In May 2004, the first group of walkers initiated The Migrant Trail: We Walk for Life. The idea of the walk had been discussed for a few years before the critical mass came together, coinciding with the formation of the No Más Muertes/No More Deaths movement. Principal supporting organizations in the first years were Derechos Humanos and BorderLinks. People from all over the U.S., Europe and Latin America have participated in the walk over the years. The youngest person to complete the entire walk was 7, the oldest 80.
The diverse array of nationalities, ages, and sponsoring groups that have come together time and again demonstrates the continuing, grave concern over current U.S. border and immigration policies. The importance of the walk, furthermore, has been validated from the first year when migrants who had previously crossed the desert themselves approached walk participants at the final ceremony and expressed their thanks for what we had done. For these reasons, we continue to walk every year to express our solidarity with the migrants and to advocate for positive change in the borderlands.
Year 1: 2004
The first group to walk the Trail included a contingent of students from Colorado College, many of whom remained to volunteer the entire summer with No More Deaths. One of those students, Daniel Strauss, would be arrested the following summer and charged with transporting migrants while taking them to seek medical attention. After a protracted legal battle, charges were later dropped against Strauss and fellow volunteer, Shanti Sellz.
Also that first year, Roberto, a Guatemalan immigrant, participated in the walk. He had crossed the same desert ten years before and was granted political asylum. One of the most emotional memories of the walk was when he spoke of the tremendous suffering he had experienced in the desert. Traveling north, he mistakenly grabbed a snake thinking it was a stick while his group ran out of water. In contrast, Migrant Trail walkers have unlimited food and water, yet still encounter difficulties. During the first walk, several walkers had to leave the walk at various times due to medical reasons. Blisters proved to be a daily nuisance. A good medical team and medical screening of walkers was therefore important from the beginning.
Year 2: 2005
For the second walk in 2005, a delegation from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) joined in the organizing. CPT has been involved in the Arizona border region ever since with their tradition of direct action and spiritual reflection. The spiritual component of the walk has always been a valuable part of the experience, as it is for the migrants themselves who face an often nightmarish journey of life and death. A ceremony has been held on the final day each year based on Native American tradition. Xavier Teso and Maria Padilla have been among the spiritual leaders of these ceremonies. Also Fr. Bob Carney has presided over a foot washing ceremony at the walk’s closing.
Year 3: 2006
The 2006 walk had the largest group of walkers ever, with about 75 completing the entire walk. This led to logistical challenges, at times straining the capacity of the organizing team. However, that same year, the Mennonite Central Committee became an integral part of organizing the walk and brought along their first delegation. The Franciscans also began a tradition of participating in the walk. Finally, Coloradans for Immigrant Rights began to bring consistent and critical assistance and logistical support. These groups have continued to provide consistent support ever since.
Encounters with migrants are not at all uncommon on the Trail. In 2006, while the large group was in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, a lost migrant approached the group on several occasions. The lone and demoralized man wandered through the tall grass of the refuge seeking relief and shelter. After providing him water and food, Migrant Trail organizers called the Border Patrol—at his request—because the migrant wished to return to Mexico.
Year 4: 2007
2007 had a smaller group of walkers. A Buddhist monk participated in the walk and provided delicious Thai food on several occasions. Also, an Arizona state legislator participated in the entire walk, committing to fighting the flood of anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona. Despite strong anti-immigrant sentiment in the state and its laws, the Migrant Trail Walk has always encountered an overwhelmingly positive reception with people stopping to donate water and provide other hospitality. All meals are donated by individuals and groups who drive to the walk and serve the walkers. A group of community women, Las Promotoras de Derechos Humanos, provide a huge meal for walkers and community members who attend the final gathering in Kennedy Park.
Year 5: 2008
2008’s walk including 65 walkers total, with two delegations from peace organizations including Witness for Peace and Mennonite Central Committee. The walkers’ camaraderie was evident in the Friday night talent show, a favorite hallmark of each year’s walk. As there are many Migrant Trailers who return every year to walk Altar Valley, the bonds of friendship have grown deeper and stronger over the years. Important connections are forged between diverse groups in Arizona and nationwide who are working together on migrant and human rights issues.
Year 6: 2009
2009 saw another group come together in solidarity with the migrants. A group of Canadian students and their professor traveled to Arizona to participate. That year was marked by much contact with migrants as the group moved through the desert. Lost, hungry, and thirsty, our migrant companions reached out for much needed help. Seeing this need and desperation up close drives home the need for policy changes.
