch of night, and I realize I am tired and I love the taste of the cold beer on my tongue.

Then I’m asked, “Well, what’s the solution to this problem?”

And I ask, “What’s the problem?”

Read the rest here

2 thoughts on “Tide in the Sonoran Desert

  1. This is very interesting and makes me think of a story a dear friend of mine, Art Coelho, wrote several years ago. It was about Mexican people who were trying to cross the border by hiding in the back of a truck, and they ended up suffocating in the heat. Some guy would take people across for money, and he would load them in as tight as possible. A few years later, I read reports of that really happening. What a horrible nightmare.

    Your posts are always very interesting and informative, but they also touch my heart. Thank you so much.

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