Border Angels Protect Migrants Crossing Into The U.S. From Mexico

Jul 18, 2017
Originally published on July 18, 2017 9:21 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to go to the U.S.-Mexico border in California to meet some people who call themselves Border Angels. They help immigrants who are crossing there. In certain parts of California there are already walls along the border, but not on a scale President Trump talks about. And even with all his rhetoric, the work of this volunteer group hasn't changed, as NPR's Sam Sanders found out.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: The Border Angels San Diego office is small but full.

ENRIQUE MORONES: Here's a piece of cloth that the migrants will wear underneath their shoe to cover up their footprint as they're walking. There's an electrolyte bottle that somebody had with them for energy.

SANDERS: Enrique Morones runs the group. And he's really proud of this one wall. It's full of stuff he and his volunteers have found along the U.S.-Mexico border.

MORONES: A little glove, shotgun shell, a ladder that I found that they used to jump over the wall. There's already a wall.

SANDERS: Border Angels lobbies on the behalf of people crossing from Mexico to the U.S. And sometimes that involves volunteering right at the border. There are a few high school students here on this day. There's an intern from Europe. There's another volunteer who comes over from Mexico.

MORONES: So we're going to start getting ready to go here. We've got to figure out how we're going to do this.

SANDERS: The trip takes a full day. We drive about 120 miles out of San Diego to a place called Holtville. Our first stop is Terrace Park Cemetery. The Border Angels come to lay decorated crosses on the graves of people they believed died crossing the border, people who were never identified. From the front, Terrace Park looks just like a cemetery should - headstones, manicured grass, flowers, sprinklers running. But the Border Angels, they go to the back. The back is for the dead who are unnamed. In the back there is no grass. There are no sprinklers, only dry cracked dirt. There are no headstones, only small bricks marked Jane and John Doe.

TYLER SMART: The bricks that identify each grave spot, like, they're not even put in the ground. They're just kind of, like, sitting on top of the mud, kind of crumbling.

SANDERS: That's Tyler Smart. He's one of the volunteers.

NOEMI CASTRO: Like, that little wall that you see there, I think that it shouldn't be there. You know, it should be open.

SANDERS: Noemi Castro meets the Border Angels here at the cemetery. She actually has a relative in the front, but she's here to pay her respect for those in the shabby part of the cemetery in the back.

Do you think you possibly have family back here?

CASTRO: Probably. We don't - I mean, I don't know. But I think it's not - it's not right. They shouldn't be there.

SANDERS: Once the crosses are all laid out there's a prayer in English and in Spanish.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

SANDERS: They all chant together, "Lord, you are the gift and you are the giver." The cemetery tells me they do their best to honor everyone buried there given their constraints. And the public administrator's office for Imperial County - that's where the cemetery is - they said they work to ID all the bodies that pass through their morgue. But they also said it's impossible to know for sure if an unidentified body is an immigrant or not.

Under President Trump, though, border crossings are down. The Border Patrol says apprehensions at the border are at their lowest rate in 17 years. After the cemetery, the Border Angels go right to the border to lay down gallon milk jugs full of water. It's to aid those people crossing. It's pretty windy out today.

MORONES: So you can all take two gallons or more and then walk up in pairs or in groups.

SANDERS: Every trip they see jugs they've left out before damaged. Tyler Smart and Ruben Diaz think at least one of those jugs was shot.

SMART: It looks like it was shot. I see an entry hole and an exit hole.

SANDERS: And that one...

RUBEN DIAZ: Yeah, this one was slashed. There's two visible slashes on opposite sides.

SANDERS: What about that one?

SMART: This one - I can't tell what it was. Something punctured it.

SANDERS: Enrique Morones thinks it's people trying to intimidate immigrants. No one knows for sure. But the Border Angels say they will be back. They always come back. The border is not going away. Sam Sanders, NPR News.

CORNISH: Sam Sanders is the host of It's Been A Minute, a new NPR podcast about the news and culture of the week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.