Year 7: 2010
The Migrant Trail 2010 took place in the midst of a frenzy of attention on Arizona’s recent hardline border legislation, in particular S.B. 1070. As the furor over the legislation boiled over locally, nationally, and internationally, another group of committed individuals slowly walked through the desert to peacefully protest the racism, ignorance, and fear behind Arizona and U.S. immigration and border policies. This walk, perhaps more than any other year, was heavy with concern about the treatment of our neighbors from Mexico and Central America. Here again, the week served as a strong witness to the commitment and passion of all involved to work for change.
Year 8: 2011
In 2011, we shared another incredible year together walking with new Migrant Trailers from Michigan, Peru, Canada, and Germany. While we enjoyed each other’s company, those of us who have walked for many years already lamented the long years of destructive border and immigration policies. The infamous hardline policies and laws in Arizona and Alabama continued to make national headlines, this even as the death tolls south of Tucson kept mounting. And yet migrants still come in search of a better life for themselves and their families. As we left Sásabe, Sonora at the beginning of the Trail, a group of young migrants were waiting under some mesquite trees. They were also fellow travelers with us in the desert that week; we will never know if they all survived their trip across the line.
Year 9: 2012
While a smaller group journeyed together for the 2012 Migrant Trail, the impact of the walk was no less powerful with smaller numbers. The soaring temperatures and physical challenges proved no match for the diverse group of 47, all unified in hope for long-needed change in U.S. borderlands policies that impact our migrant brothers and sisters, our families, communities and neighborhoods in the United States, Mexico and Central America. On the Saturday before the walk ended, the group spontaneously gathered to discuss what the Trail meant for them. People of diverse backgrounds and faiths were all in agreement. No matter our differences, those of us who participate in the Migrant Trail are grateful for the community and solidarity that we experience over our 7 days together in the desert—something we wish that could be extended to all who are in our borderland.
Year 10: 2013
2013 marked the 10th year of walking the Migrant Trail. It was a heartbreaking anniversary for those who have promised to walk until the deaths on the border stop. But that year again, we trod through the desert with heavy hearts as we remembered those who had crossed before us and who did not survive.
Year 11: 2014
In 2014, 49 participants joined us for the 11th year of the Migrant Trail. More than half of those who walked were joining us for the first time on the Walk. Reflecting on the ongoing anti-immigrant rhetoric and political posturing over potential immigration reform, the group became very close during the week together.
Year 12: 2015
In 2015, 59 participants were part of the 12th year of walking the Migrant Trail. Participants joined us from 15 US states (Arizona, New Jersey, Colorado, California, Texas, New Mexico, Indiana, Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Missouri, Michigan and Washington), Two provinces in Canada (Manitoba and Alberta), and one state in México (Sonora).
Year 13: 2016
A contentious election year brought added attention to the border, and resulted in a higher than normal turnout for the 13th year of the Migrant Trail. Sixty-nine participants made the week-long journey, and included a diverse collection of kindred spirits. Although the election and its implications were a constant conversation theme on the Walk, it was dominated by the spirit of defiance of the participants who discussed the many ways in which to resist, organize and fight for human rights.
Year 14: 2018
Fifty-six participants joined the Migrant Trail for the 14th year of walking to bear witness. Although elections, DREAMers and immigration reform was a constant conversation topic, there was much time spent in sharing international solidarity work being done by various participants who joined that year, which served to renew the spirit of connection and intention in our walk to call attention and be witnesses to the horror of migrant deaths on the border.
Year 15: 2018
In 2018, we recognized two walkers, Kat Rodriguez and Margo Cowan, with 15 years of dedication and organizing work on the trail. We were a group of 50 people joining in solidarity to continue to bear witness to the atrocities at the border. The president’s immigration policies and the most recent violent act committed by CBP – the murder of Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, who was shot by a CBP officer at the Texas border just before the walk – were constant topics of conversation. The group carried a special cross for Claudia and walked with heavy hearts. Despite the emotional toll and a contentious confrontation on the morning of the last day of the walk, the participants managed to lift each other up through stories of hope and activism in their own communities.
Year 16: 2019
The Migrant Trail 2019 had some of the coolest temperatures that we have ever experienced in our years of walking. Our group was smaller than usual as well, with 48 participants joining us from as far east as Vermont and as far north as Canada. Nevertheless, it was a deadly year for our sisters and brothers migrating on the Southwest border, with approximately 138 human remains recovered in fiscal year 2019.
Originally prepared by Richard Boren
Updated by Jodi Dueck-Read, Kat Rodriguez, Christi Brookes, Chandra Russo, and Jamie Ann Wilson