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The Accidental Outlaw: Volunteering at the US/Mexico Border

Part 2: I choose taser

(click here to read Part 1)

If I'd had any bona fide survival skills, I probably would have more quickly deduced what happens to water left sitting in a metal bottle out in the desert. Instead, I poured boiling hot water over my hands (again, really should have packed a washcloth) in an attempt to wash my face.

I can not explain how shockingly hot it is along the border. After lunch, we split into new groups and took another seven mile stroll in the crippling heat. 117 degrees Fahrenheit that afternoon. As we hiked, I became convinced my socks were to blame for my roasting feet. After about two hours, I decided I simply couldn't bear it any longer. I needed to get my socks off, which is when I was informed it wouldn't help. The ground was just simply so hot that it was literally heating the rubber soles of my hiking boots and socks were actually my only protection against blisters.

I was then told that many of the recovered migrants' bodies were found stripped naked and sometimes buried in the sand. At first, it was assumed that this was a result of heat-induced delusion. Strangely though, their clothes were often neatly folded, which didn't fit the theory. It wasn't delusion, it was simply that coupled with dehydration, the heat was so severe that any clothing felt too warm and the sun was so strong that burying themselves seemed like the only escape. The sand instead, unfortunately, effectively cooked them alive. I kept my socks on.

That night, we gathered for what would be the first of many Safe Space discussions. "Safe space" meaning a time we could talk openly and honestly about our feelings without fear of judgment or mockery. Luckily, it was dark so no one could see me roll my eyes at the mere mention of such a space. Other patrols had found migrants who needed help so it was important they share their experiences. Someone said they felt guilty for being white. Someone else felt guilty for being privileged. They treated the word "privilege" as if it was blasphemous. I was trying to be tolerant of these hippies' ways but, honestly, I shouldn't have to feel guilty for being privileged as long as I use my privilege responsibly and positively, right? Wrong, because implicit in the distinction of some as privileged is the existence of others who are deprived.

The next day, we headed out to make water drops in the morning but the afternoon was to be dedicated to swimming in a lake at an abandoned mine. Hippies love swimming in unchlorinated water. It had all the promise of a fun day.

We never made it to the lake. En route to our second water drop, we came across two migrants who needed help. They explained that a friend of theirs had collapsed farther up the trail. Those with useful skills such as speaking Spanish and medical training followed them up the trail. Two others drove up the nearest hill with the cell phone in search of reception and remained there in case dispatch needed further direction. I was relegated to the group sitting roadside. We sat by the closest road in order to flag down and direct the ambulance to the trail.

The hours ticked by with no news of the migrant's condition or ETA of the ambulance. The vacuum of information became more and more infuriating to me. I am so besotted with the availability of immediate and constantly updated information that I check my iPhone at stop signs. However, the more pressing problem was that as we waited for help to arrive so too did the collapsed migrant. The legality of transporting an illegal immigrant ourselves was delicate, but apparently something we could do in an emergency. I could only assume that we wouldn't still be sitting idly if his condition had worsened, though you know what they say, to assume makes an- well, it's asinine. The others in my roadside crew seemed contented making mini rock gardens. How Zen.

The first to arrive on the scene was a Sheriff, four hours after the initial call had been made. Perfect. My first chance to get myself arrested, I thought. You can imagine my surprise when this guy thanked us for the work we were doing. Wait, thank? Though obviously not a proponent of illegal crossings, he recognized that dying out here was a "horrible way to go." Then he showed us his taser. A slightly awkward transition but we appreciated that he was trying to make conversation. Turns out that during their training, each officer gets tasered and pepper sprayed so they have a first-hand understanding of exactly how much pain they would be inflicting. "If ever given the choice," the officer counseled, "one should absolutely choose taser over pepper spray. Pepper spray hurts a lot more for a lot longer." Noted.

The sun was setting by the time the ambulance finally found us and even though the two migrants were warned that if they went to the hospital with their friend they would also be deported, they refused to leave his side.

Nighttime meant another safe space discussion. People poured their hearts out about how difficult this work was. I was pretty quiet. I hadn't enjoyed seeing a man so dehydrated his eyes were yellow, but I was relieved he was being cared for now. No need to dwell on it.

Little did I know, that despite my carefully cultivated protective callousness, I would lose my ability to remain emotionally detached the very next day...

(Click here to read Part 3)

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