The national debate on immigration has increasingly become a local issue. Under ICE’s Secure Communities program, immigrants are being deported in record numbers from local communities across the U.S. New York and other states have opted out of Secure Communities because of its harmful impact on their people and economies. The White House has asked local communities to offer immigration reform solutions in roundtable discussions.
Meanwhile, the border states continue to feel the destructive impact of U.S. economic policies that encourage migration, and immigration policies that criminalize it. The humanitarian crisis on the border continues for migrants entering the U.S. and those being deported to Mexico.
Dylan York and Lydia Delphia spoke about the humanitarian aid work of No Más Muertes (No More Deaths) yesterday at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, Ohio.
In Arizona’s Sonoran desert, near Arivaca, No More Deaths provides water, food, and medical supplies to undocumented migrants traveling from the Mexican border. About 6,000 men, women, and children have died from exposure and dehydration while attempting to cross the desert. No More Deaths is an interfaith, non-hierarchal, volunteer-based group sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, Arizona.
Before venturing into the desert, No More Deaths volunteers undergo training in border history, staying emotionally healthy, non-violent communication, and legal issues.
“The most important thing I learned in Tucson was about how much care you need to take interacting with migrants,” said Dylan York, who recently returned to Columbus after working with No More Deaths for three months. “It can be a stressful situation. There are a lot of trust issues that can come up.
“You meet someone who only speaks Spanish, and you speak an intermediate amount of Spanish. In interacting with another person who needs treatment for blisters or dehydration, you have to keep in mind that they might not feel comfortable with your touching them without getting their consent first.
“It even comes down to the way you speak to migrants. What feels like going out of your way to show a certain amount of respect, in that situation is actually the appropriate amount of respect you should be showing them.
“Respecting boundaries and acknowledging privilege are also important—acknowledging that most No More Deaths volunteers are white, are U.S. citizens, and to be aware of the privilege that goes along with that.”
Lydia Delphia, who lives in Tucson, attends Pima Community College, and has worked with No More Deaths for over two years spoke about the evolving nature of No More Deaths’ volunteer base. The growing number of people offering to volunteer has made it possible to be more selective. “Fluency in Spanish and medical training are the two most desirable qualifications,” she said.
“The number one thing our money goes to is paying for volunteers. It costs over $1,000 for one volunteer to come down for a month, not including personal expenses of travel and finding housing.
“It takes a lot of energy to be involved with an organization at a local level. Because of that, our two main groups of volunteers are young adults who don’t have jobs, and retired people.
“Sending money to No More Deaths allows us pay for volunteers who have the amount of freedom in their lives to stay committed to our organization for a long time, which is actually what we need,” Delphia said.
Volunteers who have full-time jobs and can pay their own way are very helpful for the two weeks they are in the desert. But then they have to leave to go back to their jobs, and the time and training No More Deaths has invested goes with them. “It takes an incredible amount of investment to bring someone in,” Delphia said. “Donating money to our scholarship fund is one of the most influential ways that you can donate to the organization.
“This is not to devalue the importance No More Deaths’ shorter-term volunteers after they leave Tucson, Nogales, or Arivaca,” Delphia said. “While our long-term volunteers bring constancy to our work, short-term volunteers not only act as direct aid volunteers, but they are also essential to the organization’s building mission.
“After people have volunteered with us, we provide them with resources to continue their work as NMD volunteers once they’re home. We encourage our volunteers to host events and organize to support NMD’s mission in their communities, wherever that may be.”
No More Deaths also provides humanitarian aid in Northern Mexico border cities to which people have been deported. Increasingly, the deportees NMD meets in these towns have lived for years, or decades, in communities around the United States.
No More Deaths is funded by donations and grants. Information about donating supplies and making financial contributions to the scholarship fund is available here.