Guest Voz

Guest Voz: Revitalize Not Militarize Border Communities

Guest Voz: Revitalize Not Militarize Border Communities

By Matthew Campanella

Alongside the Interstate 8 freeway carved through the desert moonscape of the In-Ko-Pah mountain range, on the California side of the U.S.-Mexico border and just one hour east of downtown San Diego, is a dry creek bed dotted with thousands of fresh migrant footprints.

Their personal belongings are left behind on the trail in their days-long journey through the rugged international mountain range. Where the Interstate and trail meet, however, does not signify the end of the migrant journey. The creek bed trail passes beneath the freeway via three concrete and steel-reinforced tunnels, and this junction serves as both a place to find fresh drinking water at a water station left behind by the organization known as Water Stations, and as a hiding place where migrants wait to be transported into the interior of California past numerous Border Patrol checkpoints.

The migrants have entered into the only militarized zone in the United States, where U.S. taxpayers shell out $18 billion annually in the name of Homeland Security – more than the budgets of the FBI, ATF, DEA, Secret Service, and U.S. marshals combined.

Americans spend $43 million a year on drone flights alone, have built over 600 miles of fence that cost $16 million per mile, employ 21,000 Border Patrol agents or enough to have one agent for every 500-feet of the border, fly more military aircraft than the Australian air force, and have more Customs and Border Protection boats than the Russian navy.

All of this begs the question: Are we at war?

The militarization of the border apparently answers this question affirmatively. The U.S. is waging a war, but against whom?

As I walked along the migrant trail, I found clues about the migrants: a woman’s embroidered pocketbook, a child’s backpack bleached by the unforgiving California sun, a little girl’s shoes abandoned next to a cactus, and a piece of a broken plastic water jug, on it written in Spanish “Keep on the path until you reach your dreams.”

Although this is the first time I have seen first-hand the migrant trail, it corroborates the testimony I have already witnessed countless times. In 2007 while teaching in El Salvador, I met a number of families who all had a common story: they gave up everything to make the journey on foot through the desert to the United States, only to be deported after crossing the border.

Grown men broke down and cried to me recounting the horrors of the journey, which included leaving family, friends, and even their own children behind in the desert in desperate efforts to survive.

Why then, would they risk their own lives or their children’s lives on such a perilous journey?

The answer was simple and I heard it over and over again: it would be better to die in the desert than continue living in the misery of their home country.

Walking the arid migrant trail along Interstate 8, I found a bottle of urine abandoned near the water station. Migrants urinate into their empty water bottles to be reserved for drinking as a last-resort source of hydration until they reach a water station.

In 2012 alone, the bodies of 463 migrants were recovered on the U.S. side of the U.S. - Mexico border, and this year 129 migrant remains have been found in Arizona alone. Dehydration due to thirst and heat exposure is the primary cause of migrant death while traveling through the desert.

Along the path, I placed the fragile artifacts into a plastic garbage bag. I saved these remains and contributed them to a border community project known as the Border Quilt.

The Border Quilt is part of a project launched by the Southern Border Communities Coalition. The quilt will travel to Washington D.C. much like the AIDS quilt to illustrate the need for revitalization in
America’s militarized border zone.

The quilt will memorialize the many facets of loss caused by militarization of the border: the loss of economic potential by constricted and delayed points of entry into the U.S. from Mexico, the loss of privacy by drone and helicopter surveillance, the loss of civil rights by racial profiling and erosion of the Fourth Amendment protection from unwarranted searches and seizures by Border Patrol, the loss of family unity by deportation of undocumented parents, and most tragically, the horrific loss of human life caused by migrants forced by a militarized border to walk a deadly path through the desert.

So how can we as a society even consider increasing militarization in the name of “border security” without considering the grave moral and humanitarian issue at hand?

How can we employ one more government defense contractor, one more border patrol agent, one more weapon of warfare, one more helicopter, one more drone, or one more costly foot of border fence without realizing that increased militarization correlates to increased human death?

The day must come when America starts viewing migrants for who they are: human beings that are integral members of our society. Every single migrant death in the desert is a disturbing and profound tragedy, and if new immigration reform legislation moves towards increased militarization without taking a scrupulous look into the need for a safe passage into our country, we are cursing the mother, father, and child who are perishing on our desert floor.

The blood will continue to be on our hands.

Matthew Campanella is an organizer with the Revitalize Not Militarize Campaign in California.

View Comments (2)


  1. Andrea

    November 19, 2013 at 10:11 pm


  2. Pingback: Guest Voz: Revitalize Not Militarize Border Communities | Revitalize Not Militarize

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Guest Voz

More in Guest Voz


Guest Voz: Remembering the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa is to recognize the pursuit of justice in a country wracked with impunity and elitism

Latina ListaSeptember 2, 2015
FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2009 file photo, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, left, orders approximately 200 convicted illegal immigrants handcuffed together and moved into a separate area of Tent City, for incarceration until their sentences are served and they are deported to their home countries, in Phoenix.  The Homeland Security Department says it will use 50 immigration agents to screen jail inmates in Arizona’s Maricopa County after it revoked Arpaio's authority to use its systems. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano revoked that authority on Dec. 15 after a Justice Department investigation concluded that Arpaio's office engaged in a pattern and practice of civil rights and constitutional violations and discriminated against Latino inmates in its jails.   (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Guest Voz: Facts don’t support political rhetoric scapegoating Latino immigrants for crime and lawlessness

Latina ListaAugust 31, 2015

Guest Voz: The High Cost of Truancy

Latina ListaAugust 25, 2015

Guest Voz: The most valuable tool poor people can have to combat effects of climate change

Latina ListaAugust 24, 2015

Guest Voz: From Deported DREAMer to international migration researcher

Latina ListaAugust 10, 2015

Guest Voz: Tech industry’s problem of not including Latinas & others of color goes beyond failing at diversity

Latina ListaAugust 5, 2015

Guest Voz: It will take innovative education to solve the talent dilemma

Latina ListaJuly 30, 2015

Guest Voz: Growing diversity in schools: Challenges and Opportunities

Latina ListaJuly 28, 2015
Photo by Obed Manuel

Guest Voz: Bernie Sanders: the 73-year-old candidate for American millennials

Latina ListaJuly 22, 2015