Experiencing the Migrants’ Challenge

Juan Turcios, OFM Friar News

The participants of this year’s Migrant Trail Walk included three Franciscan friars. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Early in June, several Franciscans completed the Migrant Trail, the annual walk on the United States-Mexico border through which participants advocate for the rights of refugees and immigrants. Below, an HNP member describes the experience.

Juan during a break on the Migrant Trail Walk in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

This past Memorial Day was very significant in my life as a friar. It was the start of a walk in the desert to support the plight of migrants. I answered the personal invitation of Br. David Buer, OFM, of St. Barbara Province, and decided to walk with him and others as part of the Migrant Trail – 75 miles from the Mexico-United States border through the desert.

This one-week experience added to my personal connection with the migrant and the refugee on a deep level and gave me a better understanding of the physical journey and the pain that they go through. The group of 46 people included three Franciscans – David, Rev. Br. Sam Nasada, OFM, also from St. Barbara Province, and me. Even though the logistics of the Migrant Trail are pre-arranged, in many ways the personal experience is something new and life-changing. We are in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world who become migrants and refugees hoping for a better life.

Experiencing Struggles
The Arizona heat in late May and early June is quite intense and very dry. While walking, someone in the group would shout out, about every 10 minutes, “Drink water!” and the rest of the group members would repeat the phrase. Water is essential while you walk under the sun through the desert. Over the years, many people have died there for lack of food, shelter, and water.

One of the important reasons why the Migrant Trail has been done for more than a decade is to remember the many people who die in the desert trying to cross the border to find better lives for themselves and their families.

There are several reasons why I decided to walk. After saying yes to the invitation to do my summer assignment in Elfrida, Arizona — 20 minutes north of the U.S.-Mexico — I was invited to be part of the Migrant Trail as an introduction to my work with migrants and refugees on the border.

Recalling Family’s Move to the United States
There is also a personal connection to my passion for helping migrants. I am an immigrant to the United States. My father, like many of my uncles and aunts, decided to come to the United States in the early ‘80s during the civil war in El Salvador. In many cases, the head of the family — like my father — leaves the rest of the family behind while he or she immigrates north.

The hikers walking across the desert. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Walking in the shoes of migrants helped me to remember and to keep in mind the effort and the sacrifice that my dad went through to offer my brothers and sisters a better life. At the same time, it put me in the physical pain and connected me to the emotional struggle that they went through. Nowadays, the reality is in many ways similar, but it is more moving and sadder. When you see families with not only teenagers but children, too, it is unsettling Walking the desert is hard for an adult. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for a young child. The number of decomposed bodies and corpses found in the desert of Arizona, which is part of the Sonora Desert in Mexico, is horrifying. Every year, the number of deaths increases.

David Buer leads the participants of the 2019 Migrant Trail Walk. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

The pain, the lack of water and the heat of the sun were so intense that, while I was walking, I started to ask myself a number of questions: How dangerous is the situation in Mexico and the rest of Latin America that a person is willing to risk his/her life in the desert? What am I called to do as a man of faith to help the situation? What is my obligation and responsibility as a Christian? How have our U.S. political strategies affected the economic situation and the violence in Mexico and Central America? We have some responsibility for what is going on there and, as a result, migrants and refugees are looking for a better place to live.

Overall, the most important part is my human connection to the situation. I strongly believe that humanitarian aid is something that will keep us alive. By offering a helping hand to our migrant brothers and sisters, we are respecting their dignity as human beings. At the same time, it is in giving that we receive by helping them to know how much we care for them.

Br. Juan, who professed his final vows as a Franciscan in 2009, is a student at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He will return there after he completes his summer assignment on August 16.